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USC shows resolve as bowl season opens, cracks into top 15 of UPS Index

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College football's bowl season got off to a high-flying start last Saturday with Southern California making the biggest statement - and pushing itself inside the top 15 of the UPS Team Performance Index - among four opening-weekend matchups featuring no shortage of offensive fireworks.

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.

In a topsy-turvy season marked by early disappointment and a subsequent coaching carousel, the Trojans (10-4) somehow found their groove late in the year, winning six of their last seven games to notch double-digit victories. Their last one was one of their most impressive, coming against a Fresno State team that went into Thanksgiving undefeated and just a month ago had visions of busting into a BCS game.

But the Bulldogs (11-2) were no match for the inspired group from Los Angeles, falling 45-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl. While Fresno's otherwise stellar season came to a disappointing close, Southern Cal's disappointing start was now a distant memory.

"After all of the adversity that's hit us, this win means everything for us," USC safety Dion Bailey said. "We've had four head coaches and were able to get 10 wins. I'll never forget this team."

Lane Kiffin began the year in charge at Troy, but was replaced after his defense was shredded in a 62-41 loss at Arizona State that dropped the team to 3-2. Assistant Ed Orgeron took over and steadied the ship, going 6-2 in an interim role, but resigned when Washington's Steve Sarkisian was named the head man earlier this month.

Another assistant, Clay Helton, took the reins for the bowl game, meaning the storied program will have had four different head coaches within one year.

"I can't say how proud I am of this team," Helton said. "We had to see: Were we going to use it as an excuse to be on our third-string head coach, or were we just going to say, 'We're not going to fail today.'"

The Trojans not only didn't fail, they thrived on both sides of the ball. Their offense blew the game open early with 35 first-half points, while their defense held an explosive Fresno State unit in relative check. The Bulldogs came into the game ranked fifth in the FBS in scoring at 45.3 points per game.

As a result of their well-rounded effort, Southern Cal jumped three spots to No. 14 in the Index.

USC wasn't the only team to light up the scoreboard last weekend. The eight schools in action averaged 34.5 points apiece, providing some up-and-down-the-field excitement that is hopefully a harbinger for the next 27 bowl games - 11 of which will be played over the course of the next week.

At the head of the offensive list was San Diego State, which put up seven TDs in a 49-24 rout of Buffalo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Not far behind was Colorado State, which eked out a 48-45 barnburner in the New Mexico Bowl. And in the other game of the weekend, Louisiana held off Tulane 24-21 in the New Orleans Bowl.

Thanks to the Ragin' Cajuns' performance in that victory, they climbed a week-high 12 spots in the Index to No. 74. The Rams moved up six.

Louisiana relied on a stout defense and timely special teams play to help boost their overall balance. Corey Trim returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown, Sean Thomas had a pair of interceptions and Hunter Stover hit a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter for the school's third straight New Orleans Bowl victory.

"We preached turnovers," Thomas said. "Going into the game, we knew we had to help our offense out a lot."

On the other end of Index movement, Buffalo fell five spots and Washington State four.

Outside of Fresno State - which fell two spots to 28 - and USC, however, none of those teams rank in the top 60.

In the big picture, Florida State, Alabama, Stanford, Auburn and Central Florida make up the top five, respectively, with the Seminoles 1.7 points ahead of the Crimson Tide as their national-title game matchup against the Tigers looms on Jan. 6.

Of the games this week, a handful of Top 25 Index teams are in action, including No. 8 Louisville against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl, No. 19 Bowling Green against Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, No. 24 Northern Illinois against Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl and No. 25 Notre Dame against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Tagged: USC, Fresno State, Louisiana-Lafayette

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