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Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Best case-worst case: Colorado

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Second 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: Colorado

Best case

Hawaii quarterback Bryant Moniz shook his head.

"If Colorado is the worst team in the Pac-12 South, I'd hate to play in the Pac-12 South," said the touted Warriors QB after the Buffaloes sacked him five times and intercepted him twice in a 42-20 victory that ended a 17-game road losing streak.

Says new Buffs coach Jon Embree, "We don't have too much time to feel good about this. We have to go back home and watch film of last year's game with California. That should make us sick."

That 52-7 defeat to the Bears is a major reason many old school Pac-10 fans don't think too much of the Buffs. But after Colorado prevails 24-21 in a highly physical contest, it becomes clear the Buffs have been underestimated.

"Colorado has been underestimated," the Pac-12 Blog insightfully observes.

After whipping Colorado State, the 3-0 Buffs head to Ohio State brimming with confidence, though pundits believe the Buckeyes -- even down a few players -- have too much talent to lose, particularly inside the Horseshoe.

Down 21-17, with two minutes left, QB Tyler Hansen drives the Buffs to the Buckeyes 17-yard line. On third-and-10, he connects in the corner of the endzone with Paul Richardson.

But the officials rule Richardson didn't have possession when his landed. The play is reviewed but not overturned. Ohio State survives.

"What did I think of that call?" Embree asks. The term "pregnant pause" is used in 17 of 23 game stories the following day.

After whipping Washington State to improve to 4-1, the schedule gets tougher. Andrew Luck picks apart the Buffs secondary in a 41-20 loss at Stanford. An overtime win at Washington is followed by consecutive defeats to Oregon and Arizona State.

The Buffs could use a bye, but the schedule says 13 consecutive weeks, none off. Most of the whining, nonetheless, comes from the beat writers, who start to wish hotel room keys still had numbers on them.

The Buffs bounce back and upset USC, which guarantees them bowl eligibility, but lose to Arizona when QB Nick Foles lines up with five receivers and throws for 425 yards and four TDs against a game but overmatched secondary.

Colorado outlasts UCLA in the Rose Bowl when linebacker Jon Major blows up Bruins receiver Taylor Embree, who for a moment appeared to catch a game-winning TD pass.

"He's my son and I love him and I wish that it wasn't him on that play," Embree says, "But I really wanted to win this football game."

The 7-5 Buffaloes head to Utah, which is 7-4, with the apparent stakes being a berth in the Sun Bowl. The game is billed as a rivalry game between the Pac-12's two new members.

"Do you guys see this!" an enraged Embree says to his team during a meeting Monday before the game. He holds a bike above his head that it appears someone has vandalized with cheap, red spray paint.

"This is my 15-year-old daughter's bike. Look what they did to it! It used to be black and gold, our beloved colors. And now it is Utah red! Those, those, Utes... they made her cry!"

The meeting room erupts. "They made coach's daughter cry!" rages 6-foot-8 guard Ryan Miller. "We must crush them, see them driven before us, and hear the lamentation of their women!"

It will become known as the "Red Bike Incident." Utes fans will alternately revel in it or deny involvement. Years hence, college football historians will lean back and sagely say, "Yep, that was when those Buffs and Utes really started to hate each other. Might be the most vicious rivalry in all of college football."

Colorado prevails 28-27 in a game that features 195 yards in penalties. The Buffs then stomp Clemson in the Sun Bowl and finish 9-5.

Embree's recruiting class ranks 15th in the nation. The Big 12 falls apart. Nebraska finishes last in the Legends Division of the Big Ten.

The snow comes early and often and is most righteous.

Worst case

A team that can't win on the road and has a highly dubious secondary is not a good thing when you're facing a QB like Hawaii's prolific Bryant Moniz, who throws for four TDs against the Buffaloes.

And so Jon Embree's debut as Colorado's coach becomes an 18th consecutive road defeat, 44-35. Embree isn't happy.

"I'm not happy," Embree says.

The Buffaloes try to rally around the embarrassment of their 52-7 defeat at California last year, but they don't have anyone in the secondary who can cover receiver Keenan Allen, who catches three TD passes in a 38-20 Bears victory.

The Buffs beat state rival Colorado State, but the schedule becomes unforgiving thereafter. It doesn't help that injuries start to pile up.

They get rolled at Ohio State, picked apart by Washington State QB Jeff Tuel and blistered by Stanford QB Andrew Luck. An upset win at Washington ends the road losing streak -- the Huskies are struggling to throw the ball with new QB Keith Price -- and briefly stops the bleeding. At least until Oregon hangs 55 on the Buffs in a game that foregrounds Colorado's lack of team speed.

That becomes the first of four consecutive defeats. Though they win a sloppy game at UCLA, they go down hard at Utah, which captures the South Division crown.

A 3-10 finish is blamed on former coach Dan Hawkins, as are poor early snow accumulation and flu symptoms lots of fans seem to be having. Further, fans no longer burst into song each time Jon Embree's name is mentioned.

"I'm not happy," Embree says. "We need to get faster. We need to get tougher."

Nebraska loses the national championship game to Oklahoma, one of two BCS bowl teams from the nation's best football conference, the Big 12.

"Well, at least we signed the top five prospects from the state of Colorado," Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini says after the game.