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Monday, October 1, 2012
Tide stay on top of UPS Index as balance makes its mark on AP poll

Associated Press

The UPS Team Performance Index is starting to look somewhat similar to the AP rankings, reinforcing the fact that overall team balance can play a critical role in winning games -- and impress the discerning eyes of experts.

Then again, if you're Oregon or West Virginia, you can always fall back on simply outscoring everyone.

Now-unanimous AP No. 1 Alabama maintained the top spot in the index after Week 5, with Florida State holding steady at second while jumping a spot to No. 3 in the AP poll. The Seminoles passed LSU, which fell from third to fourth on both lists after an underwhelming 38-22 win over FCS opponent Towson.

Using an advanced proprietary formula featuring offensive yards per play, defensive yards allowed per play, various special teams statistics and a microindex of miscues that rewards disciplined teams, UPS has teamed with STATS LLC to normalize those numbers across 120 FBS schools.

From there, balance is measured for all of a team's individual units, with the final index weighted toward excellence in those areas and overall winning percentage.

After a volatile September, the index is starting to stabilize as the sample size of games expands. Eighteen teams are among the top 25 in the AP poll and the UPS index, while six schools are in both top 10s.

The reigning BCS national champion Crimson Tide (5-0) remain the unsurprising leaders even after their least convincing victory of the season. They gained just 305 yards while beating Mississippi 33-14, but continue to possess impressive numbers in both the defense and miscues categories.

Opponents are averaging 3.3 yards per play for the season against Alabama, and it has three turnovers compared with 15 takeaways -- including three interceptions against Ole Miss.

"We really only put one true drive together," Tide coach Nick Saban said. "Those turnovers were really the difference in the game."

SEC rival LSU (5-0) also won, but was even less impressive in a 38-22 victory over Towson, which actually had a 188-158 edge in rushing yards while sacking LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times.

"Right now we are not playing LSU football," Mettenberger said. "I'm very disappointed in myself and the team right now."

Strength of schedule doesn't play a role in the ratings, but from here on out, LSU will certainly have its work cut out as its light early-season challenges take a drastic turn for the worse: Nothing but conference play remains for the Tigers going forward, beginning with a stiff test Saturday at AP No. 10 Florida, which directly trails LSU in the index at No. 5.

Florida State, meanwhile, leapfrogged LSU to No. 3 in the AP poll and remained second to Alabama in the index after winning 30-17 at South Florida. With the Tide on a bye this week, coach Jimbo Fisher's team will have a chance to make a move while playing at North Carolina State.

The Seminoles (5-0) have posted far better all-around numbers than the AP No. 2, Oregon, which has allowed almost twice as many points and yards in the same number of games. The Ducks have also turned the ball over 12 times, the most of any team in the AP Top 25, a big reason they're only 20th in the index.

West Virginia is another good example of how important balance is to the UPS index.

Mountaineers' star quarterback Geno Smith made headlines Saturday with a tremendous game, throwing for 656 yards and eight touchdowns without an interception. While that may have been enough to make him an early Heisman Trophy favorite, it couldn't stop AP No. 8 West Virginia (4-0) from falling 19 spots to No. 30 in the index, thanks largely to a woeful defensive performance in a 70-63 win over Baylor.

"Obviously, it's not acceptable to do what we did today," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said.

Baylor's even worse defensive effort caused the Bears to plummet 33 spots, the largest drop of the week in the index, to 65th.

Only one undefeated team -- Oregon State (3-0) at No. 45 -- is rated lower than West Virginia.

At No. 10, Texas A&M (3-1) is the highest-rated team with a loss after moving up 15 spots by virtue of a 58-10 win over struggling Arkansas. The Aggies averaged 9.1 yards per play in that game and did not turn the ball over as they remain tied with West Virginia with an FBS-low one giveaway.

The Razorbacks, meanwhile, are 111th in the index after they were ranked 10th in the preseason AP poll.

At 3-2, North Carolina didn't get any AP votes this week, but the Tar Heels are tied for 17th in the index following a 66-0 win over Idaho. UNC forced five turnovers and had a 575-189 edge in total yardage against the winless Vandals, who are second-to-last in the index.