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 Pacific 10 Conference.
How's that for a switch?
Every time you turn around in college football people are making rules up as they go along. It used to be you set your clock to Pac-10 vs. 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 its conference 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 wins from bypassing Pasadena and waddling right to the BCS title game in neighboring Glendale … Arizona.
It would seem simple enough to sub in the second-place Pac-10 team for Oregon and have that team play the Big Ten champion Jan. 1, a few hours after the parade.
The Rose Bowl would hardly miss a marquee beat if that team was 11-1 Stanford, No. 10 in the latest Associated Press poll.
This could be the best Stanford team since Jim Plunkett's era, and maybe even Pop Warner's. 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, Stanford doesn't even control the inside track as it prepares to host No. 13 Arizona. Incredibly, the center of gravity in the Rose Bowl race this weekend is hundreds of miles east of Palo Alto.
Hawaii at Boise State and Texas Christian at Utah could both affect the Rose Bowl race more than Arizona at Stanford.
If Oregon and Auburn (or Alabama) win out and end up playing for the BCS title, either Texas Christian, Boise State or Utah would almost certainly take Oregon's Pac-10 slot in the Rose Bowl.
Those teams are ranked Nos. 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 has to do this only 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 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 Stanford ended up 11-1 and 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: The Fiesta Bowl has hosted four "non-AQs" that earned their way into BCS bowls by meeting access requirements: Utah, Boise State (twice) and Texas Christian. The Sugar Bowl has taken Hawaii and Utah. The Orange Bowl hasn't taken a non-AQ yet either.
The Rose Bowl is finally 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. It's that simple. We do think this is the right way to handle it."
McKibben has been hearing it from concerned Stanford fans, but he has encouraged everyone to let everything play out. There are still five weeks left in the regular season.
However, Pac-10 followers are only six years removed from 2004, when Texas edged California out for a Rose Bowl berth based on another rule that ended up causing considerable outrage and the ultimate withdrawal of the Associated Press poll from the BCS standings formula.
This year's BCS mess could simply cross the Bay Bridge to Cal's longtime rival. It should also be noted Stanford could not finish 11-1 without defeating Cal, which has won the last two Big Game meetings and seven of the last eight.
Can Stanford get to the Rose Bowl?
Yes, if it wins out and Oregon loses twice (yeah, right).
Stanford's other 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 year to take the highest remaining "non-AQ" and could (almost certainly would) take Stanford. It could get dicey only if the choice was between 11-1 Stanford and a higher-ranked and undefeated Utah, which is almost part of the family.
But let's not go there just yet.