FSU, 'Bama top UPS Index, on title-game collision course by any measure
The order may be different depending on the list being referenced, but the result is the same by any measure: Thanks to some Stanford intervention, Florida State and Alabama are on a collision course for the BCS title game - assuming they can each win out.
The Seminoles (9-0) maintained their hold on the top spot in the UPS Team Performance Index this week while the Crimson Tide (9-0) strengthened their grip on No. 2 with another impressive victory in an era that's been full of them, helping the race for the national championship come into a bit more focus.
The spots are reversed in the AP poll and BCS standings, with Florida State climbing to No. 2 in both by blowing out Wake Forest 59-3 while Alabama remained No. 1 in both rankings after pulling away from LSU 38-17. But even with those dominating weekend performances, the most significant result occurred two days earlier in California.
There, the Cardinal (8-1) ruined the title hopes of Oregon (8-1) for a second straight year, making the run for No. 1 potentially cut and dried.
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.
The high-octane Ducks, who rank second in the Index's offensive efficiency rankings, had their sights set on Pasadena come Jan. 6, and seemed to be in the driver's seat with a strength-of-schedule advantage that likely would have pushed them past Florida State had both teams remained perfect.
But as it did a season ago, Stanford slowed the Oregon attack, held on for a 26-20 win and dashed the championship aspirations of the Great Northwest.
"We don't hold the cards anymore," coach Mark Helfrich begrudgingly admitted.
The win catapulted the Cardinal over Ohio State (9-0) in the Index to No. 3, while the Buckeyes fell to fourth and the Ducks to fifth.
The ramifications of Stanford's victory reverberated across the country, where Florida State put on a performance that showed exactly why it holds the top spot in the Index and just may be the most balanced team in the nation.
The Seminoles tied a school record with six interceptions, returned turnovers for touchdowns on consecutive plays and made life easy for its otherwise explosive offense at Wake Forest on Saturday, clinching a spot in the ACC title game in the process.
"For us to be a great team, both (offense and defense) have got to be clicking," quarterback Jameis Winston said. "When they're getting turnovers and scoring touchdowns just like that, sometimes it is hard (to stay in a rhythm) but obviously, I've got to do a better job of commanding the team and leading us."
Overall, the Florida State defense forced seven turnovers. The team ranks in the top 10 in the Index in offense, defense and miscues, and now will be tasked with fighting off apathy: None of its remaining four opponents has a winning record, and none of its previous nine finished within two touchdowns.
"If they ever believe in our system, if they ever believe in eliminating the clutter, then now is the time," coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Indifference certainly won't be an issue if the Seminoles make it through the year undefeated. Waiting for them on the other side may very well be the Crimson Tide, who remain perfect. Even LSU, ranked No. 10 coming into last weekend and traditionally a thorn in their side, just couldn't hang with the two-time defending champs for four quarters.
Alabama scored the last three touchdowns of the game behind a punishing offensive attack, once again proving to be at least the equal of any team in the nation.
"They came in here thinking that they were going to be more physical than us," Tide defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan said. "I feel like we changed that."
With a quality victory over stiff competition, Alabama pulled within .03 points of Florida State for the top spot in the Index.
Not to be lost in the hubbub up top, Ohio State and Baylor (9-0) are waiting to pounce should anyone slip up. The Buckeyes enjoyed a bye week, but the Bears had an eye-opening 41-12 win last Thursday night over Oklahoma that proved they just may be a legitimate contender.
Baylor ranks 11th in the Index, mostly due to a subpar special teams' ranking. However, they have the top-ranked offense and second-ranked defense - one that made quite an impression on Sooners coach Bob Stoops.
"Defensively, they really were all over us all day," Stoops said. "Everyone talks about their offense, which is really good. But I knew that their defense is really good."
Fresno State (9-0) and Northern Illinois (9-0) are the only other schools in the FBS without a loss, and they moved up to No. 21 and No. 46 in the Index, respectively.
Louisiana was the week's biggest riser, jumping 22 spots to No. 74, while Florida fell the furthest, tumbling from 18 to 60.
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