Best case-worst case: Stanford

August, 28, 2012
8/28/12
7:00
PM ET
This is the 10th 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: Stanford

Best case

Stanford gathers in the team hotel on the Friday night before its opener against San Jose State.

"Guys, Sam Schwartzstein has a slide show for you," Shaw says. "I believe you will find it most illuminating."

The lights dim, the Cardinal center picks up a remote control and clicks on an old-style slide projector.

Schwartzstein: [click] Peyton Manning, quarterback, Tennessee. Do you see? [Click] Peyton Manning, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts, [Click] Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford. [Click] Andrew Luck, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts. Do you see?

Tee Martin, quarterback, Tennessee? Do you see? Tennessee reborn. Tennessee national champions. Do you see? Josh Nunes, quarterback, Stanford? Do you see? Do you see? We are privy to a great becoming!

Chase Thomas whispers to fellow linebacker Shayne Skov, "I thought you were supposed to be the biggest loon on this team."

Replies Skov, "No way, man. Schwartzy is completely unhinged."

Stanford whips San Jose State and Duke by a combined count of 80-3. Nunes throws three touchdown passes, and Stepfan Taylor rolls up for 305 of the Cardinal's 452 rushing yards.

Up next is No. 1 USC.

Stanford leads 24-20 in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Matt Barkley leads the Trojans to a first-and-goal on the Stanford 9-yard line with 45 seconds left. Barkley connects with Robert Woods at the 1-yard line, but Curtis McNeal is stopped cold on second and third down. The Trojans call their final time out.

Barkley lines up in shotgun. He rolls to his right, looking for Marqise Lee, then pumps at Xavier Grimble. No one is open. He sprints and dives at the flag.

"I don't think he got in!" the announcer says. "Stanford is on the brink of upsetting the No. 1 team in the country, the mighty Trojans of USC."

The play is reviewed. "After further review," the official says. "The runner did cross the goal line. Touchdown."

"What do I think of the call?" Stanford coach David Shaw says after the game. "I think it was the right call. I think Barkley got in. A hardnosed play from him. And even if it was a bad call, we had plenty of chances to win that game. They just came down the field and took it from us. We'll see what we're made of over the next few weeks. If we keep our heads down and keep getting better, we'll get another shot at them."

After a bye, the Cardinal rushes for 275 yards at Washington, winning 33-21. They whip Arizona 51-24 and shut out Notre Dame 33-0. So Stanford, ranked 10th at 5-1, heads to Berkeley for an odd, midseason Big Game.

Schwartzstein: Please turn to page 100 in your dossier. You see a picture of Henry Kissinger. And you see a picture of Oski. Kissinger. Oski. Oski, Kissinger. Curious that neither is ever seen together, don't you think? And on page 245: Jeff Tedford. And then Nikita Khrushchev. Yes, I know. Very strange. What does it mean? Maybe nothing. But there is an unmistakable whiff of communism. Or maybe it means that if we fail on Saturday against Berkeley, everything we know and love just freaking blows up and nothing is left other than the ashes of humanity's grandest hopes and dreams.

A goal line stand preserves a 20-14 win over the Bears.

Stanford rolls over Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State, which means it takes a seven-game winning streak to No. 1 Oregon, which is two weeks removed from an overtime win at USC.

Ted Miller: Stanford doesn't have enough speed to keep up with Oregon. I'm sure of that.

Kevin Gemmell: Weren't you sure that USC would beat Oregon?

Ted Miller: Grrrr. Your round.

Stanford rushes for 245 yards and Nunes throws two touchdown passes in a 30-24 victory.

After a 44-17 win over UCLA, Stanford finishes 11-1 and rises to No. 4 in the BCS standings. Due to its victory over Oregon, it wins the North Division tiebreaker and will visit No. 5 USC for the Pac-12 championship game.

Barkley, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, but Taylor rushes for 230 yards and three scores. Taylor becomes the fourth conference running back to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing and his 28 touchdowns tie former Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart for the conference record.

Oh, and his third touchdown comes with 14 seconds left to give Stanford a 31-24 victory.

Oklahoma and LSU, both undefeated, will meet for the national title. Stanford will play undefeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Gemmell: We could have a split national title. No team has two better wins than Stanford, and Michigan whipped Alabama in the season-opener.

Miller: Yep.

In the closest Heisman Trophy vote in history, Taylor nips Barkley for the bronze statue.

In the Rose Bowl, a final Stanford drive is stymied at the Michigan 40-yard line with three seconds left. The Wolverines lead 23-21.

Out walks Cardinal kicker Jordan Williamson. He lines up for the 57-yard field goal.

"The goat of last year's Fiesta Bowl," the announcer says. "What must this young man be thinking? Wait ... he appears to be smiling."

Right down the middle with room to spare. Stanford wins 24-23.

The Cardinal finishes ranked second. Largely on the strength of the linemen it signs, Stanford's recruiting class is ranked fifth in the nation.

On the heels of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, presently a Stanford professor, becoming one of the first two female members at August National Golf Club, the storied and exclusive golf club decides that every Stanford graduate should get a membership.

Explains Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National, "Really, it's just based on the fact that if you go to Stanford you're pretty darn awesome."

Worst case

Nunes gets his "welcome to the Pac-12" moment against USC.

While he gets sacked four times and throws two interceptions, he watches as Barkley posts a masterful effort in a 40-17 USC victory.

Washington gangs up against the Stanford running game two weeks later, and Nunes and his still-middling receivers can't take advantage, as the Huskies end a four-game run of futility in the series, 27-24. Shaw announces that Brett Nottingham will start the following weekend.

With Nottingham behind center, the Cardinal bounce back with wins over Arizona and Notre Dame, as the defense steps up its effort and holds the both the Wildcats and Fighting Irish to fewer than 10 points.

Things seem to be righting themselves in advance of the Big Game, an oddly timed midseason affair. But, as players are vigilantly studying their playbooks on team-issued iPads, the screens become pixilated and blurry. Then they dissolve into the Cal logo.

"You've been hacked by Oski!" it scrolls across the screen over a laughing, dancing Oski. "Tell Schwartzstein to never compare Kissinger to anything at Cal ever again!"

Ten minutes later, Stanford's entire playbook is on Wiki Leaks.

The Big Game belongs to California, 28-21, as Zach Maynard throws two touchdown passes and the Bears roll up 210 yards on the ground against a rugged Stanford defense. Nottingham throws two interceptions, and Nunes takes over in the fourth quarter.

Relying on its defense and playing two quarterbacks, Stanford wins its next three over Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State. But Oregon ends all intrigue early, with De'Anthony Thomas rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown and catching four passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-21 Ducks victory.

Stanford looks deflated in a season-ending 24-17 loss to UCLA. The Cardinal finishes the regular season 7-5.

Boise State whips Stanford 30-21 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Playing in its first Rose Bowl since the 1958 season, Cal beats Michigan 30-28. It's the Golden Bears' first Rose Bowl win since 1938.

The Bears finish ranked sixth.

Lisa Simpson is admitted to rehab. TMZ reports that her life started falling apart when she was forced to attend Stanford.

Ted Miller | email

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