There was a moment on Saturday night -- or, more accurately, several moments -- when it seemed like this whole BCS series I've been running would be completely irrelevant come Sunday morning.
But we know what happened this past weekend in the Coliseum, and we know that the Mighty Card is still undefeated and possibly headed towards a BCS bowl of some type, perhaps even the BCS championship game. With only four games remaining on the schedule, plus a possible Pac-12 Championship game match-up against either Arizona State or, believe it or not, UCLA, bowl season is getting closer and closer all the time.
Aside from the Cardinal victory, the best thing that happened over the weekend was that Clemson lost and Boise State dipped behind Stanford in the polls, so the list of teams concerning the Cardinal has gotten shorter. (Next week, it will be shorter still.) Take a look...
#1 LSU and #2 Alabama
It's hard to believe that ESPN is running any kind of programming this week aside from 24-hour previews of this Game of the Century. All that really matters for Stanford is that one of these teams will walk away with a loss and a lost opportunity. If this game ends up as a close victory for one side or the other, a hue and cry will rise from all corners of SEC country demanding that the loser should maintain the #2 ranking in the country and still get another shot at the winner in the BCS championship game.
This is obviously absurd. Just for the sake of argument, let's assume that Alabama beats LSU, 17-14. It's a great game, and most observers are convinced that they've just witnessed an epic battle between the top two teams in the country. Even if that's so, LSU will have gotten its shot. Remember at the end of Rocky when Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa met in the ring and a battered (but still heavyweight champion of the world) Creed said to Balboa, "Ain't gonna be no rematch," and Rocky replied, "Don't want one"? Same thing here. Ain't gonna be no rematch.
#3 Oklahoma State
There's lots of talk about how the Cowboys control their own destiny, but I'm not terribly worried about them. They might end up winning their next three games, but they still have that huge showdown against Oklahoma on December 3rd. Just a few days ago every college expert in the country thought the Sooners were significantly better than Oklahoma State. Even though Oklahoma stumbled against Texas Tech, I still think they're better, and they should bounce OSU out of the championship chase in that final game. Book it.*
The biggest road block facing the Cardinal up until now has been its strength of schedule. The Sagarin poll had Stanford with the 93rd toughest schedule before last weekend, but with USC added to the slate, that number jumped considerably to 53. After playing Oregon, Notre Dame, and probably Arizona State, the schedule strength will be comparable to the other top teams. The interesting thing, though, is that none of that matters anymore since the Cardinal has already leapfrogged Clemson and Boise State. Unless Stanford can somehow schedule, say, Texas A&M for the second week of December, there's nothing they can do to catch an undefeated Oklahoma State. If that happens, it's the Rose Bowl for the Cardinal. If the Cowboys lose, however, the Mighty Card will get its ticket to the SEC Invitational Bowl, otherwise known as the BCS Championship game.
Here's the good news, though. If Stanford loses to Oregon in two weeks, the Cardinal will probably still earn a BCS bid for the second year in a row. Oregon would finish with one loss and head to the Rose Bowl. Stanford would likely be ranked no lower than seventh or eighth in the final BCS poll, and Andrew Luck would be the proud new owner of a shiny little Heisman Trophy. With the potential of having Luck's name on the marquee combined with the memory of the strong Stanford contingent that showed up at last year's Orange Bowl, I'm sure either the Sugar or Fiesta Bowl would jump at the chance to select Stanford as an at-large team. If that's the worst-case scenario, sign me up.
* If that Okie State paragraph read familiar, it's because you've read it before. I lifted it from last week's post and just changed one word.