Ron Zook was not happy after Saturday's game in Madison and with good reason. The Illini were constantly taking a "1 -step forward-2- steps backward" approach during a battle with Wisconsin on Saturday. They would convert a big 3rd down... then give the ball back to the Badgers with an interception. They would get a 63-yard kickoff return...then take themselves out of field position with penalities. They would seem to take control of the game (leading 17-10) ...then be unable to hold the Badgers on a 3rd and long .....miss tackles....and allow a potential short gain to turn into a 49-yard touchdown for Wisconsin.
I still think the Illini were a better team on paper than Wisconsin and were certainly in a better frame of mind than the Badgers when the game started. But despite all of the complicated formulas we try to use to figure out what happens in a football game....it almost always seems to come down to turnovers. The Illini lost that battle in Madison with Juice's 3 interceptions.
Look at the teams that lead the conference or nation in turnover margin...and more than likely they are having a great season. The teams around the .500 mark are usually even (or slightly over/under) in that statistic. Teams with losing records have a bad turnover ratio. It is the stat I always look at first to see how a team is doing.
Coaching decisions and strategy and talent level are also factors in every game and are the endless discussion points on message boards and call-in shows. And that is fine...everyone has an opinion. But if you want to see how your favorite team is really doing....dont even look at the offensive or defensive numbers. Check out the turnover margin. You will usually find the answer there.