Is Stanford the biggest threat to the BCS dreams of Boise State and TCU?

This is a FanPost of something that occurred to me while bantering with plainview88 in a different thread.

It occurred to me today, while surveying what's left of the college football season, that the inclusion of Stanford in a BCS game may be the biggest threat to getting both TCU and Boise State into BCS games (sorry, norcaliangelsfan). How did I reach this conclusion? Let me break it down for you...

When looking at the BCS, most of us realize that there are 10 spots in 5 games. With that in mind, it doesn't take a lot of math to get where we need to go. To include Boise State and TCU, we'd need to see only 8 teams from the 6 BCS AQ conferences. Given that the ACC and Big East are all but assured to get only 1 team in apiece, we're really looking at hoping for 6 teams from 4 conferences: the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10, and Big XII. 

Now, with that in mind, there are any number of threats we must analyze. However, I'd like to first point out that, contrary to popular belief, the Big XII is almost guaranteed to have only 1 team after Nebraska lost to Texas A&M. How do I figure? Let me explain:

From the Big XII, there are really only 4 BCS contenders, and 1 of them is guaranteed to make it as conference champion: 1-loss Oklahoma State, 2-loss Oklahoma, 2-loss Nebraska, and 2-loss Missouri. Among those 4, only Oklahoma and Nebraska are a real threat for an at-large bid. Oklahoma State  and Missouri simply don't have the followings to be at-large teams, and Oklahoma State would be at 2 losses, not 1, if it were in at-large consideration (since at-large means it would have lost the conference championship game, or CCG). However, neither Nebraska nor Oklahoma will be an at-large team, because their at-large bids would be as 3-loss teams. Think about it:

-If Nebraska wins the CCG, Oklahoma will have either lost there or lost to Oklahoma State earlier, and will thus have 3 losses.
-If Oklahoma wins the CCG, Nebraksa will have lost the CCG and thus be at 3 losses.
Sorry, but not even in the most paranoid, delusional fringes of BCS conspiracies does a 3-loss Nebraska or 3-loss Oklahoma squeeze past an undefeated Boise State or TCU, especially when the Broncos and Frogs would be ranked between 1-4.

Now that we have that out of the way, the only real threats to produce 2 bids are the SEC, Big Ten, and Pac-10. This is where I get to the meat of my argument about Stanford. Why Stanford? Because Oregon has all but clinched the Pac-10 title (unless someone here really thinks they're losing to Arizona and Oregon State the next two weeks), so the Ducks are in the BCS no matter what - at this point, it's only a matter of whether they go to the NCG or the Rose Bowl. Furthermore, unlike its likely Big Ten and SEC competition, Stanford holds almost zero at-large appeal outside of the Rose Bowl, and is unlikely to be taken in a different game over an undefeated Boise State/TCU team that is ranked higher. As such, I posit that Stanford being included in the equation is the biggest threat to TCU and Boise State.

Sadly, whether one finds the argument with merit or not, the Big Ten and SEC are very likely to have two teams in the BCS equation, as they are the wealthiest, most competitive, well-attended, and popular conferences in college football today. Furthermore, both conferences have a myriad of teams that will be with 2 or fewer losses, including a couple potential 1-loss at-large prospects.

The best shot at limiting the Big Ten or SEC's ability to land at-large bids is Big Ten self-destruction. Michigan State isn't nearly as attractive as Ohio State or Wisconsin, so an unlikely Badger loss to Northwestern or Buckeye loss to Michigan could stop the Big Ten from landing an at-large bid. Then again, a 2-loss Ohio State or Wisconsin is still likely to be in the final BCS top 14, and thus will almost assuredly be a threat.

The SEC, whether y'all like it or not, will be getting two bids unless Murphy's Law creates a perfect storm against it. The final BCS standings will include at least 2 SEC teams with 2 losses or fewer (thus practically cementing them in the final BCS top 14), and could have as many as 4 2-loss teams bidding for an at-large bid. If South Carolina and Alabama beat Auburn, the Gamecocks would go to the Sugar Bowl and Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and possibly Arkansas (if it beats LSU in the finale) would all have 2 losses or fewer and be a threat to an at-large seat. There's also the threat of there being two 1-loss teams in contention for an at-large bid if South Carolina beats Auburn, but Auburn beats 'Bama and LSU tops the Razorbacks. Brutal. The best-case scenario for limiting the SEC to 1 team involves Bama beating Auburn, Auburn beating South Carolina, and LSU losing to Arkansas. This creates no 1-loss teams eligible for an at-large bid, but even a 2-loss team from the SEC has the potential to screw Boise State or TCU, especially if Boise State gets in a sticky Orange Bowl situation where organizers don't want a re-match with Virginia Tech.

The sad reality is that 2-loss teams from the Big Ten and the SEC are going to be a threat. A 2-loss Stanford would not be a threat, however, unless it lands in Pasadena. Thus, let's get back to why Stanford may be Boise State and TCU's biggest threat to both teams landing in BCS games.

If Stanford enters the Rose Bowl, it will automatically put either Boise State or TCU up against the Big Ten and SEC for an at-large bid. This is not a good situation for the Broncos and Horned Frogs. They might prevail their way in, but it won't be fun to worry about. The easiest way to assure a spot in the BCS is thus ensuring that Stanford isn't in it. But how does one keep Stanford out? It won't be simple. There are only two ways I can conceive of that keep the Cardinal out of Pasadena.

The first is the easiest and simplest way: Oregon loses to Oregon State or Arizona. If the Ducks succumb to the Wildcats next week or the Beavers in the Civil War, Oregon will fall to the Rose Bowl as Pac-10 champion (I can't see them losing both games with Stanford also beating Oregon State). With Stanford lacking at-large appeal outside of California, they will not be a threat for a Sugar or Orange bid over TCU or Boise State. Moreover, if Oregon loses, either TCU or Boise State will be in the NCG, with the Broncos being the most-likely entrant. TCU would then go to the Sugar or Orange.

The second way to keep Stanford out of the BCS equation, and thus prevent TCU and Boise State from having to compete with SEC and Big Ten teams for an at-large bid, is a less-desirable route for Bronco and Frog fans: Auburn and Oregon win out. If this happens, the NCG will be Ducks-Tigers and the Rose Bowl will have to automatically take the highest-ranked non-AQ team. Again, this is likely to be Boise State (sorry, TCU), who would most likely face a Big Ten team. Rose Bowl organizers, rightly or wrongly, would probably panic at the idea of Stanford vs. Boise State/TCU, and want the bigger draw of the Big Ten as an opponent. Again, Stanford then has little-to-no appeal to as an at-large team in New Orleans or Miami, and TCU will wind face an ACC, SEC, or Big Ten opponent.

Of course, we can all hope for the chaos that comes with Oregon and Auburn both losing, but TCU-Boise is unlikely to be the NCG, and I think we'd mostly agree that this is a bummer scenario since people would again falsely cry that playing each other doesn't prove anything. Chaos could also see Oregon or Auburn sneak back into the title game, and Oregon being in there again opens the door for Stanford, which harms the Frogs/Broncos once more.

If Oregon does win out and Auburn loses, Stanford is going to be in and there's little the lower-ranked team between TCU and Boise State (likely TCU - again, sorry Frog fans) can do about it. Sure, it'd feel good for WAC/MWC fans to see the SEC stumble and the Broncos or Frogs play a fellow western team in Oregon, but it could be injurious to the BCS hopes of the lower-ranked team. In this scenario, the best TCU/Boise State fans can hope for is a Wisconsin loss to Northwestern or a Ohio State loss to Michigan (or both!) coupled with a Michigan State loss at Penn State. The SEC is less vulnerable, but Boise State and TCU stand a solid chance against a 2-loss Big Ten team. A 1-loss Big Ten team may be too appealing to the bowls without much outcry, but a 2-loss team would likely produce a negative backlash. Both teams should definitely want to see Michigan State lose to Penn State, as keeping the Spartans out of the picture makes worrying about the Badgers and Buckeyes a little easier. With either Ohio State or Wisconsin being then guaranteed a trip to Pasadena, we'd only have to hope for whichever one isn't Rose Bowl-bound to have 2 losses. If Michigan State somehow goes to the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten will almost be guaranteed to see Ohio State or Wisconsin go to a BCS game as an at-large team, and that's no bueno for TCU/Boise State.

With this in mind, I hope y'all can understand how Stanford is possibly the biggest threat to keeping TCU or Boise State out of a BCS game. Keeping the Cardinal out guarantees a bid for the lower-ranked non-AQ team (assuming they both stay undefeated, of course), but a Stanford trip to the Rose Bowl will possibly force things to break just right for an at-large bid to be available in New Orleans or Miami.

All that being said, this wasn't meant to be an anti-Stanford post. By saying Stanford is a 'threat,' I'm not trying to cast them in a negative light - I'm merely pointing out that competing against the Big Ten and/or SEC for the last at-large bid isn't anyone's idea of fun, especially since we're all keenly aware of the corrupt money politics of college football.

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