It’s not the playoff system a lot of college-football fans want, but it’s the only thing we’ve got — a succession of “elimination Saturdays” that the national contenders have to negotiate if they hope to crash the title game. For Stanford and Oregon, that path continues Saturday with the Cardinal at USC and Oregon hosting Washington State.
The road has lately straightened considerably for the elite Pac-12 teams. A couple of weeks ago, there was the usual anguish about a surfeit of possible unbeaten teams. As Oct. 15 (two Saturdays ago) dawned, there were 13 perfect teams.
Three of them fell that day — Illinois, Michigan and Georgia Tech. And last Saturday, the number of unbeatens fell from 10 to eight with Wisconsin and Oklahoma going down. That’s a fairly typical number; the past two seasons, there were seven unbeatens in the polls the last week of October.
Stanford (7-0) and Oregon (6-1) are ranked Nos. 6-7 in this week’s BCS standings, which gives both of them a fighting chance to get to Bourbon Street for the Jan. 9, 2012 title game.
Here’s the formula as I see it:
* Win out. They play each other Nov. 12, which, for the victor, will provide a nice bump in the strength-of-schedule component.
* Above them, LSU or Alabama (Nos. 1-2) loses. They play each other next week.
* Oklahoma State loses (to Oklahoma Dec. 3?). Saturday, the Cowboys (No. 3 in the BCS) play Baylor, followed by Kansas State and Iowa State. Remember, there’s no Big 12 title game this year (hey, for awhile, there was almost no Big 12).
* Boise State (No. 4) goes away for lack of schedule strength. The Broncos have UNLV, TCU, San Diego State, Wyoming and New Mexico. Nothing they can do.
* Clemson (No. 5) stumbles somewhere. The Tigers’ remaining opponents are Georgia Tech (at Atlanta), Wake Forest, North Carolina State and South Carolina (on the road).
Presto. A possible party for the Pac-12 in New Orleans (especially if it’s Stanford).
Actually, there are a couple of possible hitches. First, the fate of the LSU-Alabama loser will be interesting. Given the perceived dominance of those two, what happens if, say, it’s an epic, 27-24 game in which neither team loses much face? Could (gasp?) a one-loss SEC team stay ahead of another undefeated from a BCS league? You would assume that’s unthinkable, but this is the BCS.
Jerry Palm, BCS analyst, told USA Today he thinks that scenario is “highly unlikely,” adding that “I think voters will shy away from a rematch (in the national-title game), regardless of how good the first game is, if there’s any other decent choice available.”
Oregon figures to have the more difficult time of it getting past either SEC team, but especially LSU, since the Tigers won the head-to-head matchup. So if LSU loses only to ‘Bama, it’s hard to see the Ducks, no matter how they finish, outstripping a one-loss LSU team.
The Ducks should thus hope LSU puts it to ‘Bama convincingly, so at least Oregon would be compared to another SEC team. But given how the Ducks fared against Auburn and LSU in the last 10 months, there might still be a lingering sense nationally that Oregon isn’t as good as whoever it might be judged against from the SEC.
Then there’s Clemson. I’d think it’s a travesty if an unbeaten Stanford team doesn’t move ahead of the Tigers if they’re unbeaten. Right now, Stanford is suffering in the computer rankings, but will gain ground considerably in the weeks to come with games against USC, Oregon and to some degree, Notre Dame.
There would be some ‘splainin’ to do if a perfect Clemson team stays ahead of Stanford, for two reasons. The ACC has lost 33 straight games out of conference to top-five teams. And it was Virginia Tech, out of the ACC, that Stanford rocked by four touchdowns last year in the Orange Bowl.