First, the disclaimers. There are 15 Pac-10 games left, which means there are 2^15, or 32,768 mathematical possibilities for just how the final Pac-10 standings will look. To cut down that number into something reasonable, we're going to ignore games like Washington/Washington State which have no effect on the Rose Bowl chase, and we're going to make two common-sense assumptions.
First, we're going to be looking at realistic scenarios – so no Washington State beating Oregon State, though it's mathematically possible. Second, we're going to assume that Stanford's going to have to win out in order for the Rose Bowl to be a realistic possibility. Were Stanford to lose to USC, they'd have conference losses to three teams ahead of them in the standings – Oregon State, USC and Arizona. So the rest of the Pac-10 would have to not only fall down to three conference losses, but those three teams above would also have to lose a fourth game, because they'd otherwise beat Stanford in a head-to-head tiebreaker. Not going to happen.
So mathematically, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of the 32,768 different outcomes that could place Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Realistically, however, there are just two ways for Stanford to earn the trip to Pasadena, and we present them from most to least likely below.
Rose Bowl Overview and Rooting Interests
Currently, five teams have a realistic shot at the Rose Bowl: 5-1 Oregon (all records Pac-10 only), 4-1 Arizona, 5-2 Stanford, 4-2 USC and 4-2 Oregon State. If Stanford is to win out, they'll beat the Trojans this Saturday anyways, so that leaves Oregon, Arizona and Oregon State as the three teams Cardinalmaniacs need to watch.
Stanford can have Oregon finish with just two conference losses, as they'll beat the Ducks in a head-to-head tiebreaker. Still, the more the Ducks lose, the better.
Similarly, Stanford should root for Arizona and Oregon State to lose as much as possible, not only because a two-loss Arizona has a tiebreak over a two-loss Stanford, but also because the next tiebreaking step is to look at the top teams' records against the next-best team(s) in the conference. So for Arizona or Oregon State to potentially finish with four conference losses, behind a three-loss USC (which, by similar logic, Stanford should hope runs the table after next weekend), would be advantageous for the Card.
Root FOR: USC (after Saturday)
Root AGAINST: Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon
This weekend's rooting interests:
Stanford OVER USC
Washington OVER Oregon State
California OVER Arizona
Arizona State OVER Oregon
Rose Bowl-Clinching Scenarios
Finally, the good stuff. There are two ways in which the magic can happen – one each for Oregon losing to either Arizona State or Arizona. Here's what it would take in each case:
1. Two- or three-way tie: Stanford beats USC and Cal. Arizona beats Oregon. Oregon beats Oregon State. Arizona loses to at least TWO of Cal, USC and Arizona State.
Here, Oregon State, USC and Arizona have at least three losses, Stanford has two, and Oregon has either two (if they beat Arizona State) or three (if Arizona State beats Oregon). Either way, the Card go to the Rose Bowl, either winning the conference outright or via the 51-42 final in Palo Alto.
2. Two-way tie: Stanford beats USC and Cal. Arizona State beats Oregon. Oregon beats Arizona and Oregon State. Arizona loses to at least ONE of Cal, Arizona State and USC.
Here, Stanford and Oregon have two losses, while Oregon State, USC and Arizona have at least three. The tie atop the Pac-10 standings is broken by head-to-head result; Stanford goes to Pasadena.
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