STANFORD -- Timing is everything. For Stanford, timing of the Bowl Championship Series revolution stinks.
If this were next year, the revolution would be under way. In 2014, there will be a four-team college playoff with two semifinal games and a championship extravaganzapalooza.
And if 2013 were magically transformed into 2014, guess which team could be in the mix for that playoff?
That's right. Your friendly local Cardinal Nerd Nation Of Excellence.
Stanford is No. 4 in the BCS standings, behind Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State. Let's pretend Stanford is anointed one of the top four teams at the conclusion of the post-revolution 2014 season. You could then have Stanford facing off against Alabama in one playoff semifinal and Florida State meeting Ohio State in the other. Winners play for the national title.
All right, snap back to reality.
"We obviously can't control that," said Stanford defensive end Henry Anderson, when presented with the above what-if scenario. "And that's all next year. So I don't think we ever give much thought to it."
Notice he said "much thought." He didn't say "no thought."
How can you be around Stanford football and not be at least a smidgen bemused and/or vexed by the situation? This season's team might be as good or better than any in the recent blitz of Cardinal distinction, which began in 2010. Since then, Stanford has regularly cranked out 11 or 12 victories. This year's group has eight, with USC up next Saturday and four other potential games after that. The Cardinal should easily get to 11 or 12.
Yet none of those previous Stanford teams -- or this one, most likely -- could have a prayer of reaching the national title game.
Only the top two in the final BCS rankings qualify. Stanford has finished twice in the top four but always outside the top two, owing either to an early-season narrow defeat (Washington and Notre Dame last year, Utah this year) or general strength of the Pac-12 Conference (losses to Oregon).
Optimists want the Stanford run of superiority to continue forever. David Shaw, the head coach, certainly expects to win big every season. But with a dozen or so key Cardinal players graduating next spring or leaving school for the NFL draft . . . well, there is no guarantee Stanford will ever get back into the top four teams again. The revolution might have happened one year too late.
Shaw, for his part, doesn't torture himself with that thought. He claims that he doesn't even check the BCS standings.
"No, really, I don't," Shaw said Tuesday, then was informed the team is in fourth place.
"We've been there before in the last few years, in the same place," Shaw said with a shrug. "It's why we're going to the new playoff system."
Shaw has never been shy about expressing his ideal college football postseason structure: He likes an eight-team playoff. He thinks it should feature six conference champions and two wild-card teams. He also wants each league to play an equal number of conference games -- as opposed to, say, SEC teams playing eight conference games while the Pac-12 plays nine.
All of it sounds good. And it will probably work out that way eventually, perhaps by 2019 or 2020, assuming the four-team playoff format is a success.
But none of that helps the Cardinal now. Stanford's focus is on USC this week, as it should be. The Trojans will be no pushover, especially at home in the Coliseum. But anyone who saw the Cardinal's de-quacking of Oregon's Ducks last week had to relish the notion of a Stanford-Alabama or Stanford-Florida State matchup, with a crystal trophy at stake.
Yes, one of those games could still happen, if enough teams lose. More likely, we are on track for a Rose Bowl pairing between the Cardinal and Ohio State. That would be delicious. But imagine if it were just the first course of a dinner, with only the winner advancing to the main entree. It could be that way next season.
So, yes, when you stare at the BCS standings right now, there is a nagging longing for time travel. The Stanford players won't come out and say so. But at least one admits he calls up the rankings on his laptop.
"You'd have to be a liar if you said that you don't pay any attention to it," linebacker Shayne Skov said. "But I don't sit back and watch the standings and say, 'If this team beats this team, then that projects to this or whatever.' "
Skov also acknowledged that if this were 2014, his mindset might be different.
"But no matter what, either way, the recipe for ending up anywhere relevant is for us to win the rest of our games," Skov said.
He's right. It's just too bad that someone on the Stanford campus can't invent one of those DeLorean machines that could take this entire team Back To The Revolutionary Future.