In the spirit of a new month and an updated Power Rankings that received a lot of positive reader feedback, today we’re reconsidering another all-time Reader Favorite, “The Rose Bowl Dilemma”. With the Card’s shutout victory in Seattle last Saturday and a big game coming up this weekend against #13 Arizona, Stanford fans are once again dreaming big about what might become of the 2010 Cardinal football campaign. And when PAC-10 fans (and Big Ten fans, for that matter) dream big about football, the Rose Bowl is almost always involved.
Stanford has a shot to play in Pasadena, but that shot seems to be decreasing in probability. Understand premise 1: Stanford must win out. The Cardinal would have almost no opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl if they don’t win every remaining game.
And now we can get to the crazy hypotheticals. Begin with the assumption that Oregon will win the conference. The Ducks have played beautifully so far and have an offense that, by all measures, is one of the finest in the history of college football. They also stand as the only team with an unbeaten conference (and overall) record. If Oregon continues winning, it will almost certainly have a spot in the BCS National Championship Game, considering that the Ducks are currently #1 in the BCS and in the major polls.
Oregon still has to beat Arizona in Eugene and Oregon State in Corvallis, but the Ducks will be favored in both games. Oregon will also need to beat Washington and Cal, but neither team should pose too many problems for Oregon. Perhaps Oregon will drop a game, though, and let’s assume that game comes at the season-ending Civil War to rival Oregon State. If Oregon State had won all of its games other than its presumptive loss against Stanford on November 27, the Beavers would have two conference losses, and the Ducks would have 1. Stanford would also have 1, but Oregon would win the tie-breaker thanks to the Ducks’ win against Stanford on October 2. Arizona would have 3 losses (Oregon State, Stanford, Oregon) and Oregon would be the conference champion. The loss to Oregon State would nonetheless remove Oregon from BCS National Championship Game contention, though, and the Ducks would head to the Rose Bowl. Stanford would be out.
(Oregon State could also very conceivably play in the Rose Bowl if it wins out and therefore has the tie-breaker over Oregon. However, Stanford would have to lose to Oregon State in the final regular season game of the year, and we already established that Stanford needs to win out to have any chance of playing in Pasadena again this season.)
If Oregon loses twice and Stanford wins out, then Stanford would likely be headed to Pasadena. Oregon would have two conference losses, Arizona would have at least two, Oregon State would have at least two, and Stanford would be 8-1 in the PAC-10. But let’s face it: only a total collapse would lead to Oregon’s dropping two of its last four regular season games. The Ducks have looked unbeatable for most of the year, and while one loss is possible, two losses seems far removed from any significant probability of occurring.
To recap what’s gone down so far: Oregon must be in the National Championship Game or lose twice. But Oregon’s placement in the battle for the national title won’t necessarily get Stanford a ticket to Los Angeles. With new Rose Bowl selection rules that go into affect this season, the Rose Bowl is required to take an automatically qualifying school from a non-BCS conference if such a team exists and does not play in the National Championship Game. Because Oregon would abdicate the PAC-10′s spot in Pasadena by playing for the title, the non-BCS team (most likely Boise State, TCU, or Utah) would claim the Rose Bowl slot and play the Big Ten champion. Because the Big Ten Champion will not be in the National Championship, there will be no spot for Stanford.
Of course, the non-BCS school could creep up into the #2 spot in the BCS rankings and play Oregon in the title game. If that were to happen, Stanford would once again represent the PAC-10 in Pasadena.
Whew. Here’s the main idea: Oregon isn’t going to lose twice, so Stanford fans should root for the Ducks to win their remaining games and face a non-BCS school in the BCS National Championship Game. That school is most likely to be the winner of this Saturday’s TCU-Utah matchup, considering that Boise State’s strength of schedule has killed the Broncos as the season has progressed, and it does not appear that even winning out will get Boise State a spot in the title game.
So Stanford fans: root for Oregon and TCU/Utah, at least until things change this weekend.