Now that they're safely in the top four of the Bowl Championship Series rankings, the Stanford Cardinal can punch their ticket to either the Fiesta or the Orange Bowl. That's a pretty satisfying finish to the greatest season in the team's history.
With their season wrapped up, they can sit back and watch the carnage unfold on Saturday. And perhaps they'll have something even greater at stake--a shot at their first national championship since Glenn "Pop" Warner's 1926 team. Scott Allen of Rule of Tree acknowledges the possibility.
Stanford could still play in the Rose Bowl if Auburn loses to South Carolina in next week's SEC Championship game and TCU moves into the National Championship Game. If Auburn loses to South Carolina and Oregon loses to Oregon State, there's a chance Stanford could play TCU for the BCS title. Yes, I'm telling you there's a chance. Stay tuned.
Let's take a look at the two games that can help them get there.
Yes, Oregon State just got waxed by Stanford. The Beavers looked completely inept against the Cardinal and now they'll have to face the best Ducks team in the history of the program. If this game was at Autzen it would surely be a rout--but it's in Corvallis, so you'd expect things to be a little bit closer. Of course, when Oregon St. played for a chance to go to Pasadena two years ago at home, Oregon lit them up for 65 points and 694 yards of total offense. In a rematch in 2009 in Autzen, the Ducks narrowly edged the Beavers 37-33. But it is a rivalry game, and anything goes in a rivalry game...
The question is would an Oregon loss help Stanford? You could say it hurts them as much as it helps them. While it might help out Stanford because they drubbed a Beaver team that beat up the supposed BCS title contenders, it also hurts Stanford because their lone loss was to that Oregon team. Also, the third-ranked TCU Horned Frogs are right ahead of Stanford, and one of TCU's signature wins was (yep) against Oregon State. So both TCU and Stanford would get some aid because their win against Oregon State would look better, but Stanford would also get hurt because their loss against Oregon would look worse.
Yeah, that logic makes my head hurt. Onto the next game.
The first time Auburn played South Carolina this season, Steve Spurrier's team killed itself with turnovers and miscues. The Gamecocks committed four turnovers in the fourth quarter, blowing 20-7 and 27-21 leads to the unstoppable Cam Newton (176 rushing yards, 3 rush touchdowns, 2 pass touchdowns) and losing 35-27. Like many teams this year, the Tigers have not dominated their opponents, but have taken advantage of other team's mistakes and made numerous comebacks to maintain their bid for Glendale (most notably in the Iron Bowl last week, when Alabama blew a 24-0 first quarter lead). Could this be the week their luck runs out?
It's not clear that Auburn losing to South Carolina would be enough to drop them out of the title game, but this seems like the likelier of the two outcomes for Stanford fans to root for. South Carolina should have won the first meeting and they'll be raring for revenge. Stephen Garcia isn't completely healthy though, which could throw a corkscrew into the upset bid. But a loss by Auburn could open up the possibility of TCU going to the title game...and the Cardinal band strutting down Colorado Blvd in Pasadena on New Year's Day.
However, none of that is set in stone. Losses by either Auburn or Oregon don't guarantee Stanford will gain the points necessary to pass either team, or leapfrog TCU. It's even possible that if BOTH those teams lose, Stanford might not leapfrog them to the BCS title game. Oregon and Auburn are that far ahead of everyone else. And if there's anything we know about the BCS, the process for determining a champion is as arbitrary as it gets.
But if both teams lose, the door opens for Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck to possibly leave Stanford on the most triumphant note possible, either as Rose Bowl or National Champions. And it's not like the consolation prize of Orange/Fiesta Bowl champs wouldn't be so bad either.