Best case-worst case: Oregon

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
7:00
PM ET
This is the 11th 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: Oregon

Best case

The sounds a football practice -- chatter, whistles, hitting -- echo outside the Moshofsky Indoor Practice Facility.

"Closed practices, smosed practices," the intrepid reporter says to himself. "I flew all the way up here to see Oregon practice and to figure out all the mysterious things that go on in there under Chip Kelly's cloak of silence."

Looking right and then left, the reporter, "Mission Impossible" theme music playing in his head, opens the door and slips in.

The building is empty. The football sounds are merely being piped through a speaker system. But on the far side of the field, there is a flickering black and white hologram-like image.

It repeats the same message, "This is our most desperate hour. Help me Obi Wan Kelly. You are my only hope."

Says the reporter, "That looks like Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, if he were wearing a white toga and large black ear muffs."

Suddenly, the reporter sees Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich tiptoeing by. He starts to run.

"Helfrich! I see you!" the reporter shouts.

Helfrich then runs right into the wall. Or it seems as though he did. Only he's gone.

"Hmm," the reporter says to himself. "I'm either insane and hallucinating, or Oregon football is wrapped up in some sort of Star Wars/Harry Potter intrigue."

The video suddenly changes to a fiery, evil, eye-like thingy. "My seventh ring! The ring to rule them all!"

"I knew it!" the reporter says, noting that he might be talking out loud to himself a wee much. "SEC commissioner Mike Slive is really the Dark Lord Sauron, Emperor Palpatine and Lord Voldemort all rolled into one ruler of the evilest of evil empires!"

Pause.

"Or ... maybe the Pac-12 Blog's 'Best Case/Worse Case' stories are jumping the shark amid entropic creative failure?"

Oregon starts 5-0. A 47-24 win against Washington State in Seattle representing the closest challenge.

Up next: Washington.

"Just because we've beaten Washington eight consecutive times by at least 17 points doesn't mean we will do that again," Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota says. "And, please, stop calling me Frodo."

The Ducks beat Washington 38-20, a last-second touchdown run from Kenjon Barner ensuring that the Pac-12 blog will type, "nine consecutive times by at least 17 points" in 2013.

Oregon rolls past Arizona State and Colorado. The 8-0 Ducks rise to No. 3 in the nation.

Up next: No. 1 USC.

Ted Miller: Matt, can you talk a little bit about "unfinished business" and how you came back to win a championship?

Matt Barkley: We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little Duckies. Wicked, tricksy, false!

Kevin Gemmell: Ted, you don't look well.

Inside the visitor's locker room under the packed Coliseum just moments before kickoff, Mariota seeks out Kelly.

"Coach, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed," Mariota says. "I threw that interception against Washington. I just feel so angry all the time. What if after everything that I've been through, something's gone wrong inside me? What if I'm becoming a bad quarterback?"

Replies Kelly, who's been growing a beard, “It is a curious thing, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well. You'll be fine. And remember, the fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side."

Mariota throws two touchdown passes and runs for another, while Barner and De'Anthony Thomas combine for 280 yards rushing as the Ducks pull away from the Trojans in the fourth quarter 42-35.

Oregon moves up to No. 2, behind No. 1 LSU, which whipped Alabama 6-0 on the same day the Ducks slipped past the Trojans.

The Ducks roll past California, escape an upset bid by No. 10 Stanford with 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points, and blow out Oregon State 48-14.

The rematch with the 11-1 Trojans is set for the Pac-12 championship, only this game is in Autzen Stadium.

Still, Barkley comes out flinging, and USC jumps ahead 38-14 with three minutes left in the third quarter. Thomas returns the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, with a feeling of deja vu waking up the previously dormant crowd. Barner scores on runs of nine and two yards, and the margin is just three at 38-35.

USC takes over and drives to the Ducks 11-yard line with just over three minutes remaining. The crowd seems uneasy. But the Trojans fumble and Dion Jordan recovers.

Oregon quickly drives the other way. With five seconds remaining, Alejandro Maldonado lines up for a 37-yard field goal.

The snap. The hold.

It's a fake. Maldonado takes a pitch from holder Jackson Rice and sprints 20 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining.

It's Oregon vs. Alabama for the national title.

College football pundit: Yawn. We've seen this before. A nice little team with a gimmick offense from the Pac-12 against a group of finely tuned athletes from the SEC. It's boys versus men. Oregon doesn't have a chance, and they probably know it.

Kelly gathers his team inside Sun Life Stadium. All week, they've heard about the dominance of the SEC.

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me!" he says. "A day may come when the courage of the Ducks fails, when we don't win the day, decide to entertain hypotheticals and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this night. There may come an hour of overflowing SEC revenue, $6 million coaches and mutant defensive linemen fueled by grits and fried seafood, and when the Age of the Pac-12 comes crashing down, but it is not this night! This night we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"

The game is tied 10-10 at halftime. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott runs into SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

Slive: Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. Your undersized Oregon offense is walking into a trap, as is your scrappy but untalented defense. It was I who allowed Oregon to score that touchdown just before halftime. Alabama is quite safe from your pitiful little team. An entire legion of Nick Saban's best troops awaits them!

Scott: What an eccentric performance!

Down 16-10 with two minutes left, Thomas returns a punt 32 yards to the Alabama 42. He runs out of bounds on the Alabama sideline in front of Saban.

Saban: Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Crimson Tide.

Thomas: What? You need to stop reading the Pac-12 blog. Messing up your brain.

Saban: Good. Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you.

On third and 12, Mariota connects with Josh Huff at the Alabama 18. Barner goes for nine yards to the Tide 9-yard line. Mariota scrambles to the one with 10 seconds left.

The Ducks line up. "Hey!" Mariota yells at Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. "It's a quarterback sneak!"

Mariota bulls in for the winning touchdown.

Oregon wins the national championship. And fortunately, not a single Ducks fan says, "Natty."

The NCAA rules that Oregon can no longer incorporate lime green into its color scheme due to its use of street agent Willie Lyles.

"You know what?" an Oregon fan writes on Addicted to Quack. "I'm not going to complain about a thing. Or trash talk. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. All is well."

Worst case

Oregon starts 5-0. A 47-24 win against Washington State in Seattle representing the closest challenge.

Up next: Washington.

"Just because we've beaten Washington eight consecutive times by at least 17 points doesn't mean we will do that again," Mariota says.

The Ducks lead 35-17 midway through the third quarter. Across the Autzen Stadium field, Chip Kelly eyeballs a gathering of Huskies.

"What are they up to?" he says. But he's not really that curious.

The Huskies huddle around quarterback Keith Price, "This is where they end and we begin. Right now! We're going to score a quick touchdown, our defense is going to get the ball back and then we're going to score again. And they will wilt. They will see us coming and know this night belongs to us."

Price connects with Kasen Williams for a 35-yard touchdown. Washington safety Shaq Thompson then reads a telegraphed throw from Mariota and jaunts 33 yards the other way for a touchdown. It's 35-31.

Josh Shirley sacks Mariota and 330-pound tackle Danny Shelton picks up the loose ball and rumbles into the end zone.

There's a palpable tearing sound in the stadium. It's Oregon's confidence.

Final: Washington 52, Oregon 35.

Kevin Gemmell: With wins against LSU and Oregon, and a close loss to Stanford, USC should be plenty worried about the 3-1 Huskies. It's fair to say Washington is back and Oregon's Northwest dominance might be teetering on the brink.

Ted Miller: It is fair to say that.

After a bye, the Ducks whip Arizona State and Colorado and improve to 7-1.

Up next: Undefeated and top-ranked USC.

Barkley comes out flinging, and the Trojans jump ahead 38-14 with three minutes left in the third quarter. But De'Anthony Thomas returns the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the USC 10-yard line.

On first down, Mariota drops back to pass. But he's hit from behind by Wes Horton and fumbles. Dion Bailey picks up the loose ball and dashes the other way for a touchdown.

The Trojans roll in front of their home crowd 45-21.

The Ducks bounce back with wins against California and Stanford.

Gemmell: The Huskies' upset home loss to Utah leaves them a game behind the Ducks in the Pac-12 North Division.

Miller: That's right Kevin! All Oregon needs to do is beat rival Oregon State and it wins the North. So that's sort of a done deal. It's been, like, forever since the Beavers beat the Ducks.

The Ducks recover an onside kick from Oregon State, leading 35-30 with just over a minute left. Mariota takes a knee on first down. He takes a knee on second down.

Announcer: NO! The ball is free. Dylan Wynn is running the other way. The Beavers are going to beat Oregon on a fumbled snap with no time remaining!

Washington advances to the Pac-12 title game, where it upsets unbeaten, top-ranked USC 33-30.

Oregon loses to Texas in the Holiday Bowl 38-13.

Price nips Barkley for the Heisman Trophy. The Huskies pound Michigan in the Rose Bowl 42-10. Price announces he's coming back for his senior season.

Oregon is hit with a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 15 scholarships by the NCAA because of its use of street agent Willie Lyles.

Kelly is hired away by Arkansas.

Nike files for bankruptcy. Phil Knight moves to Tibet, becomes a monk.

"I planned to do this last year," Knight says. "But we ended up being good. Now that's no longer the case, I'm done with the Ducks."

Ted Miller | email

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