By ANTONIO GONZALEZ
STANFORD, Calif. — If Stanford coach David Shaw had his way, there would be an eight-team playoff this season. The champions from the six major conferences — SEC, Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and the American Athletic — would automatically qualify, and there would be two at-large bids.
“It makes too much sense,” Shaw said Tuesday.
Unfortunately for Shaw and Stanford, that’s not the case this year or even next year, when the BCS will be banished in favor of a four-team playoff. All the Cardinal, ranked fifth in The Associated Press poll and fourth in the BCS standings, can control right now is winning the Pac-12 title.
Even after beating Oregon last week, the reigning Rose Bowl champions still have a few hurdles to clear before it can host the league championship game for the second straight season.
The Cardinal (8-1, 6-1, Pac-12) visit surging Southern California (7-3, 4-2) on Saturday night before facing rival California (1-9, 0-7) at home next week, likely needing to win both to hold off the Ducks in the Pac-12 North. Stanford also hosts Notre Dame in its regular-season finale Nov. 30.
“I think we’re at that point in the season now where we can’t afford to go up and down,” Shaw said. “It’s November, and there’s only one way you can play in November, and that’s all-out.”
The best message Shaw said he can relay to his players is to remind them what happened last time they lost focus. Losing at Utah last month is the only thing keeping the Cardinal out of the mix with the four major remaining undefeated teams — Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor — for a spot in the BCS championship.
Shaw said the loss to Utah has had the same kind of positive effect on his team as the overtime defeat at Notre Dame last year, when Stanford rebounded to win its final eight games, including the Pac-12 championship over UCLA and the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin.
The margin for error is razor-thin again. Even one loss would likely derail the Cardinal’s dreams of repeating as conference champions and booking a return trip to Pasadena.
That win-or-else mentality has everybody at Stanford focused on the Trojans, who have won three straight and four of five since Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron took over as interim coach.
“(The BCS) is all hypothetical scenarios. It doesn’t matter at this point. We lose a game, whew, it’s all for naught,” said linebacker Shayne Skov, who was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. “The recipe for us ending up anywhere relevant is for us to win the rest of our football games.”
While most Stanford fans can’t help but ponder the possibilities if the Cardinal were still undefeated, Shaw said his team remains locked-in on the next opponent because they’ve been in a similar situation the past few years — highly ranked but not in control of a berth in the BCS championship.
Shaw, who also has advocated for every team to play the same amount of conference games, said he’s still excited about the direction college football is headed. He just doesn’t have time for projections or politicking — at least for now.
“I think it’s why we’re going to a playoff,” Shaw said. “We all enjoy the conversations and hate the conversations at the same time, because you shouldn’t have conversations, you should have football. So I think the playoff, most of us in college football believe it can’t get here fast enough. I keep hearing people saying, ‘Oh, you’re going to miss the BCS. There’s been so much drama.’ I think the BCS has been great for what it was used for, and I can’t wait for it to be gone so we can get to a playoff, because that’s where everything should be decided, on the field.”