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"The ball is the program": How PJ Fleck stresses ball security at Western Michigan

Last week we highlighted the direct correlation in turnover margin and winning percentage. One of the stars of the piece was Western Michigan -- a team that has won all eight of its games and earned the first AP poll ranking in program history.

Ball security has been a key component of Fleck's program in Kalamazoo, which Matt Fortuna explains for ESPN.com below:

Western Michigan made it through its first six games without committing a turnover, something no FBS team had accomplished in the previous 20 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It is a testament to yet another of Fleck's mottos: The Ball is the Program, which players repeat again and again in interviews. They end practice daily with "program" drills that put ball carriers through gauntlets. The one constant on their weekly "Purpose Three" -- keys for the upcoming game -- is "The Ball." Into a microphone at practice, Fleck regularly screams "chin it!" in any and all situations. (A Davon Tucker lost fumble ended the no-turnover streak last week at Akron.)

"Whoever has the ball, whoever has anything to do with the ball or while that ball's in your hands, you pretty much have the program in your hands," says junior Jarvion Franklin, who broke the program's single-game rushing record with 281 yards in its 41-0 win against Akron. "So the program's either going to sink or swim depending on what you do with the ball."

The Fighting Flecks have fumbled the ball 11 times this season but lost only two -- an 81.8 percent recovery rate that's tied for second nationally. The Broncos have also hopped on six of their opponents' nine fumbles -- a 66.7 percent recovery rate, tied for 10th nationally among all teams with at least nine forced fumbles.

Western Michigan has also snared nine interceptions while tossing only one, good for a plus-1.5 turnover margin that trails only Washington (who, not coincidentally, is also unbeaten) in FBS.

That's a long, steep climb for a program that ranked 104th in turnover margin while suffering through a 1-11 season in Fleck's 2013 debut.

All that ball security has paid off handsomely for Fleck, the highest-paid coach in the MAC and sure to become richer this off-season.

Fleck is the subject of an ESPN.com profile full of interesting anecdotes. Read it here.