Most To Play For?

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CLEMSON
OREGON STATE

Clemson seeks BCS redemption

Schlabach By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com
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Is any other team in the country flying under the radar more than No. 13 Clemson?

The Tigers have largely been out of sight and out of mind since losing 49-37 at then-No. 4 Florida State on Sept. 22. But since that deflating loss, the Tigers have ripped off five victories in a row, including impressive home wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

With three regular-season games to go -- against Maryland, NC State and No. 8 South Carolina (all at home in Death Valley) -- there's a chance the Tigers might finish with an 11-1 record. But unless the No. 10 Seminoles lose one of their last two ACC games (at Virginia Tech on Thursday night and at reeling Maryland on Nov. 17), the Tigers won't play in the ACC championship game.

And that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

If Clemson finishes 11-1, it could very well be in play for a BCS at-large bid. A trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl or Allstate Sugar Bowl would offer the Tigers a chance for redemption after last season's ugly 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl.

The Tigers will need some help to play in a BCS bowl game. Clemson might need No. 12 Oklahoma to lose again. The Sooners look like the Big 12's best possibility for an at-large BCS bid if No. 2 Kansas State wins the league and reaches the BCS National Championship Game. OU has four games left -- against Baylor (home), West Virginia (road), Oklahoma State (home) and TCU (road).

And it wouldn't hurt the Tigers' chances if No. 11 Oregon State, No. 14 Stanford and No. 19 USC each lost another game or two. The Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio always seems to prefer a Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup, but if No. 3 Oregon wins out and reaches the national championship game, would the Grandaddy of 'Em All pass up an 11-1 Clemson team for a three- or four-loss Pac-12 runner-up?

The Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl would have first choice among at-large BCS candidates and would probably select No. 4 Notre Dame if it's available, leaving an 11-1 Tigers team as a distinct possibility for whichever BCS bowl (excluding the Orange Bowl) doesn't select the Fighting Irish.

Since losing at Florida State, Clemson has been one of the best teams in the country. The Tigers have one of the country's most explosive offenses, and are averaging more than 42 points over the past five games. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is completing more than 67 percent of his passes for 2,680 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Clemson has perhaps the second-best receiver tandem in the country in DeAndre Hopkins (62 catches for 1,037 yards with 13 touchdowns) and Sammy Watkins (38 catches for 501 yards with two touchdowns). Tailback Andre Ellington has run for 780 yards with seven touchdowns.

Clemson's defense, which allowed nine touchdowns in that forgettable loss to West Virginia last season, has played better, surrendering 20 points or fewer in each of its past three games.

A trip to a BCS bowl game would allow the Tigers to prove how much better they really are from last season's team.

What a party it would be in Corvallis

Miller By Ted Miller
ESPN.com
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Oregon State went 3-9 last year, and some folks were grumbling about coach Mike Riley and his staff. So the Beavers, presently 7-1 and ranked 11th in the BCS standings, already have crossed the threshold of what defines a successful season. That few saw it coming makes it even sweeter in Corvallis.

And yet the Beavers have as much to play for ahead of them as any team in the nation, perhaps even the national title contenders.

Oregon State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since following the 1964 season. How long ago was that? Well, a rock and roll band called "The Beatles" released its first albums in the U.S. that year and then appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show," President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, abolishing racial segregation in the United States, and actor Russell Crowe was born.

So it's been a while.

Further, it's not just the destination, it's who you run over while heading there. For the Beavers, it would give them no greater pleasure to use the hated Oregon Ducks as a stepping-stone to Pasadena.

Not only is it always fun for the Beavers when they dump the Ducks, a Civil War victory on Nov. 24 would accomplish two other things: 1. It would knock Oregon out of the national title hunt; 2. It would knock the Ducks out of the Pac-12 title game.

But that grand potentiality hangs on the Beavers' taking care of business at Stanford on Saturday and against California on Nov. 17. So there's plenty to play for just to get to an epic Civil War like none before.

Further, beating the Ducks and advancing to the Rose Bowl has more than just immediate super-awesomeness for the Beavers. There's also the bigger picture of derailing a thriving state and conference rival.

Oregon is aiming for its fourth consecutive Pac-12 title. The Ducks are in position to play for a national title for the second time in three years. That sounds like fun in Eugene, but most outposts across the Pac-12 probably would prefer to see the Ducks step on a rake.

Oregon fans have been enjoying their run under Chip Kelly, well, a lot. They have not been shy about celebrating it. One could imagine the level of obnoxiousness reaching celestial heights if Oregon should capture its first national title.

What say you, Washington fans: Would you prefer the Beavers to win out and beat out Oregon for the Pac-12 North title or for Oregon to finish 14-0? Any thoughts, Trojans?

So the Beavers are not only playing for themselves, playing to eclipse their rivals and playing for a Rose Bowl invitation for the first time since the Gulf of Tonkin incident. They also are playing for 11 other teams that are concerned about the Ducks building a Pac-12 dynasty under Kelly.

The Beavers' Rose Bowl appearance in 1965 was followed by a 34-year bowl drought. The program has been more than respectable since the turn of the millennium, even winning a Fiesta Bowl in dominant fashion over Notre Dame after the 2000 season.

But a 12-1 finish with a Rose Bowl victory would be the greatest season in program history.

And that is certainly something to play for.