Best case-worst case: Oregon

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
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).

Up next: Oregon

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich walks out of his fourth-floor office inside the brand spanking new 145,000 square foot Hatfield-Dowlin Complex and takes his private staircase to his parking space in the garage below. As he reaches the garage, however, a door slides open behind him. He raises an eyebrow.

He turns and walks down the dimly lit corridor. He arrives at an elevator. It opens. He walks in. It descends, picking up what feels like incredible speed.

The elevator opens. His entire team stands before him. Helfrich raises an eyebrow.

"Guys," Helfrich says. "Is someone going to tell me what is going on or do I have to wait and read it on the Pac-12 blog?"

Replies quarterback Marcus Mariota, "Coach, it's time you learn the truth. Welcome to the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility, brought to you by Nike. The time of tribulation is here. Great danger rises in the Southeast."

The players part. Helfrich sees running back De'Anthony Thomas standing with his back toward him in front of a wall with a cantilevered display of 64 individual video screens, each 55 inches on the diagonal, that can be combined into one display or 64 individual displays. He turns toward Helfrich, but Thomas' typically carefree, mellow expression has been replaced by one of great vexation.

Mariota says, "Coach, you know him as De'Anthony or DAT or Black Mamba. But his true name is Kal-El. He is the son of Jor-El."

Mariota takes in Helfrich's blank expression. "Not much of a comic book guy, huh, coach?" Mariota says. "What I'm saying is De'Anthony is Superman."

Replies Helfrich, "Well that explains a lot."

Thomas walks toward Helfrich,"The signs are all here," Thomas begins. "My keeper, Snoop Dogg, has changed his name to Snoop Lion, announcing his warrior spirit's arrival. The Evil Aliens known as SEC will be going for their eighth national title this fall. That's the sacred number. If they succeed, we're all doomed."

"Evil Aliens... you mean the SEC is a bunch of aliens?" Helfrich asks. "That explains a lot. And what's with the sacred number?"

"Have you seen the movie Aliens?" Thomas replies. "The SEC is entirely populated by aliens who are just like that, only uglier. And think about the number eight. You turn it on its side, it becomes the symbol for infinity. If the aliens, er, SEC wins the national title this year, college football as we know it will end. The aliens, er, SEC will dominate.... for infinity!"

Orchestral music booms from above: Daaaaaaa Taaaaaa Dummmmmm! Ducks center Hroniss Grasu elbows Helfrich and whispers, "That music was my idea."

Oregon blows out Nicholls State 77-0 and travels across the country to rip Virginia 44-10. Tennessee comes to Autzen Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti notices that Helfrich seems agitated during a coaches meeting.

"Mark, you look agitated," Aliotti says. "You're worried about that bunch of Volunteer aliens being right in our back yard, right? Don't worry. DAT won't let anything happen. And Uncle Phil built us this Death Starr looking building to protect the sacred scrolls."

Replies Helfrich, "You knew about this?"

"Heck, yeah!" Aliotti says. "Know that florescent sign in our new dining hall -- 'Eat your enemies and the other food groups.' That was mine. My thinking was the aliens in the SEC want to eat us. What if we eat them first? Ha!"

Helfrich raises an eyebrow.

Oregon buries Tennessee 45-10. Afterwards, Thomas leads Helfrich back into the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility.

Says Thomas at the entryway, "Ifo Ekrpe-Olomu... Boseko Lokombo." The doors open. Explains Thomas, "Passwords. And just fun to say."

Thomas hits a button to rewind surveillance tape. Video cameras pick up a man in a black trenchcoat with receding gray hair slipping into the Ducks football building. When a locked door prevents his advance, he leaps into the air, turns upside down and adheres to the ceiling. He then scampers like a cockroach toward an air vent.

Thomas smiles. "Hello, Mike Slive," he says. "Watch this." The ceiling begins to glow red. Slive lets out a cry and falls to the ground.

"Wow, heated ceiling, that's cool," Helfrich says. "So is the SEC commissioner like Dark Lord Sauron, Emperor Palpatine and Lord Voldemort all rolled into one ruler of the evilest of evil empires of aliens!"

"Er, no," Thomas says. "That's so August of 2012. Someone else leads the aliens. The Saban."

Oregon whips California and Colorado, with Mariota's five touchdown passes giving him 14 for the season. Up next: A trip to Washington.

"All the Pac-12 teams are united with us against the aliens... except Washington," Mariota tells Helfrich. "You know what 'Washington Huskies' means in the alien language? Of course you don't. It means, 'Evil, horrible, no-good, ugly, purple team.'"

"That explains a lot," Helfrich says.

The Ducks batter Washington 38-17, winning their 10th consecutive game in the series by at least 17 points. Oregon rolls over Washington State and slips UCLA 28-21 to improve to 8-0.

Kevin Gemmell: No. 2 Oregon versus No. 3 Stanford, both unbeaten, the winner puts itself in position to play for the national title. Clearly the biggest Thursday night game on ESPN in history.

Ted Miller: Hab SoSlI'Quch! NuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e'.

Gemmell: That's Klingon, not alien.

It's a dynamic, physical contest of contrasting styles that is 20-20 at the end of regulation. The teams match touchdowns in the first overtime, with Thomas going 17 yards on a third and five for the Ducks TD. A diving interception from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu ends Stanford's possession in the second overtime, but Trent Murphy tackles Mariota for a 5-yard loss, forcing the Ducks to try a 47-yard field goal for the win.

Announcer: Ducks backup kicker Alejandro Maldonado doesn't have a good history when it comes to clutch kicks, but injury to the starter has him facing a huge one here. He missed big ones against USC in 2011 and Stanford in 2012.

Helfrich grabs Maldonado: "I got two things for you," he says. "First, keep your celebration reasonable. Don't do anything loopy and get hurt. And, second, whatever you do, do not think about Daffy Duck."

Maldonado walks out of the huddle and lines up his kick. "What did he mean by Daffy Duck?" he thinks. "Daffy Duck... funny voice. I wonder if I can do that voice. Daffy Duck, Daffy Duck."

The kick is good. Oregon wins, though the postgame handshake with the Cardinal players seems unusually warm and solemn. The same can be said of the final three games and Pac-12 title game, with the Ducks rolling through Utah, Arizona and Oregon State, then beating Arizona State for the Pac-12 title.

That sets up the national title game: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Oregon. Both 13-0.

Thomas sits alone in the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility. He watches a blinking light. It says "telephone intercept." The computer screen reads, "Call from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa." Thomas presses the button. He listens. A voice hisses, "Bring back national title. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded."

Then, after a pause, the voice starts again, "I can't lie to you about your chances, De'Anthony -- or should I say, Jor-El -- but ... you have my sympathies." The line cuts off.

Gemmell: Oregon has the size, speed and talent to beat Alabama. Helfrich has proven himself as a leader. I think the Ducks are plenty confident. They certainly won't be intimidated.

SEC pundit: You still don't understand what you're dealing with when you play an SEC champion, do you? Perfect organisms. Their structural perfection is matched only by their hostility.

Alabama ties the game 19-19 with a touchdown and 2-point conversion. Oregon takes over with 2:33 remaining. On first and 10 from the Ducks 40, Thomas is tackled after a 6-yard gain.

Announcer: Thomas gets back up ... he gets back up ... was he not on the ground? The Crimson Tide is saying wait a minute, he was down.

Thomas' 37-yard gain gives Oregon a first and 10 on the Alabama 23. Four plays later, Oregon and Maldonado line up for a 19-yard field goal.

Maldonado: Daffy Duck, Daffy Daffy Duck, Daffy Freaking Duck.

Good.

Oregon wins the 2013 national championship. The universe is saved.

As punishment for allying with evil aliens, it is decreed that all Washington fans must say, "The Oregon Ducks rule!" before they speak for five years.

Worst case

Oregon has little trouble with Nicholls State and a road trip to Virginia as the Ducks coast to a 2-0 start.

Gemmell: It looks like business as usual for Oregon under Mark Helfrich.

Ted Miller: Maybe. But losing at home to an SEC bottom-feeder would be really embarrassing for the Ducks and for the Pac-12.

Tennessee rushes for 225 yards against the Ducks, and the Volunteers big, fast SEC defense thwarts QB Marcus Mariota and company in a 20-17 upset victory.

SEC fans: We're not surprised. That was big-boy football. The SEC is just too big and too fast and too good and too tough and too too too awesome for the lil' old Pac-12.

Pac-12 fans: [Irritated silence... with chirping crickets].

The Ducks bounce back with blowout wins over California and Colorado. They are crawling back up the rankings as they head to unbeaten Washington to play their first game in newly remodeled Husky Stadium.

Washington wins 41-7. Heisman Trophy candidate Bishop Sankey rushes for 225 yards, while Heisman Trophy candidate Keith Price passes for four touchdowns. Lombardi Award candidate Shaq Thompson has three sacks.

"Well, they'd beaten us nine times in a row by at least 17 points," coach Steve Sarkisian says after the game. "But by winning by 34, do we get two of those back?"

The Ducks bounce back with wins over Washington State and UCLA. They are a respectable 6-2, but they aren't the finely tuned -- and optimally confident -- team they were under Chip Kelly. That's made clear when they surrender a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter at Stanford and lose 27-24.

Oregon bounces Utah, but, perhaps looking ahead to No. 5 Oregon State, they lose five turnovers in a 33-30 loss at Arizona.

"It hasn't been the season we expected," Helfrich says. "But a lot of those growing pains will feel better if we can beat Oregon State in the Civil War. That's clearly the biggest game on our schedule every year, our season's Super Bowl. Hypothetically, a win there should satisfy fans. OK, now let me give you guys the injury report."

Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion throws four touchdown passes in a 35-20 win, ending a five-game losing streak in the series.

The Ducks lose to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl to finish 7-6. Mariota leads a list of eight players who opt to enter the NFL draft early, including De'Anthony Thomas, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrence Mitchell.

Oregon State beats Texas in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 12-1 and ranked third.

Arrion Springs and Royce Freeman switch their commitments to Washington.

Washington, after going 1-2 in the Heisman Trophy vote, beats Alabama to win the national championship, with Heisman winner Keith Price throwing for three scores and running for another in a 35-10 win.

The universe is saved.

It is decreed that all Oregon fans must say, "Washington is back on top!" before they speak for five years.

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

USC

Oregon State

Washington

UCLA

Arizona State

Ted Miller | email

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12