Stanford fans: we’ve had our four days to mope, weep, cry, scream, whatever. Now it’s time to take a realistic look at where Stanford is going to be headed this postseason.
Above all, try and think back to just three years ago, when the Cardinal faithful was thrilled to be headed anywhere in late December or early January. But believe it or not, an elite bowl bid is much more likely than your gut might have told you on Saturday night. Let’s start at the top, then:
Bowl: BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 9, New Orleans
Chance of a Stanford bid: 0.1%
How: First of all, whatever anyone in the media is saying, Stanford does have a chance of ending up in the national title game. There are three undefeated teams (No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 11 Houston) left in the country, and eight one-loss schools in the top 10 that have a shot at threatening No. 9 Stanford in the standings. Assuming LSU — by overwhelming consensus the best team in the country — wins out, the seven other teams ahead of the Cardinal will have to end the season with two losses to guarantee Stanford a spot.
With a win against overrated Notre Dame, Stanford would pass No. 8 Virginia Tech by the end of the season. As for the rest of the top-10 schools, the most likely scenario requires seven games to go in Stanford’s favor: one of them highly likely (No. 6 Arkansas loses to LSU), two of them somewhat likely (No. 7 Clemson loses to No. 12 South Carolina, Oklahoma State loses to No. 5 Oklahoma), three of them somewhat unlikely (Oklahoma loses to No. 22 Baylor, No. 4 Oregon loses to USC or in the Pac-12 title game, No. 3 Alabama loses to No. 24 Auburn) and one of them basically impossible (Oklahoma State loses to 5-4 Iowa State).
Bowl: Rose Bowl, Jan. 2, Pasadena, Calif.
Chance of a Stanford bid: 9.9%
How: Have faith, Stanford fans. The Cardinal’s easiest route to Pasadena — finishing undefeated in conference play — may be gone, but there are two highly plausible scenarios that would land Stanford in “The Granddaddy of Them All,” both of which require just one major upset. If Oregon loses to USC — which is unranked due to sanctions but has been playing like a top-15 team — and then falls to Oregon State in a rivalry game (which is always unpredictable), then the Cardinal would regain its North Division bid to the Pac-12 Championship Game and would be one win away from the Rose Bowl. Alternately, if Oregon wins out, Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma and Alabama falls to Auburn, Oregon would be vaulted to the national title game and the Rose Bowl would, in all likelihood, replace the Ducks with Stanford.
In other words, if Oregon wins out or loses twice, the Cardinal has a fighting chance. But if the Ducks only lose once, Stanford is out of luck.
Bowl: Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 2, Glendale, Ariz.
Chance of a Stanford bid: 60%
How: Don’t book your flights yet, but I hear Arizona is pretty nice in early January.
This is where things get confusing, all you BCS newcomers. The four BCS bowls besides the title game — Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar — will always include the conference champions of the one (or, in the Rose Bowl’s case, two) conference(s) traditionally associated with that bowl, unless that team is in the title game, in which case the next-best team in the conference is usually selected (with some exceptions) — if, and only if, that team has enough wins and a strong enough ranking to be eligible for an at-large bid. In other words, after all is said and done, there will be at least three at-large bids available after the dust settles: one each in the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar.
Assuming everyone holds serve in the top 10 and no upsets benefit Stanford, the Cardinal will finish No. 6 overall, since Oklahoma State-Oklahoma, LSU-Arkansas and Clemson-Virginia Tech will all play each other in either regular-season or conference-championship settings. Four of five teams ahead of Stanford will each receive automatic bids, Alabama is bound to replace SEC-champion LSU in the Sugar Bowl, and the Fiesta Bowl will likely replace Big-12-champion Oklahoma State with Oklahoma. In other words, Stanford will be the top at-large team available when all the traditional conference roles have been filled.
This year, the Fiesta Bowl gets to choose from the at-large teams before the Sugar or Orange, which is why Stanford is almost certainly going to end up in Glendale if it doesn’t make it to the title game or Rose Bowl. This would set up a rematch of the 2009 Sun Bowl, which the Sooners won 31-27.
Bowl: Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3, New Orleans
Chance of a Stanford bid: 10%
How: If the Fiesta Bowl decides to pass on the Card.
Bowl: Orange Bowl, Jan. 4, Miami
Chance of a Stanford bid: 5%
How: If the Sugar Bowl decides to pass on the Card. Virginia Tech can knock off Clemson in the ACC title game to set up a rematch of Stanford’s 40-12 win in Miami last season.
Bowl: Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29, San Antonio
Chance of a Stanford bid: 15%
How: There is one other scenario that we’ve been carefully trying to push aside. All the above bowl possibilities assume the Cardinal wins out, but if Stanford loses against either Cal or Notre Dame — or, God forbid, both — then an at-large BCS bid is pretty much out of the question.
Even if the Cardinal ends the season with three straight losses, it would still finish with more wins than any Pac-12 team besides Oregon or USC — which, remember, is excluded from postseason play this year due to NCAA sanctions. Thus, Stanford would be dropped into the best available bowl associated with the Pac-12: the Alamo Bowl.
And, those, my friends, are the six possible destinations for Stanford this winter. The Oregon loss put a big damper on the top of this list, but it’s not too shabby nonetheless.
Joseph Beyda hasn’t slept since Sunday after spending the last 72 hours deleting videos of “The Play” on his Facebook wall posted by his Cal “friends” in anticipation of Big Game. Cheer him up with videos of Stanford’s 56 wins in the series at [email protected].