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Best case-worst case: Arizona

8/7/2013

This is the fifth 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).

Up next: Arizona

Best case

The Man in Maroon fled across the desert and Rich Rodriguez followed.

Old Man No. 1: That one there. He's a-got him a Hard Edge.

Old Man No. 2: Yessum. And some of thems around him got a Hard Edge II.

Old Man No. 1: Yep. But that ole gunslinger Matt Scott is gone. And that defense? It played like a bunch of saddle tramps and sapheads last year.

Old Man No. 2: Yessum. And that there Graham, the one in Maroon up north. He's-um got the Territorial Cup.

B.J. Denker, Jesse Scroggins and Anu Solomon walk into Rodriguez's office.

"Gentlemen, we have to make a decision at quarterback," Rodriguez says. "You've made it extremely difficult. In fact, we are divided on what we want to do."

Denker: I've got experience.

Scroggins: And I've got the best arm.

Solomon: What if... we split the position among us?

Headline from the next day's Arizona Daily Star: "Wisdom of Solomon: Wildcats will split up QB job three ways."

Arizona pounds Northern Arizona, UNLV and UT San Antonio. Scroggins starts all three games, with Denker coming off the bench in the second quarter and Solomon used in specific packages. They combine for 10 TD passes and three scoring runs.

"We'll find out who we are the next few weeks -- road games at Washington and USC," Rodriguez says. "It's a heck of a thing, winning on the road. Takes away all that home team's got and all he's ever gonna have."

The Wildcats lose both games. The Huskies slip Arizona in overtime on a disputed TD call after a QB sneak from Keith Price, while the Trojans take revenge for a loss in Tucson the year before, 28-24.

Rodriguez storms into the locker room at the Coliseum. He throws a trash can across the room. He dumps the Gatorade table. Then he regroups.

“We should have won -- we should be 5-0," he says. "But that no longer matters. What matters is right now and every moment henceforth."

He then adds, "Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.”

The Wildcats whip Utah and Colorado and scrap by California on the road. All three quarterbacks continue to play well, and the Wildcats rejuvenated defense leads the Pac-12 in forced turnovers.

Then UCLA comes to town, and the Bruins dominate the first half. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr sacks Denker twice and Scroggins once.

Denker walks into the middle of the halftime locker room. He is greeted by silence.

“Anthony Barr has hit me again and again and again," he says. "But I now say unto you that I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I require the same from them.”

Denker throws a pair of TD passes in the third quarter, the defense pitches a second-half shutout, and Scroggins leads the winning drive in the fourth, as the Wildcats upset the No. 12 Bruins 24-21.

The Wildcats batter Washington State 44-17 to improve to 8-2 but their four game winning streak ends at home against No. 2 Oregon 38-35.

"We ain't got time to mourn what could have been," Rodriguez said. "We head to Tombstone Saturday."

Reporter: That's Tempe. Arizona State is in Tempe.

Rodriguez: That's what I said.... Tombstone.

At Arizona State coach Todd Graham's press conference he is told of Rodriguez calling Tempe, Tombstone.

"The ole gunslinger [laughter] said that, did he?" Graham says with a smirk. "Well, you tell ole Rich Rod we've got the trophy and ain't giving it back so maybe Tempe will be like a graveyard for his interests. And how about this? How about the losing coach on Saturday takes the first shovel to the ground at the winning coach's newest football facility?"

The Sun Devils players keep things polite all week but it's notable that each constantly refers to Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey as "All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey."

Carey is asked about the comments, which are obviously a reference to him telling a security guard at an Arizona basketball game in January to “get the (bleep!) out of my face,” unfortunately adding, “Do you know who I am? I’m an All-American.”

Says Carey, "Yeah, well, that goes with the territory when you say something really stupid and arrogant as I did. What I've learned is not so much how behavior and comments like that embarrass you but how it affects those around you, those you care about. My family was embarrassed. My teammates and coaches were embarrassed. My school was embarrassed. But hopefully it won't define me. Heck, the Pac-12 blog used lyrics from 'Bad to the bone,' as his high school senior quote and he only had to move to the West Coast to escape ridicule from his Atlanta friends."

The Sun Devils lead Arizona 22-17 after three quarters. With three minutes left, Arizona faces a third and 1 on the Sun Devils 42-yard line. Scroggins hands off to running back Ka'Deem Carey, who's blasted by Sun Devils defensive tackle Will Sutton.

Carey bounces up and glares at Sutton. He says, "I'm your huckleberry."

Replies Sutton, "Ohhh ... I'll give you that one, Ka'Deem. That's a good one! When I saw 'Tombstone,' I planned to say that one but I forgot. Alright ... here's mine, 'Come here! I'm bigger than you! I'm higher on the food chain. Get in my belly!'"

Carey and Sutton trade quick fist bumps.

On fourth down, Scroggins hands off to Carey again, but Carl Bradford grabs him in the backfield for a loss.

Announcer: No ... Carey escapes ... He's falling down. But he launches a pass straight up in the air. It's tipped by tackle Fabbians Ebbele ... right into the hands of receiver Dave Richards... first down!

Five consecutive runs from Carey puts the Wildcats on the Sun Devils 5-yard line with 15 seconds left.

Announcer: Now this is interesting ... Rodriguez has sent in Denker, Scroggins and Solomon. All three line up in the backfield, Scroggins flanked by Denker and Solomon.

Scroggins takes the snap and runs an option to his right. He pitches to Solomon, who's immediately under pressure, but he retreats, spins and then toss the ball across the field to Denker.

Announcer: Denker charges toward the endzone ... no. He's tackled by ... wait! Ka'Deem Carey has the ball. It appears Denker tossed an option pitch at the last instant to Carey, who had lined up in the slot, and Carey dove into the endzone, knocking down the pylon with the ball. Wildcats are going to win back the Territorial Cup!

Rodriguez is asked after the game why he ran such a risky play with so much on the line.

Says Rodriguez, "That not a risky play. We call it the Todd Graham. It's all over the place."

Arizona's win knocks the Sun Devils out of the Pac-12 South Division lead, and the Alamo Bowl picks the Wildcats over their rivals. Arizona goes on to pound No. 15 Texas 44-10, finishing the season 10-3 and ranked 14th.

The Dallas Cowboys try to hire Rodriguez, but he stays and signs the nation's No. 15 recruiting class. Rodriguez says his wife would never leave Tucson for a hellhole like Dallas.

He says, “Where I was raised a woman's word was law. I ain't quite outgrowed that yet."

Graham, looking sheepish, shows up in Tucson to pay up on his Territorial Cup bet with Rodriguez, who hands him a cardinal and navy shovel.

Says Rodriguez, "You see, in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with Territorial Cups and highly rated recruiting classes and those who dig. You dig."

Worst case

Rich Rodriguez walks out of Arizona's practice on Aug. 23.

"B.J. Denker is going to be our starting quarterback," he says.

Denker leads the Wildcats to a 3-0 start, though the passing game mostly sputters. Things go awry at Washington, where the Huskies pound the Wildcats 44-10.

"Jesse Scroggins is going to be our starting quarterback," Rodriguez says.

The timing isn't great. Scroggins, a USC transfer, clearly wants to make a statement to the Trojans, and the statement he makes is about poor decision-making. He throws three interceptions in the first half, and Denker comes off the bench -- ineffectually -- in the fourth quarter.

"Anu Solomon is going to be our starting quarterback," Rodriguez says.

But Utah relentlessly blitzes the true freshman in a 30-12 Utes victory.

The Wildcats defense is better than 2012 but it's still on the south side of good. There's not enough playmaking up front, and the need to blitz makes life difficult for a talented secondary. But the real issue is quarterback play. Replacing the extraordinary 2012 production and playmaking of Matt Scott has not gone so well. And, with the passing game inconsistent, running back Ka'Deem Carey struggles to find holes.

A secret Pac-12 blog reader meeting is called by Kevin Gemmell.

Gemmell: It's time to admit (ouch!) that Ted Miller (owwwwww!) was ... (arrghhhh!) ... right ... about Matt Scott being so good!

Everyone: Noooooooo! If we do that, he will never, ever let it go! Never!

A extremely good looking man in a Tuxedo flies through the sky above the meeting on a zip line.

Ted Miller: Ah haaaaa! I heard that! Yesss! Gemmell is buying at Cafe Poca Cosa!

Scroggins comes back to lead the Wildcats to a 33-28 win over Colorado, but he throws two critical interceptions in a 28-24 loss at California a week later. The Wildcats suffer their fifth loss in six games at home against UCLA, as Wildcats fans bolt at halftime with the home team down 20.

Still, after beating Washington State 40-38, the Wildcats improve to 5-5. They need just one more win to earn bowl eligibility. That doesn't happen when Oregon comes to town, as the No. 5 Ducks roll 50-17.

That sets up a Territorial Cup with big stakes for both teams. If Arizona wins, it not only becomes bowl eligible, it knocks the No. 12 Sun Devils out of the Pac-12 South Division lead.

"The Sun Devils got lucky in our house last year, so we owe them big this year," Carey says during a Monday press conference.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham prints 2,342 posters with this quote and hangs them all over the football offices, weight rooms, meeting rooms and apartments of his players.

The Sun Devils roll 35-10. After upsetting No. 2 Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, Arizona State advances to the Rose Bowl, where it blisters Ohio State, 30-13.

"It's great that we're moving into a cutting edge, high-octane stadium shortly," Graham says. "Because we need a bigger trophy case."

Rodriguez is hired by the Dallas Cowboys. He is replaced by Walt Harris.

"Well," say Arizona fans, "at least we have basketball."

Without warning, Sean Miller is hired by the Dallas Mavericks.

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah