Disclaimer: None of what you're about to read matters if Stanford doesn't take care of business against Notre Dame. If you're superstitious and worry that speculating about possible BCS bowls instead of focusing solely on the Fighting Irish is bad karma (or you just think it's a waste of time), proceed at your own risk.
When Stanford kicks off its regular season finale against Notre Dame on Saturday evening, it will know, based on the outcomes of games on Friday and earlier Saturday, whether its slim BCS title game and Rose Bowl hopes are still alive. That's not ideal, especially if everything breaks the Cardinal's way in the early games, but oh well. The very fact that we're mentioning the NCG and Rose Bowl as possible destinations after Oregon dismantled the Cardinal two weeks ago is remarkable.
Stanford's paths to Pasadena and New Orleans are improbable and require upsets of the same magnitude as Iowa State's shocking win over Oklahoma State. (One commenter calculated the odds of Stanford's "most likely path" to the National Championship Game as 3.2%. Dare to dream.) If Stanford's national title and Rose Bowl dreams die before it takes the field, the Cardinal can still feel pretty good about its prospects of earning an at-large BCS bid to the Fiesta Bowl with a win over Notre Dame. That's pretty cool.
Here's a handy guide to prepare you for this weekend's action, which doesn't involve rooting for any team quite as icky as Oregon (blech) or USC (double-blech), depending on which side of the fence you were last week. For that, we can all be thankful. To the games...
THURSDAY, NOV. 24
Texas at Texas A&M, 5 p.m. PT, ESPN
Root for: Whoever you darn well please. Don't let this Big 12 tilt ruin your Turkey Day, but you might want to pick a school and practice rooting for a team other than the Cardinal as a tuneup for Friday.
How it affects Stanford: One outcome might be slightly better for Stanford than the other, but as far as I can tell, this game won't have any real bearing on the Cardinal's BCS hopes. If I'm wrong, please enlighten me in the comments.
Get in the spirit: Confuse your relatives by ending everything you say at the dinner table with "Gig 'Em" and flashing a thumbs up. Substitute "Hook 'Em" and the accompanying hand signal if you're partial to the Longhorns.
FRIDAY, NOV. 25
Houston at Tulsa, 9 a.m. PT
Root for: Tulsa? 100 points?
How it affects Stanford: I don't think this game matters much to the Cardinal's hopes either, as Stanford has a pretty comfortable lead on the Cougars. A loss would ruin Case Keenum's already slim Heisman hopes. On the other hand, if you'd like to see Houston's high-powered offense in a BCS bowl, root for the Cougars.
Get in the spirit: Read the story of Tulsa's Captain 'Cane, commit it to memory, and spread it far and wide. His heroic tale deserves to be told.
Arkansas at LSU, 11:30 a.m. PT, CBS
Root for: LSU*
How it affects Stanford: This is an important one. Both teams are ahead of the Cardinal in the BCS Standings, but a loss is unlikely to bounce undefeated LSU out of one of the top two spots. An LSU win, however, would eliminate the Razorbacks from the national title race.
and the possibility of 3 SEC teams earning BCS bids.
Get in the spirit: Eat ham with a side of grass.
SATURDAY, NOV. 26
Iowa State at Oklahoma, 9 a.m. PT, FX
Root for: Iowa State
How it affects Stanford: Just a little. It's unlikely that a 2-loss Oklahoma team would jump the 1-loss Cardinal, even if the Sooners defeat Oklahoma State next week (a must for Stanford to make the title game), but it wouldn't hurt to have the Cyclones stick a fork in the Sooners.
Get in the spirit: It shouldn't be hard to muster up a little love for Iowa State after it kicked off last weekend's chaos with a win over Oklahoma State. Go to YouTube. Search "Paul Rhoads."
Alabama at Auburn, 12:30 p.m. PT, CBS
Root for: Auburn*
How it affects Stanford: Alabama is currently No. 2 in the BCS. If the heavily favored Crimson Tide wins the Iron Bowl, it's probably headed to New Orleans for a rematch with LSU. Lose to Auburn, and there's a decent chance that 2-loss Alabama gets jumped by Stanford.
Get in the spirit: Forget that Cam Newton ever played for the Tigers and shout the following:
Bodygetta Bodygetta Bodygetta Bah
Rah Rah Rah
Sis Boom Bah
War Damn Eagle
Kick em in the butt, Big Blue
Virginia Tech at Virginia, 12:30 p.m. PT, ABC
Root for: Virginia
How it affects Stanford: Virginia Tech is currently No. 5 in the BCS standings, one spot ahead of Stanford. No matter that this is absurd, the Hokies will probably maintain their lead if they win on Saturday. Assuming that happens, Virginia Tech will have another chance to falter against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, but do we really want to have to rely on Clemson for anything? No, we do not. Go Wahoos.
Get in the spirit: Wear an orange and blue striped tie, some pastel pants, and tailgate instead of actually watching the game. If Virginia falls behind, pop your collar for good luck.
Oregon State at Oregon, 12:30 p.m., PT, ABC
Root for: Oregon State
How it affects Stanford: Regardless of what happens in this weekend's other games, if Oregon State can shock Oregon in the Civil War, Stanford will win the Pac-12 North and play the Pac-12 South champion for a berth, at the very least, in the Rose Bowl. I say at the very least because, if everything else goes their way, Stanford could win the Pac-12 title but wind up in the National Championship Game.
Get in the spirit: Head to Building the Dam for some Civil War week smack talk. This is the game that's probably least likely to go Stanford's way (the Auburn-Alabama game is a close second), but the good news is that an Oregon win can't ruin the Cardinal's BCS title hopes if LSU and Auburn both win. Also, it's going to feel so -- excuse me, sOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO ::deep breath:: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO -- good rooting for the Beavers. Win the freakin' day, Sean Mannion.
*If either of these teams doesn't win, Stanford's national title hopes go poof.
To summarize, the three most important games for Stanford's BCS hopes are:
Arkansas at LSU (Go Tigers!)
Alabama at Auburn (Go Tigers!)
Oregon State at Oregon (Go Beavers!)
The first two games are the most important for Stanford's slim BCS title game hopes, while the third will determine Stanford's chances of playing in the Rose Bowl. If LSU and Auburn win, Stanford will remain very much alive in the BCS title race with a win over Notre Dame, regardless of how Oregon fares against Oregon State. If LSU, Auburn, and Virginia win, Stanford could jump to No. 2 in the BCS rankings with an Oklahoma win over Oklahoma State next week.
If LSU and Auburn win, but Virginia loses, Stanford could still wind up in the title game with an Oklahoma win against Oklahoma State and a Virginia Tech loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game next week.
Regardless of how LSU and Auburn fare this weekend, an Oregon loss to Oregon State clinches the Pac-12 North for Stanford. The Cardinal would host the Pac-12 South champion for the right to represent the Pac-12 in Pasadena.
And if things around the country don't break Stanford's way this weekend but the Cardinal beats Notre Dame, it will be in good position to earn at at-large BCS bid. Losses by any two of the five teams ahead of the Cardinal in the BCS standings, except LSU, could put Stanford in the top 4 of the BCS standings, which, like last year, would guarantee a BCS bid.
GO STANFORD! And all those other teams.
(This post is subject to change based on comments from smart people like you.)