Winston, undefeated 'Noles finish atop UPS Index with first national title in 14 years
A high-powered offense featuring star freshman Jameis Winston helped keep Florida State atop the UPS Performance Index most of the season. A memorable final drive led by the Heisman Trophy winner enabled the Seminoles to finish there.
Using an advanced proprietary formula highlighting 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 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 and strength of opponents.
Winston firmly etched his name into college football's history book Monday night when he led the top-ranked Seminoles (14-0) 80 yards in 79 seconds for the game-winner against Auburn (12-2). He ended things with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left, finishing off a 34-31 victory in the final BCS title game.
"The last drive, that's a great way to cap off our season," said Winston, who overcame a tough three quarters by throwing two TDs in the fourth - on his 20th birthday, no less - giving the Seminoles their first title since the 1999 season.
With a 131.8 team efficiency rating in the Index, Florida State finished 5.1 points ahead of last season's UPS champion, Alabama (11-2).
In the most successful season in the history of the storied program, Florida State became the first undefeated champion since Auburn went 14-0 during the 2010 campaign. The Seminoles averaged 51.6 points - the second-highest output in the FBS - and had the top-rated offense in the Index thanks mostly to a stellar debut season from Winston.
The Alabama native set freshman records with 3,820 passing yards and 38 TDs while often sitting out fourth quarters with his team well ahead. He also played through the lingering distraction of a sexual assault investigation in which he was never charged.
Yet on the field he was never tested like he was against the Tigers. He responded with poise and calm, going 6 for 7 for 77 yards on his team's final drive in Pasadena to trump all he had accomplished up to that point.
"I was ready," Winston said. "I wanted to be in that situation because that's what great quarterbacks do. That's what the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, Drew Brees, that's what they do."
Winston finished 20 for 35 for 237 yards and was sacked four times, but he helped rally the Seminoles from an 18-point deficit in their most tightly contested game of the season. A Florida State defense that allowed an average of 10.7 points during the regular season - and finished behind only Rose Bowl-champion Michigan State (13-1) in the Index's defensive ratings - struggled most of the night to contain the SEC champs.
The 449 total yards Auburn compiled marked the first time an opponent cracked the 400-yard mark against Florida State this season. Heisman finalist Tre Mason ran 34 times for 195 yards and put the Tigers ahead 31-27 on a 37-yard TD run with 1:19 left.
However, Winston's final shining moment prevented Auburn from pulling off another dramatic finish in a year that saw improbable victorious endings against Georgia and Alabama. Still, the Tigers - who ended up ranked seventh in the Index - enjoyed a remarkable turnaround from a frustrating 2012 season that saw them go 3-9 and winless in the SEC.
"It felt storybook again," defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "It really felt like we were going to bring it out again. We're just on the other end of the stick. It's usually us going out on the field and celebrating. It's been a long time since we had an `L' in this locker room."
The defeat snapped the Tigers' nine-game winning streak, a run made all the more impressive given that they finished first in the Index's opponent quality.
Chris Davis' memorable missed field-goal return for a TD that gave Auburn a 34-28 victory in the Iron Bowl ended the Crimson Tide's chances of a third-straight national title and second consecutive spot atop the final Index, yet Alabama held on for second despite falling 45-31 to Oklahoma (11-2) in the Sugar Bowl.
"I think when you have the kind of success that we have had here in the past, it doesn't happen by accident," coach Nick Saban said. "I think it takes a lot of hard work, and I think a lot of people have to buy into doing things at a very high standard, which these seniors and a lot of former players have set."
Stymied on fourth down late in its 24-20 loss to the Spartans in the Rose Bowl, Stanford (11-3) maintained the No. 3 spot, while Central Florida (12-1) capped its remarkable year with a 52-42 win over Baylor (11-2) in the Fiesta Bowl for fourth place - one spot ahead of last season's runner-up, Oregon (11-2).
Missouri (12-2), Auburn and Louisville (12-1) followed, with Orange Bowl-champ Clemson (11-2) moving up three spots to ninth and Michigan State rounding out the top 10.
Navy's 24-6 win over Middle Tennessee State in the Armed Forces Bowl helped it jump an Index-best 10 spots to 35th in the final ratings.
Florida International (1-11) finished last, 66.67 points behind Florida State.