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Utah State lone example of balance as bowls kick off with pair of high-octane weekend matchups

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There are still four weeks before Alabama and Notre Dame square off in a BCS title game that may very well be defined by a pair of dominant defenses.

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The opener of bowl season figures to feature a bit more scoring.

Two of the nation's top 20 offenses square off Saturday to open a slate of 35 bowl games, while one of the UPS Team Performance Index's under-the-radar teams also takes the field looking for its first postseason victory in nearly two decades.

The Crimson Tide-Fighting Irish matchup on Jan. 7 will be one of three bowl games to feature two teams in the top 10 of the UPS Index, none of which will occur until New Year's Day. But there are 23 games before then, and the first two feature three teams in the index's top 45.

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.

There's little balance, however, between the two teams that will kick off bowl season this weekend - which may actually translate into a game that's even more entertaining to watch. Arizona (7-5) brings the nation's seventh-best offense (521.8 yards per game) into the New Mexico Bowl, where it faces Nevada (7-5) and its 11th-ranked attack (502.8).

Those teams will need to rack up the yards, because they certainly give up enough. The Wildcats have the 120th-ranked defense out of 124 FBS teams (485.7 ypg), while the Wolf Pack (431.2) aren't a whole lot better at 89th.

Not surprisingly, a New Mexico Bowl that's seen its last two games decided by a total of 50 points is excited to have a pair of teams that should be able to keep up with one another.

"What a great matchup to kick off college football's postseason," New Mexico Bowl executive director Jeff Siembieda said. "Two of the top offenses in America, the top two running backs in the country, two of college football's top quarterbacks and playmakers all over the field. I think we've got the potential for a great, exciting football game."

Arizona boasts the nation's No. 1 rusher in Ka'Deem Carey (146.4 ypg, 20 TDs) and Nevada features Stefphon Jefferson, who is second in FBS in both rushing yards per game (141.9) and touchdowns (22).

Those weak defenses and so-so special teams have kept them from rising higher in the UPS Index, though. The Wildcats are 44th, while the Wolf Pack finished the regular season 54th.

Utah State (10-2, AP No. 18), and Toledo (9-3) get a bit more love in the index, with the Aggies coming in at 20th and the Rockets finishing 43rd coming into their meeting in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

It's not difficult to see why Utah State is highly ranked. The Aggies are one of the nation's most balanced teams, with the 26th-ranked offense (460.5 ypg) in FBS and the 15th-ranked defense (322.7) while allowing the eighth-fewest points (15.4).

"They're really balanced on offense," Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. "(Quarterback) Chuckie Keeton does a great job. He's extremely athletic and has the ability to beat you running the football, but also has the innate ability to throw the ball all over the field. He's one of the premier quarterbacks across the country."

Toledo, on the other hand, might be more at home facing either Arizona or Nevada. The Rockets are 28th in total offense (456.1 ypg) but 108th defensively (464.1).

The WAC champion Aggies might be even higher in the UPS Index if not for turnovers and penalties. Despite notching 10 wins in the regular season, Utah State finished a surprising minus-1 in turnover margin and is eighth in the nation in penalty yards, a pair of areas it would love to correct as it tries for its first bowl victory since 1993.

Toledo hasn't been much more disciplined, finishing tied for 11th in penalty yards.

The only FBS game to take place last weekend, college football's final regular-season contest, featured a pair of teams that rarely give opponents free yards. Army takes the fifth-fewest penalties (47) while Navy commits the second-fewest (42).

Despite getting outgained 418-297, the Midshipmen (8-4) rallied for a 17-13 victory to claim their 11th straight Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.

"It's hard to do," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "It's hard to beat anybody in a rivalry game, but to do it that long just speaks volumes about the guys in the white jerseys.''

The Midshipmen finished 48th in the UPS Index - up one spot from the week before - and should have a pretty even matchup in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 29. They'll put their triple-option attack, which is sixth nationally on the ground (275.6 yards per game), up against an Arizona State defense that's 12th against the pass (178.8) but 77th against the run (172.0).

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The Associated Press
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