Stanford cleared another important hurdle to keep its BCS Championship hopes alive Saturday with a 20-12 defeat of Oregon State. But the Cardinal win has implications that extend beyond the Pac-12 and affect the entire BCS landscape.
The stakes for Stanford are obvious. As the highest-ranked team with a loss sitting at No. 7 in the initial BCS standings, the Cardinal are in prime position to backdoor their way to the national title game.
Of course, that means slowing the Oregon juggernaut. Stanford did so last year in one of the premier games of the 2012 season, but these Ducks are playing at arguably the highest level in the program's current run of excellence.
Oregon blasted UCLA Saturday, 42-14, one week after Stanford ground down the Bruins in a 24-10 decision. Such has been the M.O. for the Cardinal.
The Ducks are waylaying opponents by an average margin of victory of 38.8 points per game and 30.6 in the conference. Conversely, Saturday marked the third Stanford Pac-12 game to come down to the final possession in the Cardinal's last four outings.
If form holds true and the long-awaited Alabama-Oregon showdown comes to fruition, Stanford is left playing for its BCS streak. The Cardinal have appeared in one of college football's top-tier bowls each of the last three seasons.
Stanford's ascent coinciding with Oregon's transformation into a powerhouse helped the Pac-12 land two BCS participants for those same three years, the first of which ended an eight-year run wherein the league received just one such invitation.
Stanford is also the most likely, if not only remaining hope the Pac-12 has for a second BCS entry, barring upset in the conference championship game.
Pac-12 South-leading Arizona State has two losses—as does UCLA. A three-loss team has only received a BCS at-large invitation once: Illinois to the 2008 Rose Bowl.
With everything playing out as chalk, that leaves Stanford at a hypothetical 10-2.
This conundrum is not exclusive to the Pac-12. The ACC has undefeated Florida State and Miami, which face each other next week, as well as one-loss Clemson. Otherwise?
Oklahoma knocked Texas Tech from the ranks of the unbeaten in the Big 12, leaving Baylor as the conference's sole team without a loss. South Carolina shocked Missouri for the Tigers' first loss, leaving No. 1 Alabama standing amid a smoldering mess that is the SEC.
Jockeying for BCS bowls down the stretch of this season will be as fascinating as the national championship race itself. As a result of surviving in Corvallis, Ore., Stanford is out in front of the pack.