Status quo dictates the SEC gets two BCS invitations every year, but unprecedented parity threatens the routine in the last year of the system. With the SEC cooking a pot of three- and four-loss stew, football's most celebrated conference could have to settle for one bid this year.
Conversely, a two-bid postseason is ready-made for the Pac-12.
The SEC has landed two invitations to the five most prestigious bowls every year since the system expanded to five games in 2006.
The Pac-12 remains the best-represented conference atop the BCS rankings, with Stanford maintaining its No. 5 spot behind third-ranked Oregon. However, a Week 11 showdown between the Cardinal and Ducks threatens that, with four SEC teams—Missouri, Auburn, South Carolina and LSU—ranked from No. 8-13 looming.
Which conference is most deserving of two BCS bids?
A fifth, Texas A&M, checks in at No. 15.
Any could conceivably jump Stanford by season's end. But equally as conceivable is the five falling to three or more losses.
Two-loss Texas A&M goes to LSU; two-loss LSU visits Alabama. Two-loss South Carolina faces No. 7 Clemson in the regular-season finale. One-loss Auburn visits Tennessee, which already derailed South Carolina, then hosts Georgia and Alabama.
In addition to No. 1 Alabama, surprising SEC East leader Missouri is the conference's best hope for landing a second BCS bid. The Tigers can either win out, including the SEC championship; win out in the regular season and drop the league title game to finish 11-2; or finish the regular season 10-2 to avoid Alabama, instead sending South Carolina to play the Tide in the conference title game.
The latter seems most likely. Missouri travels to Ole Miss one week before hosting Texas A&M. Both are prime candidates to knock off the eighth-ranked Tigers.
Otherwise, the SEC's run of BCS at-large invitations is in serious jeopardy.
The BCS made an exception for a three-loss team in the past, when Illinois appeared in the 2008 Rose Bowl.
The 2013 season has been wild. Look no further than Stanford, which has a loss at Utah. That early October outcome will loom over the Cardinal's BCS bid, should they finish the regular season 10-2.
Wild as this campaign may be, though, it's yet to take the same kind of unexpected turn as the 2007 season. A scenario welcoming a three-loss team into the BCS fold is improbable.
Clemson is in position to finish 11-1, a record that would give it book-ending wins over the SEC's Georgia and South Carolina. The Big 12 has three teams ranked in the Top 14.
There are two non-automatic qualifiers, Fresno State and Northern Illinois, ranked ahead of American Athletic automatic-bid front-runner UCF.
And then there's the Pac-12. Even with the Utah loss, a 10-2 Stanford would have a stronger BCS resume than most of its automatic-qualifying conference counterparts, including the SEC—especially the SEC.
A nine-game conference slate helped Stanford strengthen its schedule. The Cardinal sport two wins against teams ranked in the BCS Top 25: No. 19 UCLA and No. 22 Arizona State. They get two more cracks at adding to that list.
In addition to Thursday's long-awaited showdown with Oregon, Stanford hosts No. 23 Notre Dame in the regular-season finale. With all going according to plan, both the Cardinal and Fighting Irish should be 9-2 on Nov. 30.
After years of criticism against the SEC for collectively eschewing marquee, non-conference games, the Pac-12 solidifying a second BCS bid with a non-conference win would be poetic justice.