Best case-worst case: UCLA

August, 22, 2012
8/22/12
7:15
PM ET
This is the sixth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

You can see previous best case-worst case posts here.

Up next: UCLA

Best case

Brett Hundley passes for two touchdowns and runs for another as UCLA begins the Jim Mora Era with a 42-17 victory over Rice.

"So, coach, welcome to college football," a snazzy young reporter quips. "Did you think your were playing a cereal grain today or another football team?"

[Reporter then laughs at own joke].

"I have a lot of respect for Rice, great school academically, started playing football in 1919 as a member of the Southwest Conference," Mora says. "Played in four Cotton Bowls, an Orange Bowl and a Sugar Bowl. Beat Tennessee, Colorado, North Carolina and Alabama in those games. Won the 2008 Texas Bowl. Fine program, fine team."

The Bruins are tied with Nebraska 10-10 to start the fourth quarter, but, with two minutes minutes left, Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez gets away for a 32-yard touchdown run.

The Bruins take over on their 20. Two Hundley passes get them to midfield, and a third-and-6 draw play lands them on the Cornhuskers 23 with 45 seconds left. Hundely, under intense pressure, dumps the ball to Johnathan Franklin, who darts to the 9-yard line. On third-and-6 with 15 seconds left, Hundley finds Devin Lucien for the tying TD.

"It looks like Mora wants to go for two and the win instead of the tie and overtime," the announcer says.

Hundley rolls to his right and sees tight end Joseph Fauria scoot loose on the far side. Hundley slings the ball to him.

But his pass is inches high. Nebraska wins 17-16.

"No, I don't want to hear that," Hundley says. "Don't make excuses for me or for this team. Close doesn't count, whether you're a senior or a redshirt freshman. Fauria was open. I missed him. I make that throw, we win. I will not miss that play again. Lesson learned. I'm ready to get back on the field. I want to play again right now."

Kevin Gemmell: Did you notice the Bruins outgained Nebraska 398 yards to 279?

Ted Miller: Math is your specialty. I focus on saying amusing things like, 'Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.'

Gemmell: Yeah, that's riotously amusing. Your round.

The Bruins stomp Houston 38-17, nip Oregon State 24-20 and survive a late rally from Colorado to win 33-30. The Bruins come up with a goal line stand to beat California 24-20, stopping C.J. Anderson on a fourth down play from the 1/2-yard line. Damien Holmes and Cassius Marsh provide the push that ultimately turns back Anderson.

The Bruins, at 5-1, are ranked 16th.

"Have we turned a corner?" Mora says. "I like how hard we're playing. I like our attitude. I like what I hear in the locker room. But you never arrive. You claw forward each play, put it into the past and the claw again. It never ends. Even when you win a championship, part of that experience is thinking about what's next."

Utah shows up to a sold out Rose Bowl, but the Bruins play flat in a 30-24 defeat.

"I'm not going to scream and yell," Mora tells his team after the game. "What I'm certain of is many of you older guys are very familiar with how this feels, losing like this and knowing you didn't leave everything on the field. We weren't the same team today as we were against Nebraska and Cal. See, it's not just that scoreboard. It's about, as a ingrained reflex, knowing that your heart will explode in your chest before you decided to not give everything you have for yourself and the guys next to you."

Franklin stands up, "Coach, I am going to scream and yell. This [expletive] ends today. I've seen this [expletive] for five years. And it ends today."

After a bye week, the Bruins pound homestanding Arizona State 44-17 and then whip Arizona 40-31. But they fall in a blizzard at Washington State 28-27, with Cougars QB Jeff Tuel completing 28 of 30 throws for 335 yards.

"I hate losing but we played hard," Mora says. "Heck, our coverage was good. Tuel just had one of those days where he throws a bunch of perfect passes in places only his receivers can catch the ball. We've got to refocus because next week is what matters now."

Up next: No. 1, unbeaten USC.

Ted Miller: The Trojans are the best team since the 1992 Cowboys.

Kevin Gemmell: I wouldn't go that far...

Miller: I hear Matt Barkley can walk on water only he's too humble to do it. And Lane Kiffin should be knighted. I hear he's been cheated out of authorship of several of Shakespeare's play because of Tennessee fans.

Gemmell: I'm picking UCLA to beat them. Your round.

"Is USC just another game for us?" Mora says. "No."

The Trojans lead the Bruins 17-10 at halftime at the Rose Bowl. The Trojans are forced to punt on their first possession, and Steven Manfro goes 74 yards for a touchdown. On the ensuing possession, Barkely is intercepted by Tevin McDonald, who scampers 33 yards the other way for a score. After another USC punt, Hundley leads the Bruins 84 yards on 16 plays -- eight runs, eight passes -- for another TD.

It's 31-17 entering the fourth quarter.

"But you can never count out Matt Barkley and this offense," the announcer says. "This is the No. 1 team in the country for a reason."

It's 45-17 with three minutes left. Mora clears his bench.

"They're a great team; we respect them," Mora says. "But I think my guys just knew what they wanted to do today and they did it. I was great seeing the fans happy. I know they really wanted this and really enjoyed how things went down. But in that locker room, we're only about UCLA. We're not going to obsess about anyone else. Of course, our next measure is how well we get our minds focused for a tough Stanford team."

The Bruins slip No. 12 Stanford 30-24.

They then beat Texas 28-21 in the Alamo Bowl to finish 10-3 and ranked 11th.

Mora's 30-player recruiting class -- five elite prospects are brought in early to count against the 2012 class -- ranks sixth in the nation. It includes three defections from USC's class, which finished eighth.

"It was great to cherry-pick USC recruiting," Mora says. "So much talent. Glad we had a full allotment of scholarships."

Headline in LA Times, "17 USC players caught in chocolate chip cookie scandal, according to NCAA."

The members of the NCAA's infractions committee include Loki, Bane, the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, the late Bernie Madoff, Cruella de Vil, Darth Vader, Nurse Ratched, Gordon Gekko and Satan.

"Of course, we'll be fair to USC," committee chair Satan says. "Fair, you might not know this, is my middle name."

Worst case

While UCLA got pushed around by Nebraska, a 2-1 start looks encouraging for the Bruins as they head into Pac-12 play.

Of course, looks can be deceiving.

Oregon State whips UCLA 33-20. The Bruins bounce back with a 28-24 win at Colorado, but they then lose three in a row to California, Utah and Arizona State.

While quarterback Brett Hundley flashes promise, he makes the sort of mistakes that are not uncommon for a redshirt freshman. He forces throws. He holds the ball too long. He thinks he needs to scrap for every extra yard on scrambles.

Meanwhile, the Bruins defense clearly misses injured inside linebacker Patrick Larimore. The Bruins still can't stop the run and they give up too many big plays.

"We can't stop the run and give up too many big plays," Mora says.

UCLA picks up a third win over Arizona but gives up 420 passing yards in a loss at Washington State.

Up next: No. 1, unbeaten USC.

Headline in LA Times: "Kiffin wins $100 million lottery, gives it all to Habitat for Humanity."

"I don't want to talk about that," Kiffin says. "I'll talk about this football game."

"He might not want to talk about it, but I will," says Paul Leonard, CEO of Habitat for Humanity. "As far as I'm concerned, Lane Kiffin is a saint."

USC beats UCLA 51-0, with Barkley and the other starters sitting out the entire fourth quarter.

Barkley wins the Heisman Trophy in a landslide. His acceptance speech focuses on the rewards of community service.

The Trojans beat LSU 45-10 to finish undefeated and win the national title.

Ted Miller: Best college team of all-time after beating 14 teams by at least two touchdowns?

Kevin Gemmell: Yes.

USC signs nation's No. 1 recruiting class. UCLA finishes sixth in the Pac-12.

Patrick Soon-Shiong announces that he will completely finance a renovation of LA Coliseum.

"I know I've long been affiliated with UCLA," Soon-Shiong says. "But I've always secretly loved USC. And I want to make the Coliseum not just the college football's best stadium, I want it to be the best stadium in the entire freaking world."

Ted Miller | email

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