Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 8/31/12
If there's any question how vital overall team balance is to success on the college football field, last season's final UPS Team Performance Index may have somehow quantified it. Alabama and LSU, the two schools which played in January's BCS national title game and finished 1-2 in the last AP Top 25 poll, also wound up topping the UPS TPI when all was said and done. But while soon-to-be playoffs and weekly polls are meant to primarily - and somewhat mythically - measure overall strength, the index's main purpose is to measure a consistency of excellence across all facets of team performance: offense, defense and special teams. Tide coach Nick Saban went so far as to make an analogy during media day earlier this month about his program resembling a constant thermostat, "which creates the same temperature all the time, with consistency that you can count on." Whether that's on a season-by-season or unit-by-unit basis, Saban and Co. are hitting all the right buttons. 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 which don't turn the ball over, UPS has teamed with STATS LLC to normalize those numbers across all 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. While the formula is not expressly meant to rank team strength per se, the correlation between the top two teams in last season's college football rankings being the same top two in the TPI certainly speaks to how vital it can be to be a high-performing, well-rounded team. Of course, the key words being "high performing." According to the index, the most balanced team of 2011 was actually Tulane. However, the Green Wave ranked 112th because their respective unit indexes, while extremely close to each other, were all significantly below average. Across the four areas of offense, defense, special teams and miscues, their normalized scores came in at a remarkably consistent 88.1, 88.4, 90.5 and 86.2, respectively. However, 100.0 was the benchmark for average. Alabama, on the other hand, had a much greater disparity between units, but even its weakest element was subpar only relative to its other scores: the Tide's 111.7 mark for net penalty yards and turnover margin was better than all but 16 teams. Not surprisingly, the Tide's defensive ranking (139.5) was head and shoulders above the competition, and their offense (114.9) and special teams (114.9) also ranked exceptionally high. Houston, which finished the season ranked No. 18 in the AP poll, ended up third in the final 2011-12 TPI. The Cougars led the nation in total yards at almost 600 per game and finished with a 13-1 record - the same as No. 2 LSU and one win better than 12-1 Alabama, albeit against significantly diminished competition. Those numbers were primarily responsible for powering them to a lofty ranking beside the SEC behemoths, but they also had a surprisingly stingy defense and solid special teams along with being extremely disciplined and careful with the football. Houston was one of just six teams with a turnover margin of more than plus-1.0 per game. "If somebody's been out of town since last December, and they come watch us play on Sept. 1st, they won't necessarily know there's been a change," promised new Cougars coach Tony Levine, who took over after Kevin Sumlin left for Texas A&M. Wisconsin, Boise State, Oregon, TCU, Stanford, Oklahoma State and Southern Miss rounded out the top 10. Perhaps the most interesting case study - and a good example of how the TPI is differentiated from standard "power rankings" - was Baylor, which finished 13th in the AP poll but was No. 48 in the TPI. The Bears had by far the biggest inconsistency between units, and nowhere was that more obvious than in comparing their Robert Griffin III-led offense to their defense. Baylor edged Houston with the top offensive efficiency in the FBS, but its defense ranked 107th in the TPI - allowing the most total yards over the course of the season - and its special teams weren't much better. As a result of such a discrepancy between the units, perfectly highlighted by a 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl, the Bears slid down the TPI standings despite their 10-3 record. As we move into the 2012-13 season, USC is at the front of the AP pack, followed by holdovers Alabama and LSU. It's interesting to note the Trojans finished 16th in last season's TPI and were above average in all facets of the game, but were particularly dominant with a top 10 offense. Of the 22 positions and two specialists, Southern Cal returns 19 starters, so those rankings are primed to go up across the board. "I believe we can play with any offense in the country and our defense can be as good as we make it," safety Jawanza Starling said. Oklahoma and Oregon finish out the AP's top five, with the Sooners having finished 20th in last season's final TPI.
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