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Stanford could actually still make the Rose Bowl

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Call me crazy, but I believe it might happen

The 102nd Rose Bowl Game - Iowa v Stanford Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Stanford has been to the Rose Bowl three times in four years, and Pasadena has essentially become a second home. Heading into this year, Stanford’s chances of making the Rose Bowl another year initially looked good, but after a weak stretch during late September and October, many wrote Stanford off. However, there’s still a possibility that Stanford can play in Pasadena this January.

The Rose Bowl Committee is quite fond of tradition, and they traditionally try to stick to inviting the Pac-12 Champion to play the Big 10 Champion. In the College Football Playoff era, however, this is frequently not achievable as the Rose Bowl is either a playoff game or one of the conference Champions makes the playoffs. Two seasons ago the Rose Bowl was a CFP Game featuring Oregon and Florida State.

Last season the Big 10 Champion Michigan State Spartans went to the playoffs leaving the Rose Bowl Committee to fill their slot. The Rose Bowl selected the Iowa Hawkeyes because they were the next highest ranked Big 10 team in the College Football Playoff rankings. If the Rose Bowl selection committee intends to repeat that pattern then there is a path for Stanford to make it back to Pasadena this season.

For Stanford to make the Rose Bowl, they need Washington to make the playoff and need to be ranked the second highest PAC-12 team behind the Huskies, but Stanford does not control their own destiny. In the current CFP rankings, the Cardinal are the fifth highest PAC-12 team, and they’ll need some help in order to get the number two position. Last week, both Utah and Washington State lost. That’s a good start as both teams will most likely (but certainly not guaranteed) fall behind Stanford in the new rankings.

Still, Colorado remains the second highest PAC-12 team with USC not too far behind. How will Stanford jump those two teams? If Colorado loses to Utah this Saturday, USC wins the South. Presuming Washington wins their rivalry game, the Huskies will get a chance to avenge their loss against the Trojans in the PAC-12 championship. If Washington wins, they will most likely get into the CFP playoff as a one loss conference champion, which will leave the Rose Bowl committee with a choice. Who do they put into the Rose Bowl to fill the vacancy left by the Pac-12 Champion?

It seems likely then the they will select the second highest ranked Pac-12 team in the final CFP rankings. Assuming the above scenario unfolds, Stanford will be 9-3. Colorado 9-3. Utah 9-3 with Washington State and USC both with 4 losses. After finishing the season with back to back losses, Washington State will be knocked out of Rose Bowl contention with four losses. Meanwhile, it seems unimaginable that a four loss USC team could be placed ahead a three loss Stanford team especially when Stanford won the head to head matchup. A four loss team has little chance at making the Rose Bowl.

The committee will have to decide between three teams each with three losses. Colorado will have just lost to Utah in this scenario, and the committee would not disrespect the Utes win by placing the Buffaloes over them. Now, only Utah and Stanford remain. Who do you choose? The two teams have never faced each other, so the committee won’t be able to decide based off a head to head matchup. Utah lost last weekend to Oregon and will probably be ranked behind Stanford in this upcoming ranking tomorrow night.

Could a strong win over Colorado launch Utah ahead of Stanford in two weeks time? Maybe. However, if the committee decides to look at the two team’s losses, Stanford clearly has the edge. Stanford’s three losses are all against current top 25 teams while Utah lost to two teams under five hundred and Washington. Utah lost to Cal and Oregon, while Stanford beat both convincingly. Therefore, Stanford should get the nod over Utah, but the committee might not see it that way.

Stanford’s loss to Colorado might come back to haunt them. What if the committee looks at Stanford and Utah’s common opponent; Colorado? They’ll look at how both Utah and Stanford played versus a good Colorado team. If Utah is selected over Stanford, the committees reasoning would be: Utah took care off business against Colorado while Stanford did not, so Utah gets to play in the Rose Bowl. That would be a terrible way to approach the rankings because Stanford is not the same team they were back in October. Stanford has changed quarterbacks, found offensive rhythm, and become a better overall team. Stanford is undefeated since Colorado, and their recent wins clearly show that they have improved by beating Cal and Oregon easily, which Utah could not do. It would be a shame if the committee ranks Utah and Stanford based off the Colorado results. Stanford should be ranked ahead of Utah by year’s end.

I’m not saying Stanford is Rose Bowl bound. Instead, I’m saying there is a chance. Washington can’t slip in the Apple Cup on Friday night, the Huskies must win out. Utah needs to win in Boulder. And Washington needs to beat USC in the PAC-12 championship. Then, Stanford’s fate will be decided by the committee. In this scenario, the choice is between Stanford and Utah, and Stanford clearly is the better choice. So Stanford fans, don’t get too excited, don’t start buying Rose Bowl tickets, but know a New Years trip to Pasadena is still possible. In college football, anything can happen, and only time will tell.

Here is the Rundown:

  1. Washington defeats Washington State on Friday afternoon (12:30 pst, FS1)
  2. Utah defeats Colorado Saturday afternoon (4:30pst, Fox)
  3. Stanford Beats Rice Saturday (5pst Pac-12 Network)
  4. Washington Defeats USC in the Pac-12 Championship Friday, December 2 6pst on Fox
  5. Washington is selected in the top 4 of the final CFP rankings released December 4th
  6. Stanford is the second highest ranked team from the Pac-12 in the final CFP rankings released December 4th

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