TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Stanford is in the precarious position of not controlling its own fate.
It’s not the Cardinal’s fault, though. They’ve done just about everything expected to reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in a decade, on pace for their best season in 119 years of football.
The problem is everyone else.
Because of the way the season is unfolding, No. 7 Stanford (8-1, 5-1 Pac-10) can win its final three games for its first-ever 11-win season and still end up missing out on a BCS bowl.
So instead of worrying about what might happen and trying to prognosticate the way the final stretch of the season will unfold, the Cardinal are focused on Arizona State on Saturday, California after that, Oregon State after that.
It’s all they can do, really.
“We understand this has the opportunity to be a very special season for Stanford,” Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck said. “I know there’s many different situations about bowl games and what not. That all doesn’t really matter unless we win. So we’re taking it like that.”
Stanford is sixth in the BCS standings, has its highest ranking since 1970 and can match its best 10-game start since 1951 with a win over the Sun Devils. The Cardinal are physical on defense, have a Heisman Trophy front-runner in Luck and an offense that has scored 30 or more points in a school-record nine consecutive games.
So far, it looks as though it’ll all amount to a trip to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl.
Any season that ends with a bowl can be considered a success, but the Cardinal were hoping for a little more for their effort.
The hang-up is the way the Rose Bowl selection is set up.
Because Stanford lost to top-ranked Oregon in Eugene on Oct. 2, the Cardinal would need to win out and have the Ducks lose two of their final three games to earn the conference championship.
Not likely to happen. Oregon has yet to play a close game and isn’t likely to lose one much less two games on its way to the national championship.
Normally, the conference champion playing for the national title would put the Cardinal next in line for the Rose Bowl.
That isn’t the case this season.
The Rose Bowl is obligated to take a non-automatic qualifier if one makes the BCS but doesn’t play in the national title game. Auburn is currently No. 2 in the BCS standings behind Oregon and would likely have to lose for third-ranked TCU or No. 4 Boise State to move up and into the title game.
A loss by TCU or Boise State also could make the Cardinal’s path to Pasadena a little clearer, but they’d also have to worry that another one-loss team, like LSU, doesn’t move up the standings.
So, as it looks now, a Rose Bowl bid is a long shot, which doesn’t sit right with the Cardinal.
“I’m not a guy who concerns himself with the polls and things like that,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Speaking on behalf of my guys and Stanford football, this is a one-loss team that only lost to the No. 1-ranked team in the country. Probably about time they get recognition.”
Stanford, coming off a thrashing of No. 18 Arizona, is nearly a touchdown favorite on the road against a team that’s lost five of its past seven games.
It sure appears to be a lopsided game in the works, but Arizona State (4-5, 2-4) is a more dangerous team than its record would indicate.
The Sun Devils had an extra point blocked in a one-point loss to then-No. 11 Wisconsin, played Oregon close before fading late and have been in every game except one — a 50-17 loss to Cal — dropping three games by three points or less.
“I think they know they are good,” Harbaugh said. “You can make a case this is a 7-2, 8-1 ballclub. This is their chance to prove that.”
The Sun Devils had hoped to do it last week against one-time Pac-10 king Southern Cal, a team they had lost to 10 straight times.
Arizona State matched the Trojans big play for big play, rallying from a 15-point second-half deficit to go up by four. The Sun Devils, as they have most of the season, just couldn’t pull it out, getting an extra point blocked and returned for two points and allowing a late field goal for a 34-33 loss.
“It’s been the story of our year,” Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. “We have had those opportunities a number of times. We haven’t won one of those games and hopefully we can do that here shortly. They understand where we are at and what’s left in our season.”
So do the Cardinal, and they can’t do a whole lot about it.
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