There will be no national title implications on the line when the BCS rankings are unveiled tonight. Oregon and Auburn will be numbers one and two, and if those schools win next weekend, they will play for the national championship. That said, the rankings are of paramount interest to Pac-10 fans, as they will largely determine whether or not Stanford will be going to a BCS bowl.
We know that no bowls, outside of the Rose, are clamoring to take Stanford as an at large team. Their attendance woes are well documented, and there is justified concern as to whether they will travel well enough to fill a BCS stadium. And, as the Rose has to take the highest ranked non-AQ this year (TCU). That likely (assuming no upsets next week) means the bowl scenarios look like this:
BCS National Championship: Oregon v. Auburn
Rose: Wisconsin v. TCU
Sugar: Arkansas v. Ohio State (Sugar will get two at-larges. They will want an SEC team, and the Big Ten team that travels the best.)
Fiesta: Oklahoma/Nebraska winner v. Big East Champ
Orange: Virginia Tech/Florida State winner v. At-Large (Oklahoma State, OU/Nebraska loser, Boise State, Stanford, Missouri)
We know no more than two teams from a conference can make the BCS, but any of those Big 12 teams appear much more lucrative to the Orange Bowl because they will all undoubtedly travel better than Stanford.
That said, if Stanford can get a top-4 BCS ranking, they are guaranteed a BCS bowl by rule. At that point, the Orange, with the second to last at-large pick, would choose between Stanford and the Big East winner, meaning the Cardinal would go to either the Orange Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl. At stake for the rest of us Pac-10 fans is a whole lot of money and a lot in terms of conference prestige (nevermind that Stanford would wipe the floor with any of the Orange's other at-large candidates, the team that makes it will get the prestige, even if they only make it due to travel arrangements). Wisconsin is 4th and Stanford 5th in the polls this week, but Stanford was ahead of Wisconsin in the BCS despite this last week. And, with both teams' regular seasons done, its likely that how things shake out this week will be the same in the final standings.
What will be very interesting will be the response of the Pac-10 should Stanford find itself 5th in the BCS standings this week. The Pac-10 has only gotten two at-large teams in the history of the BCS. One of those was Oregon State in 2000, and that really only happened as the Pac-10 had two of the top six teams in the nation that year, and, at a time when the BCS was in its infancy, made it known that if the BCS failed to select Oregon State, there would be no BCS the next season. The other was USC to the Orange Bowl in 2002. Not since the '02 season has the Pac-10 had an at large come from the Pac-10. In fact, twice has a Pac-10 team during that span finished fifth in the BCS, with their only losses being to #1 USC--California in 2004, and Oregon in 2005. Both years, those teams were left out of the BCS entirely.
Most of the BCS gurus think that Stanford will be ranked in the top four tonight. If that happens, its a big victory for the Pac-10, as there will be no way the powers that be can keep us from getting two bids. But, if Stanford is fifth in the rankings tonight, I want Larry Scott to prepare the full court press immediately. In practice, the Pac-10 has not been made an equal partner in the BCS, where mediocre teams from the Big Ten and Big Twelve have been given a virtual monopoly on the at-large berths. Larry Scott needs to remind everyone of that history. It only takes one of the major conferences to destroy the whole system at the end of any given contract. We've threatened to do that once for the sake of our equity. If Stanford comes out on the wrong end of the BCS standings tonight, Larry Scott needs to do it again. There is simply too much money at stake, both in immediate bowl payouts, and the long term conference brand, to do otherwise.