Texas tries to improve defense
NORTHBROOK, Ill. (STATS) - Texas coach Mack Brown waited a few weeks to announce a starting quarterback for his team in the Alamo Bowl.
According to the UPS Team Performance Index, his bigger concerns should be on defense.
That embattled unit will try to bottle up Cody Vaz and Oregon State on Saturday in perhaps the highest-profile matchup of the 13 bowls this week, with the balanced Beavers bringing the UPS Index's 21st-rated team to San Antonio.
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 has 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.
The measure probably sums up how the Longhorns (8-4) feel about their season, pegging them a mediocre 45th. But while the QB situation has gotten much of the attention - Brown announced last week that David Ash would regain the starting job over Case McCoy - Texas' defense looks worse in the ratings.
The UPS Index gives the Longhorns a defensive rating of 90.86, well below average and 91st in the FBS. They yielded more than 600 yards twice and gave up five rushing touchdowns in the regular-season finale, falling 42-24 at Kansas State.
That could bode well for Vaz. Oregon State coach Mike Riley also waited to choose a starting QB - sophomore Sean Mannion being the other worthy candidate - but he's going with the junior, who has thrown 11 TD passes and just one interception.
The Beavers (9-3) have played well across the board, earning the No. 15 ranking in the AP poll and strong ratings in each category of the UPS Index.
"They are a really, really good football team and they are playing with a lot of confidence right now and they are playing so well on defense," Brown said. "They are stopping the run ... they have got great corners that match up well so they can play the man coverage that you have to beat and we have got to do a great job with that."
Another team playing very well on defense is Michigan State, which finishes this week's bowl slate Saturday night in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU. The Spartans (6-6) have the nation's fifth-rated defense in the UPS Index, allowing just 4.35 yards per play, but their struggles in other areas have them at 76th overall.
Only UPS No. 78 Texas Tech (7-5) is lower among bowl-eligible teams, in large part because the Red Raiders haven't forced a turnover in their last five games while ranking 10th nationally in penalty yards. They face Minnesota (6-6) - the only bowl-eligible squad averaging less than five yards per play on offense - in Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The highest-rated team in the UPS Index playing this week is Fresno State (9-3), which ranks 11th going into Monday night's Hawaii Bowl against SMU (6-6). The Bulldogs' strongest statistics are on defense, but they've been above average in all four categories.
The Mustangs, at 61st overall, haven't been nearly as good, but first-year Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter is expecting an exciting matchup between two teams that each forced 33 turnovers to rank among the top five nationally.
"To a fan watching this game, they'll see two spread offenses that can light up a scoreboard, and two defenses that can take it away," DeRuyter said.
The UPS Index indicates that Thursday's Belk Bowl could be an even bigger mismatch. Duke (6-6) will be happy to make its first postseason appearance in 18 seasons, but at 74th the Blue Devils are 59 spots behind Cincinnati (9-3). Bearcats tailback George Winn, who had 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns, will try to exploit a Duke defense that has been gashed for 200.7 rushing yards per game.
Only 10 teams have allowed more yards per play than the Blue Devils (6.46), but one of those is Rice (6-6), which faces Air Force (6-6) in the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday. The Owls could have trouble with the Falcons' triple-option attack, which ranks second nationally with 328.8 rushing yards per game.
In the four bowl games that were played last week, UCF (10-4) posted the best performance in the UPS Index in a 38-17 victory over Ball State in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl. Quarterback Blake Bortles accounted for 352 total yards and four touchdowns.