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TEMPE, Ariz. -- In the aftermath of his team's second straight humbling defeat -- this one a 27-10 rout at the hands of No. 3 Georgia -- Arizona State safety Troy Nolan did his best to keep things in perspective.
"We're going to put it all behind us," said Nolan, whose once-ranked Sun Devils (2-2) lost the previous week to UNLV. "We have the Pac-10 [season] coming up and that's what really counts."
In the wake of a nightmarish September for the Pac-10 -- every team besides USC has at least one loss -- you can bet similar sentiments are being expressed in locker rooms around the conference. Coaches are presumably telling their teams that "we still have plenty to play for."
And they're absolutely right. Their teams could still reach the Rose Bowl.
This may sound preposterous in light of events of the past nine days, with Cal losing to Maryland, Arizona losing to New Mexico, Oregon losing to Boise State and UCLA and ASU losing twice. Nobody outside of the top-ranked Trojans is looking particularly BCS-worthy.
But as we well know, the Rose Bowl is not your typical BCS bowl. If USC reaches the national-title game, the Granddaddy will have an at-large spot on its hands -- and as the folks in Pasadena showed when they selected 9-3 Illinois last year, tradition will be their No. 1 selection criterion.
Mind you, it won't be an easy task for one of the Pac-10's current also-rans to attain the top-14 ranking necessary to be selected. A second Pac-10 team would likely have to go 10-2 to finish that high -- or 9-3 with an upset of USC (which would still have to reach the title game).
You can go ahead and scratch Washington, Washington State, Stanford, Oregon State and UCLA off the list right now. Ditto Arizona State: The Sun Devils have no running game and are going to lose multiple times in conference.
The only two teams I could see pulling it off are Arizona and Cal. (I would have included Oregon, but the Ducks' QB situation gets more dire by the week.) The much-improved Wildcats bounced back nicely from the New Mexico loss, throttling UCLA, while the Bears showed enough promise prior to the Maryland game to make me think they could still be pretty good.
Coincidentally, these are the two teams that the Rose Bowl currently covets above all others. Cal hasn't been since 1959, while Arizona is the one Pac-10 team that's never made it. If either can sneak into the top 14 at day's end, there will be much rejoicing in Pasadena -- and much grumbling from the 11-2 SEC or Big 12 team that gets excluded as a result.