Chen: Optimistic in the face of Oregon

Oct. 31, 2012, 1:00 a.m.

It’s always hard for me to not be a pessimistic sports fan.

When the Patriots met the Giants in last year’s Super Bowl, I had the uneasy feeling that the Pats would fall to their nemesis again. After all, is there any quarterback in the NFL that has out-clutched Tom Brady like Eli Manning has?

I was right. In what was the sequel to the 2008 nightmare, Manning once again engineered a game-winning drive to give the G-men their second Lombardi Trophy in four years.

When the Celtics took a 3-2 series lead over the Heat in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, I knew it was only a matter of time before LeBron James would singlehandedly find a way to beat us.

I was right again. Silencing every critic for good, the Michael Jordan of this generation brought Boston’s Big Three era to a disappointing end.

Don’t get me wrong, I rooted for the Pats and the Celtics, hoping that they would be able pull it off. Being pessimistic doesn’t mean that you don’t cheer for your teams as passionately as the next guy. But, as I’m sure many of you sports fans would agree, you can’t help but think in the back of your mind that everything that can go wrong with your teams will go wrong.

That being said, what do I think of Stanford’s chances of making it to the Rose Bowl? There’s still four games left, but it’s never too early to try to predict where the team will land in the postseason.

To begin with, at this point of the season there are two ways that the Cardinal can reach “The Granddaddy of Them All.” Option A is straightforward: win out and beat whomever it faces in the Pac-12 Championship. Option B is a bit more complicated: win the rest of its games except for Oregon and then hope that the Ducks go to the national championship and that the BCS has us in the top 14.

Needless to say, both roads are daunting and bumpy.

When it comes to describing what Option A entails, there’s no phrase that’s more appropriate than “controlling one’s own destiny.” If Stanford doesn’t lose another game for the rest of the season, a Rose Bowl berth would virtually be guaranteed.

But that’s a huge “if.” Beating Oregon State at home is tough enough, and defeating the Pac-12 South winner in the conference championship won’t be a cakewalk either, but the biggest challenge will undoubtedly be upsetting Oregon in Autzen.

On paper, the Stanford-Oregon matchup is almost comical. We’re talking about the team that came down to the Farm last season to completely whoop and demoralize an Andrew Luck-led Stanford. What’s scary is that this year’s Ducks might be even better. Sure, Darren Thomas and LaMichael James are gone, but the flashy duo of Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas would have even Alabama’s defense shaking in its boots. How does rookie quarterback Josh Nunes, who has played dismally on the road, stand any chance in front of the loudest 59,000 fans in the country?

So at first glance, Option B seems to be the easier path. It looks tempting because while Stanford would still have to beat Oregon State and UCLA, it wouldn’t need to concern itself with knocking off Oregon or beat the Pac-12 South champion. (If it’s USC, Matt Barkley would probably rather quit football than lose to us for the fifth straight time.)

But there’s a small problem. At the end of the regular season, Stanford needs to be in the top 14 in the BCS standings to be eligible for the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal is currently 14th right now and with a win over Oregon State in two weeks, it could potentially leap into the top ten. But when it loses to Oregon, it’ll most likely fall out of the top 15, and a win over UCLA in the last game of the season probably won’t make up enough ground. I can’t really justify a three-loss team, even if it is Stanford, being in the top 14.

Maybe things would be different if the Oregon game was scheduled earlier in the year, but having to play against the Ducks in the second-to-last game of the season doesn’t give Stanford any opportunity to re-climb up the rankings. I also think that a big reason why we’re in the top 14 right now is because we went toe-to-toe with Notre Dame, so this is one of the few times we can be thankful of the fact that the overrated Irish is the BCS’s golden boy. But that also means that if the Irish were to slip in any of its remaining games, we would take a hit in the rankings as well.

No team wants its fate to be decided by voters. Especially not by BCS voters. In that case, the most realistic scenario for Stanford to make the Rose Bowl is through Option A, which involves beating Oregon.

Fitting enough, isn’t it? Two years ago, Oregon was our only loss of the season and it cost a trip to Pasadena. A season ago, Oregon burned our national title hopes to the ground. And this year, it’s Oregon once again that stands between us and the Rose Bowl. Talk about being an obstacle.

If you asked me what I think the chances are that Stanford reaches the Rose Bowl, I would truthfully say around 10 percent. Maybe 15 percent at the most.

As pessimistic as I can be, I believe in our chances.

It might not make a lot of sense considering that the chances of the Patriots beating the Giants in the Super Bowl or the Celtics eliminating the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals were a lot higher than the chance of Stanford making it to the Rose Bowl.

But for me, there’s something different about rooting for Stanford sports. The pessimist side of me magically turns off. Maybe it’s the result of being both a Stanford student and fan. Maybe it’s because I think making it to the Rose Bowl with a quarterback named Josh Nunes would be the most epic story ever. Or maybe it’s just because I’m foolish enough to think that being optimistic will lead to good things.

I’m not quite sure, but whatever the reason, it’s good enough for me to be optimistic about Stanford athletics.

Roses in January. That doesn’t sound too bad.

George Chen is feeling so optimistic about Stanford’s chances that he’s already planning a road trip down to Los Angeles and trying to get tickets for the Rose Bowl. Buy him one at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @DailyGChen.

George Chen is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily who writes football, football and more football. Previously he worked at The Daily as the President and Editor in Chief, Executive Editor, Managing Editor of Sports, the football beat reporter and a sports desk editor. George also co-authored The Daily's recent book documenting the rise of Stanford football, "Rags to Roses." He is a senior from Painted Post, NY majoring in Biology. To contact him, please email at [email protected].

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