"Can Florida State claim No. 2 over Oregon?" is such a passé debate. Any college football fan keeping up with the latest trends must be asking, "Can one-loss Stanford overtake undefeated Ohio State?"
If FSU and Alabama keep winning, the Stanford-Ohio State question won't matter much. Barring an upset, the Buckeyes and Cardinal will remain out of the BCS National Championship in Pasadena — but will meet there days earlier in the Rose Bowl.
But if the Seminoles or Crimson Tide falter down the stretch, the battle for No. 2 will be on, and it should be intriguing. The computers and voters favored the Buckeyes going into Week 11, but it's possible Stanford could garner more respect as the season winds down. The Cardinal's strength of schedule was ranked No. 12 before this weekend's action, and Ohio State's was 81st. After its win over No. 3 Oregon, Stanford's SOS can only improve.
Over the next few weeks, the Cardinal still have games remaining against USC (7-3), California (1-9) and Notre Dame (7-3), plus a potential Pac-12 Championship Game against likely Arizona State (7-2) or UCLA (7-2). Ohio State has Illinois (3-6), Indiana (4-5), Michigan (6-3) and a likely Big Ten title game against Michigan State (8-1) or Nebraska (7-2). The matchup against Cal will put a dent in the resume, but overall, the Cardinal appear to have the tougher slate to end the year.
A one-loss team has never beaten out an undefeated team from an AQ conference for a title shot. In 2007, 11-2 LSU advanced to the title game, but that was over a few other two-loss teams and one-loss Kansas. The Jayhawks fell to No. 8 in the final standings after losing the regular-season final to Missouri and missing out on the Big 12 Championship Game. That was a bizarre season with an abnormal amount of chaos, and that type of situation wouldn't affect Stanford vs. Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have been hammered by pundits all year for their schedule, and that won't change anytime soon. The Cardinal's lone defeat was to an underwhelming Utah team. Which team ranks highest at the end of the year will likely be determined by what voters deem to be the more tolerable offense. It's hard to predict how that might play out.
And then there's Baylor, whose schedule will only get tougher with Texas Tech, trips to Oklahoma State and TCU, and a potential Big 12 title game against Texas coming up. The Bears' lack of an official conference championship game could hurt them, but if they keep bombing teams off the field, Ohio State and Stanford will have to work even harder to impress voters.
Of course, if the Tide and 'Noles continue on their respective paths to Pasadena, none of that will matter.
How far does Oregon drop?
Oregon's conference and national title hopes are all but dashed after losing on the road to Stanford. But, the Ducks shouldn't fall too far down the standings this week. It's been proven many times in the past that computers and voters don't punish elite teams too harshly for losing to other elite teams. Looking back again at '07, Kansas dropped from second to fifth after its loss to No. 4 Missouri. After their upset loss to No. 13 Stanford last year, the Ducks fell from second to fifth.
If Oregon hadn't rallied for 20 fourth-quarter points, and the final score had been lopsided, a steeper drop would have been possible. But after a close finish, No. 6 should be the floor.
Basically, they're now being compared to other one-loss teams in the minds of voters, but after Stanford, there probably won't be much debate on who's No. 2 among those teams. Clemson is next in line, but compare the losses. The Tigers were blown out at home by No. 2. The Ducks lost a close game on the road at No. 5. Most pollsters will give the nod to the green and yellow in that contest.
Next week's BCS impact games
Ball State at Northern Illinois
The Huskies are fighting for a potential at-large berth, and the biggest roadblock between them and an undefeated is a date against the Cardinals. Ball State is is 9-1 overall and 6-0 in MAC play, with their only loss on Sept. 14, 34-27, against North Texas.
Georgia at Auburn
Before the season began, no one would have been surprised to see a 9-1 team in this game, but that it's Auburn is shocking. The Bulldogs' season hasn't gone as planned, but with Todd Gurley back in the lineup, they'll pose a formidable threat to the Tigers' defense. If Gus Malzahn's team can come out on top, it will face Alabama in a de facto SEC West championship game.
Stanford at USC
Now that they've knocked off Oregon, the Cardinal are in the driver's seat for a Pac-12 title and an automatic BCS appearance. And with a little help, they could sneak into the national title game. USC has played better under interim head coach Ed Orgeron. Can the Trojans ruin the Cardinal's season?