- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is the final -- last! -- 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: Stanford
Soft-white illumination spreads across the meeting room like smooth flowing of water. A large, circular Brazilian rosewood table is surrounded by 100 Pininfarina’s Aresline Xten executive chairs. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is carefully laying out a catered dinner. The Goldmund Epilogue Signature Audio System plays Drive-By-Truckers.
"Schwartzstein!" yells Richard Sherman. "You're very close to getting your music privileges revoked. You know I only listen to the DBT albums from before Jason Isbell was forced out of the band."
Shayne Skov stands, "Calling to order the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ... or, as we like to say, the men smart and powerful enough to be offered football scholarships to Stanford."
All 100 pipe in: "And wise enough to accept the honor and responsibility!"
Trent Murphy stands. "First off, Jean-Georges, the Wagyu Kobe ribeyes and belon oysters were outstanding. So #partyinthebackfield to that. Second, do we need an inspirational 2013 motto?"
It seems everyone has an idea. Offensive guard David Yankey: "Smash!" Former QB Andrew Luck: "It wasn't just Luck." Defensive end Ben Gardner: "Fear the mullet!" Former center Sam Schwartzstein: "May the Schwartz be with you!" Sherman, "You mad 'bro?"
"Ah!" safety Ed Reynolds says. "I get it. You're referring -- as everyone here knows because we go to Stanford -- to conquistador Hernan Cortez, who in 1519 decided to conquer a millions Aztecs with 500 men. Upon landing ashore, Cortez ordered all his ships burned. That show of audacious warrior confidence sent a message to his men, as well as to the Aztecs, who were shortly conquered. The historicity of this is suspect, and we could debate the colonialism of warlike Europeans, but it's pretty tight for our purposes."
Everyone cheers. "Then it's settled says," Murphy says. "We have two other items. The good news is our fullback Ryan Hewitt solved the Jacobian conjecture this summer, so that's nice. May be a Nobel Prize in there for him or something. Finally, the operatives in Eugene have some concerns we will need to discuss with some seriousness."
Stanford, showcasing a more mature downfield passing game with Hogan, whips San Jose State 30-3. Hogan then throws his fourth and fifth TD passes of the year and sits out the fourth quarter in a 40-6 win over Army.
No. 15 Arizona State jumps to a 10-7 halftime lead.
"We're having a net force-acceleration problem with Will Sutton," Yankey says. "Come on now! This isn't Hilbert's sixteenth problem or Riemann Hypothesis! This is simple vectors. We need to figure out Fnet = m•a; Ffrict = μ•Fnorm; Fgrav = m•g in the second half."
Stanford rolls past the Sun Devils 28-10. The Cardinal batters Washington State 44-10. Up next: Washington.
"Gentlemen, I've been in communication with Snoop Lion and Kal-El, er, De'Anthony Thomas," Skov says at a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meeting on Sept. 29 in a private room at Manresa. "They believe Washington has gone over to the SEC aliens side, that the new Husky Stadium is really a West Coast base for the aliens."
Replies Gardner, "No way. The Ducks are always quacking on the Huskies. Everyone knows the SEC aliens are using those new buildings a California. You do know what 'Berkeley' means in alien, right?"
"Well," Skov replies, "the translation isn't exact because the aliens don't use a Latin-derived alphabet but my best understanding it is means 'big blue bag of poop.' "
Sherman pipes in, "Yeah, but Washington did beat you last year. I'd be pretty mad about that."
Stanford dominates the Huskies in a 33-13 win. The Cardinal then whips Utah, UCLA and Oregon State. Stanford, at 8-0, is ranked third. 8-0 Oregon is second.
On Wednesday, Nov. 6, a triple-secret meeting is held at the The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., between Stanford and Oregon leaders. After paying their respects to chef Thomas Keller, who personally cooked their meal, the Pac-12 rivals now hash out their business: Finding common ground for the sake of all that is right and good in college football.
Murphy: We are two proud programs that play hard and love the game and our teammates. We ultimately want the same thing every season, and for that reason we cannot be friends. But there is respect. We also understand that there is a common foe. We agree that the portents are in line, and that SEC's securing eight national titles in a row -- the sacred number -- would be catastrophic.
De'Anthony Thomas: This is good to hear. We also bring you respect from the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility. We shall play tomorrow night on ESPN with all the violence and passion and yearning of championship Pac-12 programs. I know your words -- Burn the ship! We, too, will arrive at your stadium with our ships in flames. There is no retreat. For either of us. Audaces fortuna iuvat! Victis honor!
The parties solemnly shake hands.
Says defensive end Henry Anderson, "Any chance we could have a meeting one day and just, you know, get a good burger? Or some barbecue. We could get some brisket shipped in from Franklin Barbecue in Austin or something. I mean, I like Snake River Farms 'Calotte de Boeuf' with bone marrow pain perdu, creamed arrowleaf spinach, roasted garden carrots, globe artichokes and sauce Bordelaise as much as anybody, but sometimes you don't want to gaze in wonderment at your food."
Stanford-Oregon is 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 Murphy tackles Mariota for a 5-yard loss, forcing the Ducks to try a 47-yard field goal for the win.
Stanford avoids the upset at USC, with a 22-yard fourth-quarter TD run from Anthony Wilkerson providing the winning margin in a 24-20 victory. Up next: The Big Game against California.
"Look I know you guys don't think Cal is in with the aliens but don't you think it's strange that their quarterback Jared Goff looks just like the bad guy from Karate Kid?" Gardner says. "I mean come on! That can't be a coincidence!"
Gardner sacks Goff twice, and Hogan has two long TD passes in a 35-17 Stanford victory.
Second-ranked Stanford buries Notre Dame and then slips UCLA in the Pac-12 title game to improve to 13-0.
Kevin Gemmell: So that sets up the matchup everyone has been waiting for: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Stanford, both unbeaten and dominant the entire season.
Ted Miller: And college football as we know it will end if Alabama wins the SEC its eighth consecutive national title. Aliens will take over the world. Ice cream and puppies will be illegal. Underwear will be worn on the outside of pants. Everything will be painted bright orange. Hopelessness times infinity.
Stanford coach David Shaw walks into the pregame locker room at the Rose Bowl.
"Well, we've burned our ships, and shortly we go to battle," Shaw says. "But there is nothing grim about our task. Don't be tight. Forget about playing angry. Play with a warrior joy. Unleash your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. Believe in yourself, your team and our plan. You are prepared and sharp. And they have no idea what is about to come down upon their heads."
Stanford leads 14-7 late in the fourth quarter and has the ball on its 22-yard line. Hogan runs an option and tries to pitch to Tyler Gaffney but it appears Gaffney wasn't expecting the ball, which bounces off his back and is recovered by Alabama.
On first down, T.J. Yeldon goes up the middle for 11 yards. The Crimson Tide has a first and goal on the Stanford 8-yard line. Yeldon gains two yards on first down. On second down, AJ McCarron throws an out to tight end Brian Vogler, who appears to have a clear path to the end zone until cornerback Wayne Lyons blasts him out of bounds on the 1-yard line. On third down, Yeldon goes up the middle and tries to leap over the top of the pile, but he's met immediately by noseguard David Parry.
It's fourth and goal on the 1-yard line. Alabama calls time out. While McCarron is talking to Nick Saban, Yeldon walks past Murphy and shows his true alien face.
"The number is eight and the new number will be infinity!" he rasps at Murphy.
"Infinity is not a number, it is an idea," Murphy replies. "But T.J. Alien, I've got one for you. ... Are there infinitely many real quadratic number fields with unique factorization?"
Announcer: A little back and forth between Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy and T.J. Yeldon. Whatever Murphy said didn't amuse Yeldon.
Yeldon goes up the middle and leaps high into the air, where he is met by Skov inches short of the goal line. The photo of that epic impact will become the iconic image for college football over the next 100 years, erasing from mind a similar but not nearly so cool picture that was taken in New Orleans in 1979.
Stanford runs out the final six minutes, with Hogan taking a knee on the Alabama 1-yard line as time expires.
Stanford wins the 2013 national championship. The universe is saved.
"And," Sherman says at a celebration sponsored by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. "Stanford continues to be Stanford ... and what could be better than that? I'll answer: Nothing!"
Stanford rolls over San Jose State and Army by a combined count of 80-13. The Cardinal appears dominant on both sides of the ball.
But Arizona State shocks the Cardinal at home, with Sun Devils DT Will Sutton recording two sacks and forcing a key fumble late in the fourth quarter.
"If we didn't know we can't win Pac-12 games just by showing up, we know it now," coach David Shaw says. "We didn't appear mentally tough tonight, and that isn't us."
Stanford bounces back with a four-game winning streak, beating Washington State, Washington, Utah and UCLA. But things go awry in the rain at Oregon State, as two Hogan interceptions and three fumbles key a 28-24 Beavers upset victory.
"It's good we have an off-week before Oregon," Shaw says. "We must refocus. The unbeaten Ducks should help us do that."
But this Pac-12 North Division showdown, so hyped in the preseason, mostly flops, as the game takes on the feel of the 2010 and 2011 contests, when the Ducks speed eventually took over. Oregon scores 21 unanswered points in a third-quarter explosion and coasts home 42-24.
Gemmell: Stanford had big hopes for this season. Most of those hopes are gone, and the remaining schedule isn't exactly soft. We'll get a feel for the Cardinal's mental toughness over the next month.
Miller: It's possible Stanford is about to get a taste of what USC and its fans suffered through in 2012.
Stanford is flat at USC and gets whipped 28-14. The Cardinal recovers its intensity for the Big Game against California, but the Bears, one of the nation's biggest surprises under first-year coach Sonny Dykes, are on a roll. They beat Stanford 35-24.
"Is the tide turning in this rivalry series?" Dykes says. "I'll leave that to the Pac-12 blog to determine. But we're 9-3 and feeling pretty good about going to the Alamo Bowl. Everybody loves our recruiting class. And we've got half a billon dollars in new facilities. By the way, just how bad was that movie, 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?' Might be Sean Connery's worst film."
After a home loss to Notre Dame, Stanford finishes the season with a five-game losing streak. That increases to six when the Cardinal falls to Duke in the Sun Bowl. It's the program's first losing season since 2008.
California whips Texas in the Alamo Bowl 50-3. USC beats Alabama to win the national championship. Oregon wins the Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame. UCLA wins the Holiday Bowl over Oklahoma State.
Gemmell: Talk about Happy Holidays. Just about every team in the Pac-12 is happy as the calendar flips into 2014.
Miller: Other than Stanford, which reportedly will fall out of the top-10 of the US News & World Report's rankings of national universities this year.
Shaw is hired by the Dallas Cowboys. He's replaced by Jim Donnan.
Previous "Best case-worst case" posts