Monday, October 7, 2013
Big win, tough schedule move Stanford to top of UPS Index
The top spot in the UPS Team Performance Index is again held by a member of the Pac 12 -- just not the one from the Pacific Northwest.
Coming off another close victory to extend its winning streak to 13 games -- second-longest in major college football behind only Ohio State's current 18-game run -- Stanford overtook rival Oregon for first place in this week's Index.
Using an advanced proprietary formula featuring offensive yards per play, defensive yards allowed per play, quality of opponent, various special teams statistics and a microindex of miscues that rewards disciplined teams, UPS has teamed with STATS LLC to normalize those numbers across 125 FBS schools.
From there, overall balance is measured across all of a team's individual units, with the final index weighted toward excellence in those areas as well as overall winning percentage.
Though Stanford (5-0) stood pat at No. 5 in the AP Poll, its surge in the Index has culminated at the top. After rising four spots to second last week, the Cardinal used a 31-28 win over then-15th ranked Washington last Saturday to surpass Oregon, which held the top position the previous three weeks.
"One of our team goals is just to go 1-0 every week," Cardinal linebacker Trent Murphy said. "We just have to keep moving forward."
So far, it's done just that. Stanford's efficiency rating of 139.24 is 3.22 points ahead of second-place Florida State. AP No. 1 Alabama stayed put at No. 3 while the Ducks saw their soft early season schedule finally drop them to fourth.
Averaging 59.2 points and allowing 11.8 per game, Oregon's offense and defense each sit among the top 10 in the Index, but it ranks just 103rd in quality of opponent. The Ducks opened with a 66-3 rout of Nicholls from the FCS, then outscored Virginia, Tennessee, California and Colorado -- teams with a combined 8-12 record -- 230-56.
"We're 5-0. That's our best statistic," coach Mark Helfrich said. "And we haven't played remotely to what we can in any phase, so that's encouraging."
What's not as encouraging is their future schedule, which gets significantly more challenging beginning Saturday at No. 16 Washington. They then face Washington State and No. 11 UCLA prior to a highly-anticipated Nov. 7 showdown against the Cardinal in Palo Alto.
Stanford, on the other hand, is seventh in opponent quality after posting league wins over Arizona State, Washington State and Washington -- teams with an 11-5 mark combined.
"You have to rise up to the challenge," said linebacker Shane Skov, who had 14 tackles and 1½ sacks against the Huskies. "The more difficult the games are, the better we'll become."
The Cardinal, whose last defeat was a controversial 20-13 overtime finish at Notre Dame one year ago this weekend, are 7-1 in games decided by six points or less dating to last season. Stanford secured last Saturday's win when Keith Price's fourth-down completion in the final minute for Washington was overturned by officials.
"We showed that we can stand in there and we can finish a game and win in a fight if we have to," receiver Ty Montgomery said.
Second in the FBS averaging 33.5 yards per kick return, Montgomery had a school-record 290 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns last Saturday, including a 99-yard TD return to open the game. He's a big reason the Cardinal rank fifth in the Index's special teams category, one spot ahead of Oregon.
But the Pac-10 isn't the only conference making waves at the front of the Index. ACC power Florida State moved back into the runner-up spot while a pair of SEC schools surged into the top 10 to join holdovers Alabama and LSU.
On the heels of a 63-0 home rout of then-No. 25 Maryland last Saturday, the Seminoles climbed six spots to second for the third time in four weeks. Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston put up career-highs with 393 passing yards and five touchdowns as undefeated Florida State recorded its most lopsided victory ever over a Top 25 school.
The Seminoles have outscored their first five opponents 268-60, ranking second offensively and 10th defensively in the Index. Coach Jimbo Fisher's defense allowed 234 yards against the Terrapins, including just 33 on the ground after giving up 200 rushing yards in a 48-34 win at Boston College the week before.
"As good as the offense played, I thought the defense played better," Fisher said. "The defense, I thought, was the story of the day. They really took the show."
Boosting an Index-best 114.06 rating in opponent quality, Georgia (4-1) moved up nine spots to eighth overall. The Bulldogs have faced three top-10 teams, beating South Carolina and LSU after opening with a 38-35 loss at Clemson.
Despite playing without injured starting tailback Todd Gurley and losing running mate Keith Marshall and wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending knee injuries in last Saturday's 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee, the Bulldogs are 3-0 in the SEC for the second straight year.
Auburn climbed 12 spots to round out a top 10 that also features Ohio State (fifth), LSU (sixth), Clemson (seventh) and Louisville (ninth). Third in opponent quality, the Tigers (4-1) have already topped their three-win total from last season and snapped a 10-game skid versus ranked opponents with a 30-22 victory over then-No. 24 Mississippi last Saturday.
Though Baylor (4-0) leads FBS schools at 70.5 points per game and also has a top-10 defense in the Index, it dropped 16 spots to 20th. Ranked 86th in opponent quality, the Bears are 103rd in the miscues category after committing 10 penalties and turning the ball over four times during last Saturday's 73-42 win over West Virginia.
Indiana made the Index's biggest leap -- 322 spots to 19th -- while Cincinnati took the largest fall from 77 to 111th.