Best case-Worst Case: Oregon State
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Sixth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting from the top of our preseason Power Rankings and working down.
Up next: Oregon State
While Oregon State's Thursday night visit to Stanford mostly didn't register on a national scale, Pac-10 observers knew it was going to be a real fight. And it was, with the Stanford defense giving the Beavers offense a physical evening, and the Cardinal playing smart, conservative football on offense.
With score tied 17-17 in the waning moments of the third quarter, Sammie Stroughter catches a punt at his own 30.
Stanford takes over and drives to midfield, but Victor Butler sacks Tavita Pritchard and forces a fumble. On the next play, Beavers QB Lyle Moevao dumps the ball to slot receiver James Rodgers.
Beavers win 31-24. Up next: A visit to Penn State.
Joe Paterno is the big story leading up to the game, but Moevao and RB Ryan McCants are the stories after. Moevao, inconsistent at Stanford, embraces the wild atmosphere in Happy Valley with 100,000-plus on hand, and completes 17 of 26 for 285 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, while McCants, running behind a surprisingly stout Beavers offensive line, bulls and dashes for 163 yards.
Actually, the offensive line shouldn't be surprising: No. 62 is playing -- see the guy depositing the Penn State DT into the third row of the stands? That's guard Jeremy Perry, showing no signs of the injuries that have hounded him for 18 months.
Beaver Stadium, indeed.
After improving to 3-0 with an easy win over Hawaii, USC comes to town. The 14th-ranked Beavers stay close well into the second half, but Trojans tailback Joe McKnight turns a short swing pass into a 60-yard TD, and Mark Sanchez finds his range. Meanwhile, the USC defense proves impenetrable, even though Perry and Fili Moala stage an epic struggle inside.
Final count, 31-13.
Coach Mike Riley talks all week about a potential let down against Utah. Nope. Beavers roll 38-10.
After easy wins for OSU over Washington State and Washington, No. 12 Arizona State comes to town. Stroughter returns another punt for a score, and Moevao continues to play smart football, but quarterback Rudy Carpenter hoists the Sun Devils on his shoulders and turns in his best performances off the year, skillfully eluding a fierce pass rush and making the Beavers pay down field in a 30-24 win.
After clubbing UCLA and nipping California and Arizona, the Beavers can force a three-way tie for second place in the Pac-10.
All they've got to do is beat Oregon, a team that Beavers fans have generally warm feelings for in this most civil of wars.
(Sorry, I just had to throw that in.)
It rains. And rains. And rains.
And Ryan McCants reigns.
Rumbling through the middle of the Ducks defense, McCants finishes with 143 yards and two scores in a 17-16 victory, which is only decided when Stroughter -- brought on for special duty -- blocks a Ducks extra point attempt with less than two minutes remaining.
Then, when Arizona State ends up getting the Pac-10 a second BCS bowl invitation, Oregon State is selected over the Ducks to play 8th-ranked Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.
The shell-shocked Red Raiders go down meekly, with QB Graham Harrell remarking that his team's ludicrously weak nonconference schedule is the reason they lost.
The Beavers finish ranked 6th in the country.
Beavers fans then bombard a mild-mannered Pac-10 blogger for picking their team sixth in the Pac-10.
When Stanford ends up winning seven games, Oregon State's 24-10 season-opening loss in Palo Alto won't seem so bad, but at the time it's crushing.
But not as crushing as a ill-fated trip to Penn State, where the Beavers fade in the second half in a 38-17 defeat.
Fears that both lines would struggle proved founded. Offensive guard Jeremy Perry sees just a handful of plays in the first two games and then is shelved for the season. The typically furious pass rush is muted and the up-the-middle defense proves inconsistent.
That doesn't much matter in a 27-20 win over Hawaii, but it does in a humbling 45-7 defeat at home to USC.
After a team meeting called by QB Lyle Moevao, the Beavers bounce back with an impressive 28-24 win at Utah, and consecutive wins over Washington and Washington State make it look like the Beavers might be heading for another late-season surge.
Then Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter tears apart the defense in a 41-17 Sun Devils blowout.
After an overtime win at UCLA, California and Arizona both nip the Beavers with fourth-quarter rallies.
Oregon State then needs a win in the Civil War to become bowl eligible. A loss means the Beavers first losing season since 2005.
The Ducks and QB Nate Costa, headed toward a likely BCS bowl at-large invitation if they win, however, don't leave any doubt in this typically nail-biting rivalry game. Costa runs for two TDs and throws for two more in a 40-24 victory.
A month later, Mike Riley is hired away by another Pac-10 program, where he gets a $3 million contract. And defensive coordinator Mark Banker is hired away by another.
Beavers fans then bombard a mild-mannered Pac-10 blogger and blame him for scripting this exact scenario in mid-August.