Ratto: Will BCS find Stanford the pret-tiest one-loss team?

November 28, 2010, 7:11 am
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OnceStanford's regular season had finally ended, a 38-0 smothering ofOregon State that was as bloodless as it was comprehensive, JimHarbaugh went right to football jargon to explain. The game, theseason, the entire Stanford planetary system.."Pretty, pretty good," he said, with an emphatic accent on the 'pret.' "Pretty, pretty, pretty good."Then he thought for a moment and decided to revise and extend his remarks thus:'Pret-ty good.'True, it doesn't really move T-shirts the way "What's Your Deal?" did ayear ago, but until the Cardinal know what going 11-1 does for theirJanuary planning, it will have to suffice.Certainly until tomorrow, when they finally confront the math thatmakes more traditional college football powers rage against the machinethat is the BCS."I'll say it," linebacker Chase Thomas said. "I think we're the bestone-loss team in the country. Our offense is so explosive, our defensehas made so many strides . . . frankly, I don't see why we shouldn'tget a BCS game."Of course, to do that, the Cardinal has to hope that they can getsufficient human voter and computer bump to make their 38-point winover Oregon State before three-quarters of a crowd at Stanford Stadium lookpret-tier than Wisconsin's 47-point win over Northwestern. Put it thisway - the math is fairly daunting either way, and since neither teamhas another game before bowl season, the pret-tier team tomorrow willprobably be the pret-tier team next week, when everything is parceled out."We don't lobby," Harbaugh said before beginning his lobbying. "Wedon't go campaigning. But our kids made our case on the field. We'veimpressed the heck out of 11 teams we played this season. The votersshould be impressed."And would he like another crack at the '1' in the 11-1, the loss to Oregon? "Oh yes," he said. "Yes. Yes we would."But that's not going to happen, and neither will he be able to work theroom on his team's behalf as he did Saturday night, when he calledAndrew Luck "the MVP of the best team in the country."(He also said, "We're into that, running up the score, stuff likethat," and the assembled audience showed extreme politeness in notbursting out laughing).No, he's now been reduced to what would for many people seem ahorrifying fate - a Sunday math cram with athletic director Bob Bowlsbyto try and understand the BCS trigonometry that makes Stanford a sexierchoice than Wisconsin, or Ohio State, or Michigan State, or BoiseState, or Nevada, just to name the other one-loss teams in the nation.And in making that case, he has Luck, and a defense that shut out threeteams this year, and has the highest-ranking loss (to the No. 1 team inthe country). His team also has wins over only three teams with winningrecords (Notre Dame, USC and Arizona), and only Nevada (Boise State andFresno State) has fewer.In other words, Sunday is going to be a much weirder day for theCardinal than Saturday was, or the Saturday before that, or reallyevery day except the one eight weeks ago in Eugene, where they playedone half less than they needed to.This is their real taste of the big time, getting fully inside a systemdevised to squeeze money out of as many customers as possible in searchof the second-best team in the country. Finding the No. 1 team is theeasy part, but everything after that requires a convoluted system thatmakes Louisiana politics seem straightforward.All that said, Stanford had a great weekend - between their own win,and the losses by Boise State, LSU and Oklahoma State, they are now inposition to get either the Rose (against the Big 10 winner), Fiesta(against the Big 12 winner) or Orange (against the ACC winner).Or, and this is a consolation prize that lasts longer than most, theycould become the latest deserving team of the last 15 years to gethosed and end up in the Alamo Bowl.They are now at the mercy of the dirtiest word in the English languagefor college football people - "others." Voters, computer programmers,other teams even. Stanford's fate may still be influenced by the FresnoState-Illinois game next week.This is what the rest of the country screams about every week of everyseason, and until this year, Stanford didn't need to care about it. Nowthey have to, and in doing so will learn how the adult world oftenworks.It's called misdirection. Now you see it, now you don't. And it doesn'tmatter what you think you deserve. It's what someone else thinks youdeserve. Saturday was the Cardinal's last statement. Sunday, they findout who, and what, was listening.

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