Stanford breathes a sigh of relief over BCS standings

You hear it all the time from college football honchos: The Bowl Championship Series was created only to match Nos. 1 and 2 in a national title game. It wasn't designed to play matchmaker for everyone.

Oh, really?

Sunday's next-to-last standings release had several schools chewing antacid tablets while the top two teams sipped umbrella drinks by the pool.

Oregon and Auburn have known for weeks they are in the title game if they win out. They have been the top two BCS teams since Oct. 24.

Auburn jumped Oregon for the top spot this week. You could barely slip tissue paper through the gap: .9779 to .9777.

In terms of impact, it's like the king and queen switching thrones.

There was plenty of drama down below, however.

Stanford (11-1) paced the floor praying it would be No. 4 — and it was.

The Cardinal will earn an automatic BCS bid if it can hold that position through next week's final standings.

Oregon already has secured at least a Rose Bowl berth, so Stanford's getting in would earn the Pacific 10 Conference an at-large bid for only the third time. The others were Oregon State in 2000 (Fiesta) and USC in 2002 (Orange).

Sunday's BCS standings also kept Texas Christian positioned at No. 3, which will earn the Horned Frogs a Rose Bowl bid if Oregon and Auburn play for the championship.

Sunday's standings also broke the three-way tie in the Big 12 Conference South. Oklahoma, which moved up to No. 9 after beating Oklahoma State, won the bake-off against the Cowboys (14) and Texas A&M (18) to earn a Big 12 title showdown with Nebraska.

The standings will also be used to determine the Big Ten Conference's BCS representative because Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State finished in a three-way tie.

Wisconsin is fifth this week, Ohio State is sixth and Michigan State is sitting behind the No. 8 ball.

Stanford, though, should be the most relieved.

Jim Harbaugh's team figured to move up two spots from No. 6 after No. 4 Boise State and No. 5 Louisiana State lost, but you never know in the BCS business.

Wisconsin still leads Stanford in both BCS polls — USA Today and Harris — but Stanford's commanding lead in the computer component has kept the Cardinal ahead in the standings.

Why is No. 4 so important? In 1998, BCS officials deemed it unfair that Kansas State, one game from earning a title-game bid, was squeezed out of a major bowl after a heartbreaking defeat to Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game.

Kansas State, even though it finished third in the BCS, fell all the way to the Alamo Bowl.

The BCS established a rule that essentially protected the highest-ranked teams.

It's safe to say No. 5 has been a terrible number for the Pac-10. In 2004, California lost a Rose Bowl bid by decimal points to No. 4 Texas. The next year, Oregon finished No. 5 and did not earn a BCS bowl.

Stanford, though, appears to have No. 4 locked down. If Oregon and Auburn win next weekend, the Rose Bowl must take Texas Christian, which probably sends Stanford to the Orange Bowl.

Stanford has never played in a major bowl besides the Rose. There's a slight chance the Cardinal could end up in the Fiesta if West Virginia wins the Big East Conference and the Orange Bowl prefers to pair the Mountaineers with Virginia Tech.

If an Auburn loss this week sends Texas Christian to the BCS title game against Oregon, Stanford will go to the Rose Bowl.

If Oregon and Auburn lose, there's even a chance Stanford could play Texas Christian for the national title.

The unknown is what effect an Oregon loss this week would have on Stanford in the final standings.

Even at No. 5, Stanford would probably earn an at-large bid based on merit but could be vulnerable to an eligible team with a fan base more willing to fill hotel rooms and stadium seats.

Weekend wrap

--There is no "Kansas State" rule to protect Boise State, and the Broncos may fall hard after Friday night's overtime loss at Nevada. Instead of playing for a Rose Bowl or national-title bid, Boise State might wind up in the Kraft Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. You want more torture? The game is Jan. 9, one day before the BCS title game. More torture? Nevada could end up in the Dec. 18 Humanitarian Bowl, which is played on Boise State's blue field.

--Good news. There will be no losing teams in bowl games this season. After the weekend, there are 70 qualified schools to fill 35 bowl slots, with a few teams in positions to become bowl-eligible next weekend.

--Bad news. The Pac-10 is not going to fill its six bowl slots. If Oregon is lost to the title game and Stanford goes to the Orange, the conference will be able to fill the Alamo with Arizona and then what? Washington, two years after finishing 0-12, could end up in the Holiday Bowl at 6-6 if it wins this week's Apple Cup at Washington State.

--Those voting coaches really know how to reward a team. Nevada moved up only two positions, to No. 17, after defeating No. 3 Boise State.

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