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

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.