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Best case-worst case: Arizona State

7/8/2010

Second in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Arizona State

Best case

Arizona State didn't inspire much confidence from its frustrated fanbase with a pair of workmanlike wins over FCS foes Portland State and Northern Arizona. The defense looked good, the offense didn't. Same old same old.

The 24-13 win at Wisconsin, however, changed that. "We won't see a better defense than that," Badgers coach Bret Bielema says after the game. "And their quarterback impressed me."

That would be Brock Osweiler, who threw a pair of scoring passes vs. the Badgers.

Still, the schedule is unforgiving. The Sun Devils head to Washington smarting after an 0-2 start in conference play thanks to back-to-back losses against the Oregon schools. But the defense bottles up Jake Locker on a rainy Seattle day and ASU wins.

Losses at California and USC -- the Sun Devils struggle in the state of California -- are sandwiched around a win over Washington State. It's still unclear which way the season will go when 20th-ranked Stanford comes to town with a high-powered offense led by Andrew Luck.

But something clicks for the Sun Devils. The defense harasses Luck all day and forces three turnovers, while Osweiler tosses a pair of TD passes as the the Sun Devils roll 30-17.

After dumping UCLA, ASU heads to Tucson to take on arch-rival Arizona. Both teams enter the game at 7-4 overall and 4-4 in conference play. A berth in the Sun Bowl, as well as bragging rights, is at stake. The bad taste of last year's dispiriting loss lingers for the Sun Devils.

ASU trails 21-17 with 12 minutes left when it takes over at its 1-yard line. What ensues will go down in Sun Devils lore: They drive 99 yards in 18 plays -- all runs and none longer than seven yards -- as the much-maligned offensive line takes control. Wildcats coach Mike Stoops is apoplectic on the sidelines, but it doesn't help.

"I'm worried that his head may explode," remarks the play-by-play announcer.

With 30 seconds left in the game, Osweiler sneaks in for the game-winning score.

Elite local recruits Christian Westerman and Brett Hundley both announce that they have changed their minds and want to go to Arizona State.

The Sun Devils whip Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl and finish 9-4. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is named national Assistant Coach of the Year.

"We feel like we'll be in the Rose Bowl hunt in 2011," says coach Dennis Erickson.

Worst case

Any optimism supplied by a 2-0 start -- albeit against FCS competition -- disappears when Arizona State manages to gain just 210 yards in a 20-3 loss at Wisconsin.

That's the first defeat in what becomes a five-game losing streak that only ends due to a visit from Washington State. The story is not unlike the previous two seasons: Good defense, bad offense. But the defense starts to leak as morale falls.

During a bye week after consecutive blowout defeats to USC and Stanford, coach Dennis Erickson is fired, though he agrees to coach the final two games.

Those are a pair of dreary losses, including a 30-7 beatdown by Arizona in Tucson, as the 'Zona Zoo lets the Sun Devils have it. The Wildcats head to another bowl game. The Sun Devils 3-9 finish is the program's worst since 1994.

"We were given an opportunity, and we just didn't get it done," Erickson says.