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'Bama cements top spot in final UPS Index with domination of BCS title game

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Alabama sat atop the final regular season UPS Team Performance Index by the slimmest of margins. After its performance in the BCS title game, Nick Saban's squad firmly separated itself from the rest of the pack in more ways than one.

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Ranked No. 2 in both the AP Top 25 and BCS standings when bowl matchups were finalized, the Crimson Tide topped the index in early December, nipping Kansas State by just one-hundredth of a point at the time. After claiming its second straight national championship and third in four seasons Monday night with a dominating 42-14 victory over previously top-ranked Notre Dame, Alabama (13-1) ended the season with a significantly more comfortable 4.64-point buffer over second-place Oregon.

Only Southern California's 55-19 victory over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl proved to be a more lopsided championship outcome in the BCS era. That title was later vacated due to NCAA violations.

"It was just a complete game by the offense, defense and special teams," said Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, the game's defensive MVP with eight tackles.

That's exactly what the UPS Team Performance Index has measured all season long.

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 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.

Alabama wasted no time showing who was the nation's best, scoring touchdowns on drives of 82, 61 and 80 yards on its first three series. Running behind an offensive line that included three All-Americans, Eddie Lacy gained 72 yards in the first quarter against a Notre Dame defense that ranked among national leaders, allowing just 92.3 yards per game on the ground.

But that wasn't the only area the Tide flexed their muscle. The Alabama defense also controlled the line of scrimmage and did not allow the Irish to advance past its 39-yard line over the first 30 minutes, going into the half with a commanding 28-0 lead. The 28 points were already the highest point total Notre Dame yielded all season.

"We couldn't be happier with the way we came out and started the game," said Alabama center Barrett Jones, who played with torn ligaments in his left foot. "We knew we wanted to run the ball and hit them early, and I think that's what we did."

The Crimson Tide displayed the type of overall balance expected from a perfectionist like Saban. Not only did they have the highest overall score in the index for the season at 130.10, but their single-game score of 123.82 was the fifth-best of the 24 schools that played in bowls New Year's Day or later - despite the fact they played against the stiffest competition.

Lacy was named the game's offensive MVP after ending up with 140 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. He also caught two passes for 17 yards and a score. Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon combined to rush for 248 of Alabama's 529 total yards - well surpassing the previous high of 379 Notre Dame gave up in a 30-13 win at Oklahoma on Oct. 27.

The Irish had allowed only two players to rush for 100 yards prior.

A.J. McCarron, the offensive MVP of last season's BCS title game, was 20 of 28 for 264 yards with four TDs and no interceptions. Freshman Amari Cooper caught six passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

Alabama, which finished the season allowing an FBS-low 10.9 points per game and had the second-rated defense behind Florida State within the index, held the Irish to 302 total yards, including a season-low 32 on the ground - 170.5 fewer than their rushing average. Everett Golson's 2-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter snapped a title-game stretch of 108 minutes and 7 seconds the Crimson Tide went without allowing a point.

"I think for one of the first times this season we were able to come out and play a complete game," Lacy said.

Notre Dame dropped to No. 4 in the final AP poll and finished 16th in the index. Irish coach Brian Kelly saw first-hand what his program must do to claim its first national title since 1988.

"We've got to get physically stronger, continue to close the gap there," he said. "Just overall, we need to see what it looks like. Our guys clearly know what it looks like now - a championship football team. That's back-to-back national champions. That's what you measure yourself against there. It's pretty clear across the board what we have to do."

One team that did close the gap on Alabama a bit with their postseason performance - at least in regard to the UPS Index - was Oregon (12-1). A late-season 17-14 overtime loss to Pac-12 rival Stanford ended the Ducks' national title dreams, but a 35-17 win over Kansas State (11-2) in the Fiesta Bowl leapfrogged them over the Wildcats to the No. 2 spot in the index.

Their single-game score of 129.67 trailed only Oklahoma State - who defeated Purdue 58-14 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl for a 140.25 - in games played New Year's Day or later.

Oregon posted points via run, pass, field goal and, perhaps most importantly, set the tone by opening the game with an 84-yard kickoff return for a TD by De'Anthony Thomas. The Ducks' "D" held Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein to 17-of-32 passing for 151 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

The Wildcats managed just 283 total yards - their second-lowest output of the season - but only fell one spot, to No. 3, in the final index. Boise State, Northern Illinois, Ohio State, Florida State, South Carolina, Stanford and Florida rounded out the top 10.

Colorado, which went 1-11 and allowed an FBS-worst 46.0 points per game, finished last among the 120 schools in the index with a cumulative score of 65.37.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2014
The Associated Press
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