First of all, I'd like to thank the Arkansas Razorbacks. Next I'd like to thank the Nevada Wolfpack. Without the two of you and all your hard work against LSU and Boise State, the Mighty Card's 11-1 season would probably have earned a trip to the prestigious Alamo Bowl.
But thanks to those two upsets (technically, the Arkansas win wasn't an upset), Stanford has climbed all the way to number four in the latest BCS standings, guaranteeing an invitation to one of the four BCS bowl games.
With most teams having finished their schedules, there are far fewer variables out there, so now seems as good a time as any to try to navigate Stanford's bowl possibilities. All of this discussion is based on the BCS selection process, as explained in a lengthy document that you're welcome to peruse. Or you can just take my word for it. I'll be sure to make it clear when I'm giving you something certain and when I'm speculating. Okay, here goes.
So here are the relevant games that will take place on the field next week:
- SEC Championship Game: #1 Auburn vs. #19 South Carolina
- Civil War: #2 Oregon at Oregon State
- Big 12 Championship Game: #9 Oklahoma vs. #13 Nebraska
- ACC Championship Game: #21 Florida State vs. #15 Virginia Tech
- Assorted Big East games to determine that league's champion
First of all, I'm not going to entertain the idea that Oregon State might upset Oregon. It would make this discussion a lot longer and a lot more complicated, and I don't think anyone outside of Corvallis gives the Beavers a shot, so let's move on.
If Auburn loses to South Carolina -- something I predicted back on November 11 -- everything is simple. Oregon plays TCU in the BCS Championship game, and Stanford slides into the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, which would be nice.
If Auburn wins, however, things are a bit more sketchy. Here's how the BCS bowls would slot out:
- BCS Championship: Auburn vs. Oregon
- Rose Bowl: Wisconsin vs. TCU (to replace Pac-10 Champ Oregon)
- Sugar Bowl: At large vs. At large (to replace SEC Champ Auburn)
- Orange Bowl: ACC Champion vs. At large
- Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 Champion vs. At large
Okay, so how does this work for the Cardinal? The bowls will select teams in the order they're listed above, meaning that the Sugar Bowl will have first choice. The important thing to remember is the bowls will make their selections in order to ensure the a game that will sell tickets, create buzz, sell tickets, draw television viewers, and sell tickets.
With that in mind, the Sugar Bowl will almost certainly look for a regional draw and select the most appealing SEC team available, the seventh-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks. They could then select Stanford, but I can't imagine they would. Everyone pretty much agrees that they'll pick Ohio State and look forward to a sold-out Superdome.
Next up is the Orange Bowl, which will need to select a team to oppose the ACC champions. They could take the Cardinal, but I bet they'd rather have a team from the east coast, especially if the Big East champion is the relatively desirable #24 West Virginia Mountaineers**. If the less desirable (and unranked) Connecticut Huskies somehow win the Big East, the Orange Bowl folks might prefer Stanford, and leave the Huskies on the table for someone else. (The big loser, of course, is #8 Michigan State. Another BCS clause states that no more than two teams from a single conference can receive BCS bids, so the Spartans are left out, even though they're much, much better than any team in the Big East.)
And finally, the Fiesta Bowl. Assuming that everything works as suggested above, this would be the only landing place for the Cardinal, and it would make the most sense. Glendale, Arizona, is a long day's drive from Palo Alto, so I could see students deciding to spend their New Year's in Arizona before heading up the coast for the first day of classes on January 3rd. Will Stanford be able to sell its entire allotment of tickets, something in the neighborhood of 15,000? Probably not. But aside from the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl would be the most appealing BCS bowl for Stanford fans.
The one problem with the Fiesta Bowl, of course, would be that Oklahoma could be the team opposing the Cardinal. If that sounds familiar, it's because those two teams matched up in last year's Sun Bowl, a game won by the Sooners. Bowls don't usually like rematches like that, and there is a clause in the selection document that says: "After completion of the selection process... the conferences... may, but are not required to, adjust the pairings taking into consideration the following: whether the same two teams will play against each other in a bowl game for two consecutive years."
What's interesting about that is that the bowls themselves wouldn't seem to have a say in the matter. My guess, though, is that neither the Pac-10 nor the Big-12 would have any objections to this rematch. The Pac-10 office will know that Stanford fans won't flock to New Orleans or Miami, and the Big-12 will understand the benefits of matching their champion against the best team not playing in the national championship game.
So with all of that in mind, here are my fearless bowl projections:
- BCS Championship Game: #1 Auburn vs. #2 Oregon
- Rose Bowl: #5 Wisconsin vs. #3 TCU
- Sugar Bowl: #7 Arkansas vs. #6 Ohio State
- Orange Bowl: #15 Virginia Tech vs. #24 West Virginia
- Fiesta Bowl: #4 Stanford vs. #9 Oklahoma
Then again, I could be completely wrong***.
* The fourth spot is coveted because of something called the Kansas State Rule, a clause written into the BCS selection procedures after Kansas State finished the 1998 season 11-1 and ranked third in the BCS, but ended up in the Alamo Bowl while #4 Ohio State and #8 Florida were selected for BCS bowls.
** West Virginia would seem to have the inside track in the Big East. If WVU, UConn, and Pittsburgh all finish in a three-way tie (which is likely), I assume the highest ranked team would get the Orange Bowl. I don't know this for sure, but I'm not willing to do the research to find out. So let's pretend that I'm right.
*** But probably not.