Since a gut-wrenching loss at Notre Dame, four straight Cardinal wins have allowed the club to keep pace with the Ducks entering Saturday's showdown in Eugene. Because a potential end-of-season tiebreaker would be a head-to-head result, a win will give Stanford the inside track to the Pac-12 North crown, with only UCLA standing between them and the conference championship game.
Since The Bootleg understands that overcoming a three-touchdown spread is not easy, it's also important to emphasize that a respectable loss at Oregon may also keep the Rose Bowl door open for Stanford, but that situation becomes a whole lot more dicey. Assuming the Ducks win out and head to the national championship game, the Pac-12's automatic spot in Pasadena will be empty. Rose Bowl officials have hinted that filling it with a Pac-12 team is a priority.
That will all be moot, though, if the conference doesn't feature another team amongst the BCS top 14, a requirement for entry into one of college football's five premiere championship contests. Following their gritty 27-23 victory over Oregon State, Stanford is now ranked no. 13 -- within the range of eligibility to be invited to the Rose Bowl. But a loss to the Ducks would likely knock the Cardinal out, leaving them in a dogfight to get back in the top 14 against UCLA at, fittingly, the prized destination: the Rose Bowl.
A close look at the current BCS standings suggests Stanford is currently in strong shape. After all computer and voter rankings are combined, the Cardinal's BCS average stands at .5705, only slightly below no. 11 Clemson (.5921) and no. 12 Oklahoma (.5797), while no. 14 Nebraska -- the team directly following Stanford, lags significantly farther behind at .4679. That suggests there is a slight buffer zone between the Cardinal and the teams behind them, one that may cushion the negative effects of a respectable loss to Oregon this weekend. In fact, the percentage breakdown shows that Stanford is closer to the no. 8 team in the BCS rankings than the team directly behind it at no. 14.
The computers like Stanford more than the voters do -- one even has the team ranked no. 7 in the country, while both human components register the Cardinal at 13th. So, a valiant showing at Autzen Stadium -- a house of horrors for nearly every visiting team, regardless of strength -- can theoretically prevent voters from punishing Stanford to a damaging extent, while the computer rankings are expected to remain respectable once the heavyweight Ducks and formidable UCLA Bruins are present in the formula to bolster the Cardinal strength of schedule calculations. Given their currently favorable position, coupled with the fact that other top 14 teams will still lose (somebody must fall after South Carolina plays Clemson, for example), Stanford may well be able to weather the storm of a loss in Eugene and remain BCS-eligible.
Of course, it's all speculation at this point, particularly since the details of Saturday's game won't play out until then. But the Ducks are severely beaten up defensively, so much so that there are rumors that running back De'Anthony Thomas and backup quarterback Bryan Bennett may play in the secondary. This opens a small door for Stanford on Saturday, one that may not be completely slammed shut even if the Cardinal do lose anyway.
A Potentially Awkward Situation (Think Badminton at the London 2012 Olympics)
If Stanford beats Oregon and UCLA prevails over USC on Saturday, brace yourselves for an awkward situation. With a win this week, the Bruins secure the Pac-12 South berth in the conference championship game, regardless of their result against the Cardinal. If Stanford is still in contention when they head down to Los Angeles next week, it might be in UCLA's best BCS Rose Bowl interests to lose to Stanford to close the regular season so that they don't give Oregon second life and aren't forced return to Autzen Stadium for the title game, the site of last season's ritual sacrifice. In short, UCLA's Rose Bowl probability may be best boosted by... losing in the Rose Bowl. Weird, to say the least.
All of that is moot if Stanford can't pull the upset this weekend. So, if you're a Farm Boy fan, fasten your seatbelt: cheer for David Shaw's club to hang tough for as long as possible Saturday and pull hard for those top 20 adversaries to lose. BCS top 14 eligibility will likely come down to mere percentage points again, but Stanford isn't in a bad spot. Of course, the Cardinal can move to an even more enviable position by pulling the upset.
David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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