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Monday, December 3, 2012
Alabama survives, heads to title game atop UPS Team Performance Index

Associated Press

The little bit extra that got reigning Bowl Championship Series champion Alabama back to the national title game may also have been just enough to keep it atop the final regular season UPS Team Performance Index as college football heads into bowl season.

The Crimson Tide (12-1), ranked No. 2 in both the AP Top 25 and BCS standings, nipped Kansas State in the index by the slimmest of margins -- one-hundredth of a point. Some of the credit for that standing goes to the team's offensive outburst over the weekend: It rung up 512 total yards in roaring back from an 11-point second-half deficit to beat Georgia 32-28 for the SEC championship.

"It's just the never-give-up attitude," said quarterback Anthony McCarron, who threw a 45-yard eventual game-winning touchdown to Amari Cooper with 3:15 remaining. "You've got to keep fighting through it."

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.

McCarron's late-game heroics, though, would not have been possible without the Tide's powerful ground game, which churned out 350 yards behind Eddie Lacy (181) and T.J. Yeldon (150). For the season, Alabama had 3,212 rushing yards, with both Lacy and Yeldon reaching the 1,000-yard plateau.

Next up for the Tide will be Notre Dame, which had a far less stressful week knowing its place in the national championship game was already secure. The Irish (12-0) finished the regular season nine spots behind Alabama in the UPS index, and trailed the Tide in every individual microindex.

However, Notre Dame has inched closer each of the past five weeks on the strength of a defense that allowed an FBS-low 10 touchdowns.

"It's clear that the formation of any great program is going to be on its defense," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "If you play great defense, you've got a chance. For us to move Notre Dame back into national prominence we had to develop a defense."

While Kansas State (11-1) just missed out on the top spot in the UPS Index, the Wildcats (No. 7 in the AP Top 25) did get a nice consolation prize: an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl versus Oregon (11-1), which remained fourth in the index and is fifth in the AP poll.

As has been the case all season, Kansas State's standout special teams play has been critical in its high ranking, while the up-tempo Ducks carry the better offensive and defensive metrics into what should be a highly entertaining BCS bowl matchup.

Northern Illinois (12-1, AP No. 16), which parlayed its Mid-American Conference title into a surprising Orange Bowl bid, is ranked third in the UPS Index. The Huskies displayed unmatched balance on both sides of the ball, being the only FBS team to have a microindex of at least 115 points in the offense, defense and special team categories.

Those numbers will be put to the test when do-everything quarterback Jordan Lynch, who threw for 2,962 yards and 24 touchdowns and also ran for 1,771 yards and 19 scores, faces Florida State, which finished the regular season with the index's top-ranked defense.

"We are sure excited," said Rod Carey, Northern Illinois' offensive assistant who was promoted to head coach just before learning the team made the Orange Bowl. Carey got the job after Dave Doeren left for North Carolina State last Saturday.

"It's been a crazy weekend up here at Northern Illinois."

The Seminoles (11-2, AP No. 13), who won the ACC title, allowed more than 325 yards just three times, held five opponents to seven or fewer points and finished ninth overall in the UPS Index.

At No. 32, Louisville (10-2, AP No. 22) is the lowest-ranked team in the index to reach a BCS bowl, and the Cardinals will likely have their hands full in the Sugar Bowl against sixth-ranked Florida (11-1, AP No. 4). Teddy Bridgewater gives the Cardinals the edge offensively over the Gators, who counter with a defense that has recorded 19 interceptions and yielded only 155 points while recording two shutouts.

The Rose Bowl will pit Pac-12 champion Stanford (11-2, AP No. 8), ranked No. 12 in the index, against 31st-ranked Wisconsin (8-5), which was the biggest mover of the week. The Badgers -- not ranked in the AP Top 25 -- vaulted 12 spots after manhandling Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten title game, while the Cardinal improved five spots after defeating UCLA for the second time in as many weeks.