Cardinal Red

Stanford is still in the mix for the conference crown, Rose Bowl.

Stanford is still in the mix for the conference crown, Rose Bowl.

Alabama has a new fan base this week — the Stanford Cardinal. The Cardinal’s immediate future depends a lot on Friday’s Auburn-Alabama showdown. Stanford is trying to make its first Rose Bowl since 2000 but may need a little help from the Crimson Tide.
As of now, Oregon and Auburn are the top two teams in the Bowl Championship Series standings. If both teams win the rest of their games, they will meet in the BCS championship game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.

If that happens, the Rose Bowl is required to offer a bid to a BCS-eligible team from a non-automatic qualifying conference. In this case, that bid likely would go to TCU or Boise State.

But if Auburn loses, the No. 2 team in the BCS standings likely will become either TCU or Boise State. If either of those two teams plays in the BCS championship game, the Rose Bowl is off the hook and can return to its Pac-10 roots. Stanford would be the team to come to Pasadena because of its second-place finish in the conference standings. Oregon is the Pac-10 winner but would be taking its chances with an even bigger prize.

Another question is whether Stanford might get picked for another BCS game even if TCU or Boise State winds up in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal are No. 6 in the BCS standings and could move up higher if a team in front of them goes down

One hurdle the Cardinal would have to overcome is fan interest. Stanford wouldn’t figure to travel well to a bowl game — it didn’t come close to selling out its last home game, a much-anticipated showdown against Arizona. Then again, perhaps the lure of quarterback Andrew Luck, a Heisman Trophy candidate, would make Stanford an appealing product.
This, of course, all depends on the Cardinal taking care of business in its season-finale Saturday against Oregon State. Stanford should be heavily favored to take out the Beavers, but OSU did have a strong bounce-back game last weekend in a rout over USC.

The Cardinal looked very strong in the Big Game against Cal, a team that had been playing very well at home this season. Entering Saturday, the Bears were 4–1 at Memorial Stadium, with their only loss coming 15–13 to the top-ranked Ducks. But Stanford dominated on offense while Cal was victimized by a slew of penalties, mistakes and missed opportunities.

Luck made a late-season Heisman statement, whipping the Bears with his arm and legs. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns, and reeled off a pivotal 58-yard run in the second quarter that led to a touchdown. Luck looked like the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft he is anticipated to be. He demonstrated a terrific awareness of the pocket, often knowing just how long to wait before delivering a pass with pinpoint accuracy.

Washington 24, UCLA 7
Stanford 48, California 14
Oregon State 36, USC 7

Oregon State’s chances at a bowl game suddenly don’t feel like such a long shot. It didn’t appear the Beavers had a chance to win two of their final three games against the top three teams in the Pac-10 after a world’s-coming-to-an-end loss to Washington State last weekend. Before that, it was an unsightly loss at UCLA. But the Beavers got their mojo back in a big way Saturday, routing USC 36–7 at Reser Stadium. Suddenly, all the questions and doubt from the previous week were gone, and now Oregon State has to find a way to beat either Stanford or Oregon in its final two games to become bowl-eligible.

That won’t be easy, of course. The Ducks and Cardinal are far and away the class of the Pac-10. The Beavers must travel Saturday to Stanford, which absolutely dismantled Cal 48–14. Then, after playing the No. 7 team in the nation, it will be the Civil War against Oregon.

Washington is another team that should have its bowl chances upgraded. The Huskies entered last week needing to win their last three games of the season, but not against the best competition. Washington beat UCLA 24–7 on Thursday. With the Apple Cup against lowly Washington State looming, the Huskies can enter Saturday’s game at Cal knowing they can get into prime position for bowl eligibility with a victory.

The Bears have been very good at home this season, but this is a different team than it was earlier in 2010. They have a new quarterback in Brock Mansion, who has made too many mistakes in his three starts and has been mostly ineffective. And their usually impenetrable defense at home was torn apart by Stanford — they allowed 469 yards to fall out of first place in the Pac-10 in total defense.

At 5–6, Cal needs a win to become bowl-eligible as well.

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Athlon recaps the week of action in the Pac-10.

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