Senior College Football Columnist

Weekend Watch List: Wounded Ducks on upset alert; battle for LA will be testy affair


This week's blind draw for the national championship race: One team is 104th in total offense. The other is tied for 62nd in sacks allowed. Does that have the look of a BCS title game? You bet.

Start thinking about those top three in the BCS losing and see the answer below for this potential mind-boggling matchup ...

Cardinal rules

Bob Bowlsby still calls Stanford "we." It's understandable. For six years he was invested in arguably the most glorious era of Cardinal football.

Stanford's former AD and the current Big 12 commissioner hired Jim Harbaugh and later David Shaw after the school had gone through a coaching carousel. Bowlsby oversaw consecutive BCS bowls, the emergence of a No. 1 NFL Draft choice (Andrew Luck) and proof that the amateur collegiate model can work without scandal.

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"I wouldn't trade my six years at Stanford for anything because of the kinds of kids you get to work with," Bowlsby said. "You show them something once and they don't forget it. You can do things intellectually with these kids. Their playbook is an iPad now. It's very Stanford-like."

Bowlsby has been on the job six months for the Big 12. But a part of him will be in Eugene on Saturday when the Cardinal play the Ducks with the Pac-12 North title in the balance.

How did we get here? Bowlsby hired Harbaugh in 2007 straight out of the University of San Diego. Sure, Harbaugh was a name but he was short on experience.

"He was only three years into his coaching career," Bowlsby said. "I think it's safe to say we were able to take a risk on somebody like him because we were actually not very good."

It's a risk that was well worth it at that point because Stanford had eight winning seasons in the previous 28 years. There had been three coaches in the previous five years.

Five years later, Stanford has changed coaches, lost that No. 1 draft choice and still finds itself in contention for a third consecutive BCS bowl. Shaw replaced Harbaugh and, if anything, the Cardinal got stronger. The 40-year-old former Stanford receiver is 19-4 nearing the end of his second season. Last February he landed a top-10 recruiting class that paid off right away. Three freshman offensive linemen have rotated into the lineup.

As soon as tackle Kyle Murphy, from San Clemente, Calif., committed he got on his phone and became the pied piper. Shaw landed Andrus Peat, one of the most highly coveted offensive linemen in the country.

"Most of the really good recruiting classes I've seen over the years, the kids sell each other too," Bowlsby said.

Stanford -- with a lot of help from different sources -- has proved it can be done the right way. There are no special admissions, something that other great academic institutions can't say.

"They go through the exact same admissions process," Bowlsby said. "Every student-athlete writes their admission essays and takes the tests. Are they considered in the same pool as everybody else? No. They come through flagged for their athletic abilities."

That's the difference at Stanford. They're flagged for their abilities just like the budding concert pianist or the teenage math genius. There's a reason Stanford has perhaps the best broad-based athletic program in the country. It has a broad-based school.

On any given day you might run into a Nobel Prize winner, a Heisman finalist or the former secretary of state (Condoleezza Rice, political science professor).

Bowlsby and his football coaches determined that out of the thousands of FBS recruits nationally, Stanford could legitimately hope to recruit 200-250 of them.

"When you start to slice and dice that by 24 position groups, sometimes the sample sizes get pretty small," Bowlsby said. "We may need a defensive lineman and there isn't one that meets your profile out there. As the athletic director you encourage the head football coach to find a tight end that really wants to eat."

That's part of the recent Stanford magic. Harbaugh installed a sense of toughness that Shaw has continued. Despite suffering two losses before mid-October, the Cardinal haven't wavered. Headed to Oregon, the Cardinal have won four in a row with more than defensive brawn and Stepfan Taylor's running.

You don't survive on the Farm -- in any worthy pursuit -- without a little ingenuity.

Wounded Ducks

How beat up is Oregon? Let's just say there is no hiding the situation, even though coach Chip Kelly doesn't discuss injuries. The blur offense is going to have to win this one. Backup quarterback Bryan Bennett took a few snaps at cornerback. All-purpose leader De'Anthony Thomas could see time on defense. The defensive line is actually in better shape than it was against Cal, when three true freshman were forced to play.

This is a great matchup for the Cardinal, who want to run and stop the run with the nation's No. 1 rush defense. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is hot, which may be the key to keeping an undefeated season alive. But don't be surprised at another shocker of T-Town proportions.

Not a Seminole moment

Yes, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher apologized for calling the BCS "retarded" this week. Still waiting for the apology for the North Carolina State game. A win over Maryland gets the Noles to the ACC Championship Game.

Hurricane warning

Not only can Miami (Fla.) (hosting South Florida) self-impose a bowl ban at this late date, it should. Despite being tied for the ACC Coastal lead, the Canes have underachieved at 5-5 and need to win one of two games just to get six wins.

Whatever low-level bowl Miami might earn is not worth the mitigation a second straight bowl ban could do for its NCAA penalties in the Nevin Shapiro case. In fact, it was less than a year ago -- Nov. 20, 2011 -- that Miami took that first bowl ban.

Swing your sword

Southern California-UCLAis getting out of control. And maybe it should. The Bruins have won once in the series since 1998. They get the Trojans at home with a chance to clinch a berth in the Pac-12 title game.

The backdrop for the game comes complete with a request that the Trojans drum major not plunge his sword into the middle of the field during the pregame, which is tradition. Everywhere.

You know, the typical football stuff -- whining, medieval weaponry. Anyway, USC has agreed to the request and will stand down in the face of withering protests from Mora Nation.

Sensing that, Lane Kiffin sort of made a public service announcement urging calm. Either that, or reading from a teleprompter.

The Trojans are arguably the most dangerous team in college football at the moment. They can wreck the seasons of (in order) UCLA, Notre Dame and Oregon or Stanford -- whichever makes the Pac-12 title game -- down the stretch. That's their final three games if they win Saturday. UCLA's stand-in role in last year's first Pac-12 title game was allowed only because USC was serving a postseason ban. This year the Bruins are legit with an offense that could make Saturday a shootout.

Which of course is better than a sword fight.

Scrub Saturday

Just like that itch you don't want to scratch in public, the SEC reserves a particularly annoying Saturday each season to play FCS zombies.

Hold your nose and demand a reduction in ticket prices if you are attending one of these six games:

 Alabama A&M at Auburn
 Western Carolina at Alabama
 Jacksonville State at Florida
 Georgia Southern at Georgia
 Samford at Kentucky
 Wofford at South Carolina
 Sam Houston State at Texas A&M

The deets: Georgia Southern (7th), Sam Houston State (3rd) and Wofford (13th) are ranked in FCS. ... Best chance for an upset in these games? Texas A&M. Sam Houston State played in the FCS championship game last year and has most of the team back. The Bearkats have lost only to Baylor and Central Arkansas (in the final minute). Kansas State transfer Timothy Flanders (redshirt, 2009) has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. ... South Carolina is challenging itself by playing the second-smallest school in FCS. ... Wofford fullback Eric Breitenstein is the leading active rusher and scorer in FCS with 61 touchdowns in 47 games. ... Georgia will face Georgia Southern's No. 1 FCS rushing offense. Georgia Southern gouged Alabama for 302 rushing yards last season. ... Florida gets a visit from old foe Washaun Ealey of Jacksonville State. As a Georgia tailback, Ealey rushed for 107 yards in two career meetings against the Gators (2009-10).

Cool or not

Cool: Brady Hoke says he may give the injured Denard Robinson the opening snap on senior day against Iowa.

Not cool: Does it really matter with Ohio State next week?

Cool: Urban Meyer is the least-known national Coach of the Year candidate.

Not cool: He should not be punished in that regard for wrongdoing he had nothing to do with. Remember, Meyer inherited a 6-7 team that had nothing to play for this season. Somehow he has guided the Bucks to an undefeated season.

Cool: Kansas may have a chance for its first win over a current Big 12 school since 2009 (vs. Iowa State).

Not cool: The prospects aren't good. The Jayhawks have coughed up three second-half or overtime leads against Rice, Texas and Texas Tech.

Blind draw answer:

If Notre Dame, Oregon and Kansas State lose, if Florida wins out and Georgia wins the SEC, helllooooo Gators and Dawgs for the BCS title game.

Can you say Cocktail Party II and an assured seventh consecutive title for the SEC?

How a playoff would look at this minute

  No. 1 Kansas State* vs. No. 4 Alabama in Fiesta Bowl
  No. 2 Oregon* vs. No. 3 Notre Dame in Rose Bowl

(WWL's call that Fiesta and Rose host the semis)

Orange Bowl (ACC champ vs. Notre Dame/SEC/Big Ten): Florida State* vs. Georgia
Sugar Bowl (SEC vs. Big 12): Florida vs. Oklahoma
Chik-fil-A (Atlanta, open): Nebraska* vs. Louisiana Tech*
Cotton (Dallas, open): Texas A&M vs. Clemson

*--projected conference champ

Breakdown: Two from Big 12, four from SEC, one from Pac-12, one independent, two ACC, one current non-BCS school

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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