College Sports

Rose picture a little fuzzy

Three games in the Wild West this weekend could factor prominently in finding an opponent for the Big Ten champion in this year's Rose Bowl.

One of them even involves the Pac-10.



Every time you turn around in college football people are making up rules as they go along. It used to be you set your clock to Pac-10/Big Ten in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, but some would say the new system is more like a broken clock — it's right twice a day.


After 12 years of the Bowl Championship Series, most have become anesthetized to the fact the Rose Bowl must surrender one or both of its champions to the title game if they are ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS standings.

Don't look now, but Oregon is No. 1.

The Ducks are four victories from bypassing Pasadena and waddling right to the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz.

It would seem simple enough to sub the second place Pac-10 team for Oregon and have that team play the Big Ten champion on Jan. 1, a few hours after the parade.

The Rose Bowl hardly would miss a marquee beat if that team were 11-1 Stanford, No. 10 in the latest Associated Press poll. The Cardinal's only loss was at Oregon.

It would be simple to think Stanford would replace Oregon, but it would be a mistake.

Truth is, incredibly, the center of gravity in the Rose Bowl race this weekend shifts east of Palo Alto. Hawaii at Boise State and Texas Christian at Utah both could affect the Rose Bowl race more than Arizona at Stanford.

If Oregon and Auburn (or Alabama) win out and play for the BCS title, one of these schools almost certainly would take what would have been Oregon's slot in the Rose Bowl: TCU, Boise State, or Utah.


Those schools are ranked 3, 4 and 5 in this week's BCS standings.

Utah is only months from joining the new Pac-12, meaning the Utes could get to their first Rose Bowl before Arizona, which joined in 1978.

Is it easy to understand why people don't understand?

"Yes," Scott McKibben, the Rose Bowl's first-year executive director conceded this week.

So what happened?

As Bill Maher likes to say: "New rule!"


For the first time since the BCS was formed in 1998, the Rose Bowl must take the highest-ranked BCS eligible champion from a "non-automatic qualifier" conference the first year Granddaddy loses one of its anchors to the title game.

The Rose Bowl only has to do this once in the next four-year cycle, but guess what: the stars are aligning this year.

If Oregon is playing for the national championship, it's almost a lock that TCU, Boise State or Utah will be ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings. The highest ranked among those schools would be Rose Bowl-bound.

It wouldn't matter if an 11-1 Stanford team ended up No. 4 in the nation.

Why did the Rose Bowl agree to this rule?

For years, the other major bowls complained that the Rose, because of its Pac-10/Big Ten contract, never had to take a school from a "non-AQ." That responsibility fell to the others as, for instance, the Fiesta Bowl has hosted four "non-AQs" who met BCS access requirements.


The Rose Bowl finally is picking up part of the tab.

"It is nothing more than a parity responsibility issue," McKibben explained. "We're trying to give all non-AQ schools a chance to earn their way to all four of the BCS bowls."

Stanford's easiest Rose path would be for Oregon to play TCU, Boise State or Utah for the BCS title instead of the SEC champion.

In that scenario, the Rose Bowl would not be obliged this season to take the highest remaining "non-AQ" and could — and almost certainly would — take Stanford.

It could only get dicey if the choice were between 11-1 Stanford and higher-ranked and undefeated Utah, which is almost part of the family. But let's not go there just yet.