Spelfogel: Stanford’s bowl outlook

Nov. 29, 2016, 11:37 p.m.

Have you set your winter travel plans yet?

Pinkish Pasadena? No way, not two years in a row!

Shiny San Diego? Sounds nice…

Steamy San Antonio? So hot!

Sun-kissed Santa Clara? Too Close!

El Paso!?!? What???

Good thing you don’t have any holiday plans yet, because Stanford football’s holiday locale is just as up in the air as yours. Next week will finally illuminate the Cardinal’s long-awaited bowl selection. And there is a lot to talk about.

Stanford has one of the most interesting prospects of any team in the FBS, because of the sheer number of bowls it could be drawn into. The Cardinal currently sit at No. 18 in the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings this week. While the Playoff is thoroughly out of reach, the rankings of other teams add intrigue and suspense to Stanford’s bowl selection.

Despite the high national ranking, Stanford is just fifth in the Pac-12 conference overall right now. And because Pac-12 affiliated bowls can select teams with one more conference win or loss than Stanford, its final “bowl ranking” could fall anywhere from third to sixth in the conference. This will depend on the outcome of other games this weekend as well as how much each bowl “likes” Stanford.

Before any of that gets figured out, though, the Pac-12 has one game left — its championship — which pins a one-loss Washington team against a highly ranked Colorado team.

There is a scenario  — albeit highly unlikely — in which the Pac-12 gets a Playoff and two New Year’s Six bids. If Washington and Colorado play a compelling game this weekend in Santa Clara, they could both end up remaining in the top 10. In that situation, a high-riding Washington team makes the College Football Playoff, staying at the No. 4 spot, and the Buffaloes could rank at No. 8 or 9 — ahead of the loser of the Big Ten championship game — and head to the Cotton Bowl. 

The Rose Bowl would then have to choose between two 9-3 teams in Stanford and USC. Despite Stanford’s domination of the Trojans earlier in the season, the Rose Bowl would be salivating too much at the prospect of USC returning to its friendly confines for the first time in nearly a decade for it to spurn the Trojans.

With USC being selected to the Rose Bowl, Stanford could still have a great bowl matchup in the form of the Alamo Bowl or the Holiday Bowl.

The Alamo Bowl would get selection preference and, if selected, Stanford could face either the loser of the Bedlam game or West Virginia. This would certainly be enemy territory if Stanford is to face one of the Oklahoma schools. But, if the Alamo Bowl selects Washington State over Stanford, the Cardinal could go to the Holiday Bowl against the loser of the Big Ten championship game — or maybe even play a rematch of last year’s Rose Bowl against Iowa.

But these outlooks are, well, rosier (certainly no pun intended there) than Stanford’s expected bowl selection results.

If Washington were to miss the CFP, it would go to the Rose Bowl and cause a chain reaction that would push Stanford down to a lower bowl. Likewise, even if Washington does make the CFP, but Colorado is not ranked higher than the loser of the Big Ten championship, and thus does not also make a BCS bowl game, the same cascade effect takes place.

In this case, the Holiday Bowl would have to choose between Stanford and Wazzu, and even though the Cougars are unranked and lost to an FCS team, their head-to-head victory over Stanford, higher conference ranking, and the reputation of fans not traveling to bowls could mean Stanford is out of luck.

Stanford would then, in theory, end up back in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 28, facing Iowa or a lower-ranked Big Ten school like Minnesota. Depending on other selections, Stanford could also face Nebraska in this game. While not carrying the same allure as the Rose Bowl, an Iowa rematch just a few miles from campus would be appealing.

One lingering concern is Stanford’s lack of traveling fan support. While having a bowl game just a few minutes from campus would seem ideal, two seasons ago Levi’s Stadium was mostly empty for Stanford’s Foster Farms Bowl appearance against Maryland. If Stanford is competing against Utah for a spot in the bowl, the selectors could pass on Stanford in the hopes that Utah draws more fans.

If Stanford does indeed fall all the way to the Sun Bowl, the Cardinal would face an ACC team such as North Carolina or Miami in El Paso.

The results of the Pac-12 and Big Ten championship games this weekend will have the greatest effects on where Stanford will be selected. If you want to celebrate New Year’s in San Diego, then root for Washington to closely defeat Colorado and Wisconsin to beat Penn State.

Otherwise, gamble and hope for chaos.

Depending on how the cookie crumbles, you might be dealing with Texas heat or just a short car ride down the 101. Either way, this weekend will write the final chapter in the 2016 regular season, and allow you to finally make those pesky winter travel plans.


Contact Michael Spelfogel at mspel ‘at’ stanford.edu if you want to borrow his rose-colored glasses. He rents them out at both weekly and bi-monthly rates (Cal students will be charged a 500-percent premium).

Michael Spelfogel is a staff writer in the sports section at The Stanford Daily. He can be contacted at mspel 'at' stanford.edu.

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