The experts are right: In college football, every game matters. And however loudly the fans clamor for a playoff scenario to determine the BCS National Championship matchup, the current format does a great job—more often than not—of giving the fans the two teams best suited to play for the title.
Enter the Stanford Cardinal and its Nov. 12 loss to Oregon that essentially ended its BCS title hopes. Or did it?
A flurry of recent college football upsets have shuffled the BCS rankings, bumping Stanford up from ninth to sixth in the latest edition of the standings.
There’s an outside chance—and “outside” might even be too generous of a word—that Stanford could end up playing for the BCS National Championship if certain things shake out for the Cardinal.
Here are the scenarios that would allow Stanford to play for the title—even if some of them have an “outside” chance of being absolutely ridiculous…
The thought of a team playing for a championship based solely on the skills of a single player might seem unfair to fans from the “complete team” school of football.
Then again, I seem to recall a recent Auburn quarterback playing in—and winning—a BCS title game almost single-handedly.
Let’s say—for the sake of argument—that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck puts on an absolute show this Saturday in the game against Notre Dame. And I mean, a SHOW.
Luck decides that he’s going to will his team to the BCS Championship Game at any cost. He refuses to run the ball, instead opting to throw the ball at every opportunity—he finishes the game 50-of-50 passing, with 673 yards and eight touchdowns.
Think of the hype Luck would receive from all the talking heads on television. The analysts already plug Luck as the best player in the country—what’s to prevent them from calling for him to play for the title despite his team's win-loss record?
So Oregon head coach Chip Kelly decides that after his team’s title hopes-crushing loss to Southern California, he wants to earn some respect in BCS circles.
He picks up the phone and calls Stanford head coach David Shaw; they negotiate an Oregon vs. Stanford rematch with a catch: the winner of the game not only adds a win to its record, but gets to erase a loss as well.
The only problem for Kelly and the Oregon Ducks is that they lose the game to Stanford this time around.
Instead of jumping in the BCS standings, the Ducks are completely eliminated—as if they aren’t already—from title contention and Stanford is suddenly undefeated and has a bonus win on its résumé.
Regardless of the irrationality of the above argument, a hypothetically undefeated Stanford team deserves a shot at the BCS title, especially with all the publicity it’ll get for staging and winning an unprecedented last-minute rematch never before heard of in college football history.
I’m not saying that Stanford has to end the season ranked No. 1 in the BCS—all it has to do is back-door its way into the title game. After all, it takes two teams to play for the championship.
There’s a scenario in which the Cardinal could finish the regular season as the second-ranked team in the BCS, which would get them a shot at the title.
We already know that Arkansas and Oklahoma State are facing serious challenges this weekend; it’s likely that both teams will end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard when the dust settles. And Virginia Tech has been somewhat underwhelming this season; there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to win on the road against in-state rival Virginia.
That leaves Alabama standing in the way of Stanford’s bid for the No. 2 BCS ranking. Even if the Crimson Tide beats Auburn, if the game is a close one, it might be possible that a blowout win by Stanford over Notre Dame this weekend would be enough to push the Cardinal all the way to No. 2 by season’s end.
What did J.P. from Angels in the Outfield say? Oh, right: “Hey, it could happen!”
Hear me out, this COULD happen. (Okay, just humor me.)
Before the NFL season, newly appointed San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was already being scrutinized—not for the difficult task of turning the 49ers around, but because of speculation that his new team would intentionally tank in order to get the first pick in next year’s draft.
The prize for said tanking: Stanford quarterback—and Harbaugh protégé—Andrew Luck.
If Harbaugh was expected to do anything it took to get Luck on his team in the NFL, I wouldn’t put it by him to rig the BCS computers to allow Luck one more shot at the big stage in college.
Let’s face it: the 49ers aren’t getting Luck in the draft next year—seriously, did ANYONE see this season coming from San Francisco?
Knowing that, Harbaugh might still try to help his star quarterback out—a shot at the BCS title might make up for the fact that former Stanford player and coach likely won’t be reunited in the NFL.
There’s only one real scenario that would allow Stanford to play for the BCS National Championship. And it involves a lot of luck for the Cardinal. (Yeah, I just made that pun.)
It’s possible that four out of the five teams currently ranked ahead of Stanford in the BCS could lose next week, giving each of those teams a second loss on their respective records.
If no one else wants to play for the BCS title, Stanford would gladly take the opportunity and never look back.
Virginia Tech COULD lose on the road at Virginia. Oklahoma State COULD lose at home against Oklahoma in the Bedlam Battle. Arkansas COULD lose on the road at Louisiana State. And Alabama COULD lose on the road at Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
If Stanford wins out, they’ll be 11-1 at the end of the regular season—that might be enough to put them ahead of Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech in the eyes of the BCS.
Especially if quarterback Andrew Luck turns in an historic performance in his game against Notre Dame this weekend.
It’s a prayer, but college football has proven to us that anything can happen—does anyone remember the Iowa State vs. Oklahoma State game? I’m just saying…
Every game matters.