By Wyndam Makowsky and Alex Romanczuk
With Boise State’s loss, Stanford, as long as it beats Oregon State today, seems to hold pole position for an Orange Bowl berth even if all of the top rated teams win out. That’s right: conventional wisdom says to root for Arkansas to beat LSU today so that Stanford can get into the top four and thus be guaranteed a BCS bid. But Stanford has a good shot at a berth even if that doesn’t happen. Let’s see why.
First, let’s get two games out of the way that would be automatically set:
BCS Title game: Oregon vs. Auburn.
Rose Bowl: TCU vs. Wisconsin.
The championship will be between the top two teams—the Ducks and the Tigers, if they both finish undefeated. The Rose Bowl will be between the Big 10 Champion (Wisconsin is in a three-way tie at the top of the conference with Michigan State and Ohio State, but currently holds the tie breaker because it has the higher BCS ranking) and a qualifying team from a non-BCS conference—in this case, TCU, and Boise State’s loss essentially ended its BCS hopes.
Then what? The ACC champion (front runner: Virginia Tech) automatically goes to the Orange Bowl. The Big 12 champion (could be Oklahoma State, Oklahoma or Nebraska) automatically goes to the Fiesta Bowl. Let’s put both of those facts aside for a moment.
Each year, outside of the automatic slottings, the three bowls (Fiesta, Orange and Sugar) alternate who gets first pick of the at large teams. This year, the order is: Sugar, Orange, Fiesta. Keep in mind, too, that there can be a maximum of only two teams from any given conference.
What does this tell us? It means that the Fiesta Bowl gets the last pick, which means it is saddled with the Big East champion. The conference is awful, and no team is going to win it with less than three losses—they are, by far, the least desirable pick. That means that our Fiesta Bowl match up is set:
Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 Champion vs. Big East Champion.
That leaves the Sugar and Orange Bowls.
The Sugar Bowl usually gets the SEC champion. However, because Auburn would be playing in the title game, that slot is open. However, bowls are known to stick with tradition, and LSU—which would be the No. 5 team in the country and is not only a SEC team, but also the local squad—makes too much sense. Who would face them? Remember, the Sugar Bowl gets first pick in the “draft,” so they can pick practically any qualifying team. We think the clear choice here is Ohio State. They have a massive fan base that has shown it can travel, and would be a top eight team at the time of selection. The thing to remember with these two picks, which are technically hypothetical: these are the obvious choices. We’re not going out on any limbs. Anything different would be a little shocking. So, let’s finalize the Sugar Bowl:
Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Ohio State.
Which brings us to the Orange Bowl. It will take the ACC champion and an at large team. Already, the SEC and Big 10 are at their two-team maximums, so their conferences are out. Boise State is toast. The ACC is down (no team up for this spot would have less than three losses) and there’s already a team from that conference in the game. The Big East is an abomination—there is no chance that they get a second team into BCS games.
That leaves the Big 12 and the Pac-10. The second place Big 12 team is either going to be: three-loss Nebraska, three-loss Oklahoma or two-loss Oklahoma State. We’re not going out on a limb when we say: it is unlikely that a two or three-loss team would be selected over a one-loss Stanford. Stranger things have happened, of course, but it would be unusual. So, your Orange Bowl:
Orange Bowl: ACC Champion vs. Stanford.
Given that this is our scenario if everything happens business as usual, what derails this? Obviously, a Stanford loss to Oregon State. The Cardinal must take care of business. (Side note: that said, if both Stanford and TCU lose, Jon Wilner thinks the Cardinal still goes to the Rose Bowl). The Orange Bowl making the egregious mistake of picking a two or three loss team over a one loss Stanford. Someone taking pity on Boise State. As you can see, we’re grasping at straws. Even something that seems, on the surface, an issue, really is not: Auburn losing. That would put South Carolina in the Sugar Bowl and make the Tigers an at large team—presumably, in Stanford’s Orange Bowl slot. Sky falls. But if that’s the case, TCU goes to the title game and Stanford goes to the Rose Bowl. So all is well.
What are we saying? Win today, and unless the world descends into complete and utter chaos (and even then, it might not be an issue), Stanford’s BCS bowl positioning is looking quite good.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said “to root for New Mexico to beat TCU so that the Cardinal is practically guaranteed a Rose Bowl bid.” However, if TCU lost, it is very likely (if not almost a guarantee) that either they or Boise State will still qualify for a BCS game. If that’s the case, one of the two will be automatically slotted for the Rose Bowl. The lone scenario in which Stanford can attain a Rose Bowl slot is if South Carolina beats Auburn, nudges them from the championship game, and TCU takes their spot, thus freeing up a slot for Stanford in Pasadena. We regret the error.