Eugene was crushed on Saturday.
Outnumbering the elated Stanford fans at Oregon’s field after the game, depressed Ducks fans were inconsolable. A few, a very few, were bitterly hostile, but most were just resigned to another painful end to a season that had promised so much.
I did my best to offer a few words of kindness, to break through their despair with a sliver of hope. It worked, but not quite as I had intended. As they disappeared off into the cold, dark Oregon night, I realized something: There might be just one game left to play in the regular season, but this is far from over.
On Saturday, UCLA booked its place in the Pac-12 Championship Game with a 38-28 win over archrival USC, but even after a 17-14 overtime victory over Oregon, Stanford has not guaranteed its attendance, and no one can yet be sure of just where that game might be.
If the Cardinal defeats UCLA in the regular season finale, it will set up a second matchup with the Bruins in just six days, hosting them on the Farm on Friday, Nov. 30, no matter what happens in the Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State.
However, a UCLA victory this Saturday could open the door to the Ducks reclaiming their place atop the Pac-12 North and hosting the Pac-12 title match in Autzen Stadium, if they can first beat the Beavers in Corvallis.
Oregon State can inflict maximum pain on its in-state rival, stripping it of any chance of securing a fourth consecutive conference crown, and perhaps pay the Cardinal back for that 27-23 road defeat a week ago.
If both OSU and UCLA win, Stanford will have to travel to Los Angeles to face the Bruins at home one more time.
It is not just about the Pac-12 Championship Game, and the right to play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, either. The Ducks can still theoretically find their way back to that elusive first national title, with a lot of help from chaos elsewhere around the country and a little less SEC bias in the BCS.
As Saturday proved, however, that too is far from impossible. The two top-ranked teams last week both fell to lesser opponents —Oregon to Stanford and Kansas State to Baylor — so No. 1 Notre Dame will need to be just a little wary of unranked USC. And if the SEC is really as good as they keep telling us it is, maybe even the following trio of Alabama, Georgia and Florida could be vulnerable.
Even if the college football world doesn’t implode, though, with these four Pac-12 schools in or near the BCS top 14, there may still be the little matter of the at-large BCS places to be decided. If, for example, Oregon State narrowly defeats Oregon, what happens?
Stanford or UCLA would be heading to the Rose Bowl, but how far would Oregon drop, and how far would Oregon State rise? The Beavers are currently No. 15 and so would surely move up at least one place and end up with some chance of getting a call. But it would seem unfair to throw the Ducks completely out of the reckoning, leading to a difficult decision needing to be made by somebody — only two teams from any particular conference can get BCS berths.
Along with the disappointment of losing this chance at the national title, Oregon fans were despondent that this might be their last chance, that Oregon head coach Chip Kelly would be on his way to the NFL, and that with his departure would go the future of Ducks football. To this I can offer a few more words of consolation.
When Jim Harbaugh left Stanford, current head coach David Shaw felt like an unknown quantity. It seemed hardly believable that the team would head to another BCS bowl in just his first season at the helm, and back in mid-October it seemed barely possible that Stanford would still be able to make it to a third straight this year.
Kelly might be a big part of Oregon football, but the program is far more than just him. Next year you will still have De’Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota and many more. Next year you will still strike fear into many a defensive lineman and, more than anything, after the 2014 season the BCS takes a major step forward with the introduction of the four-team playoff for the national title; Oregon will only have to finish in the top four spots to get the chance to finally break that SEC stranglehold.
Tom Taylor is finally starting to understand the intricacies of American football. Make him feel silly for sticking with soccer for so long at tom.taylor “at” stanford.edu.