Every PAC-10 and Big Ten football team begins each season with the goal of reaching the Rose Bowl. In today’s college football culture, such a goal has nearly become quaint: teams willingly aim for the traditional standard of regional excellence rather than the moneyed-up, political maneuverings associated with the BCS National Championship Game. But now that the season if half completed, some teams are out of the hunt completely (we’re looking at you, Washington State), others hold only the faintest chances (UCLA, Arizona State), one team is the clear-cut favorite (Oregon) and the others have impossibly complicated scenarios with which to gain a ticket to Pasadena. So to give you an idea of Stanford’s Road to Pasadena and weed out some erroneous rumors, here is what would need to occur for the Cardinal to play in the Rose Bowl.
- Stanford has to win out. Sure, this isn’t mathematically necessary, but Oregon would have to lose at least 3 times in its last 6 games in order for Stanford to lose 1 more and make the Rose Bowl. Anyone who has watched the Ducks this season should know that they will not go .500 the rest of the way, especially with an upcoming 4 consecutive weeks of games against unranked opponents on the schedule. Even if Oregon did lose 3 games, another team–most likely Arizona–could step into the Rose Bowl slot if Stanford falters.
- Oregon needs to be in the BCS National Championship Game. Even if Stanford does win out, Oregon could blow a game and still have Rose Bowl priority over Stanford, because the Ducks’ victory in Eugene on October 2nd against the Card would serve as the tie-breaker. Oregon won’t lose twice, barring a meltdown or significant injury. If Oregon finishes the regular season as the #1 or #2 team in the BCS rankings, then they would go the BCS National Championship Game and vacate their spot in the Rose Bowl.
- Stanford needs help from teams completely unrelated to the PAC-10. If Oregon vacates the PAC-10 Champion spot in the Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl is obligated to select a non-BCS conference team (presumably either Boise State, TCU, or Utah) rather than the PAC-10 runner-up to fill Oregon’s place. That would leave Stanford out of Pasadena on New Year’s Day. However, that only occurs if the non-BCS team is in the top 12 of the regular season BCS rankings. Without doubt, at least one of the aforementioned 3 teams will be, so we can rule out this possibility. If Oregon plays in the National Championship Game, a non-BCS conference team will almost surely play in Pasadena.
- Still, Stanford has one realistic way to play for the roses. If Oregon plays a Big Ten team or a non-BCS conference team in the championship game, Stanford would presumably be in the Rose Bowl. The rules are ridiculously convoluted, but the gist is this: if a Big Ten team vacates its spot in the Rose Bowl, as well, then the PAC-10 runner-up (possibly Stanford) would still have a spot in Pasadena; if the non-BCS conference school goes to the championship game rather than the Rose Bowl, then the Rose Bowl spot would also be free for the PAC-10 runner-up.
Whew. BCS rules are terrible. If you’re really interested, you can take a look at the official rules upon which this article is based. And, if you didn’t follow any of that, don’t worry. No one really does. The point is that Stanford needs to go undefeated from here on out and pray that Ohio State, Boise State, TCU, or possibly even Michigan State plays in the National Championship game with Oregon. TCU’s offense has been fairly disappointing for most of the season, so it seems that the real teams to pull for are the Buckeyes and the Broncos. And, of course, the Cardinal.
Willys DeVoll is the editor-in-chief and founder of The Daily Axe, a Stanford sports site.