Friday, August 19, 2011
Best case-worst case: Oregon State
By ESPN.com staff
Fourth 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 State
Even the Wisconsin fans couldn't help but notice the crescendo building from the orange and black pie slice in the visitor's section at Camp Randall Stadium.
"Cripes sakes!" says a Wisconsin fan. "What's all that racket?"
"It's for the little guy, don'tcha know," says another. "'That one in the No. 1 jersey. Pass me a brat!"
James Rodgers takes the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
"By golly, I tells ya, sure as God made little green apples, he's a fast one!" says the first.
"Ohh, yaaa...Yoo Betcha!" replies the second.
Wisconsin scores a late touchdown and holds on for a 30-28 victory, but the Beavers matching up well physically with the Big Ten favorites bodes well for the season.
"This bodes well for the season," coach Mike Riley says. "You never like losing, but what I saw today made me optimistic after a tough go with injuries in preseason camp."
Rodgers didn't play in the opening win over Sacramento State and his entry was a bit of a surprise.
"That, yeah, well, James thought it would be fun not to tell any of y'all about that," Riley said. "Our little surprise for the Beaver Nation."
Rodgers catches two touchdown passes in a 28-17 win over UCLA.
The Beavers drop a 28-24 decision at Arizona State to fall to 2-2, which is good news: The only time two early losses didn't auger a good season since 2006 was last fall, and that was due to Rodgers knee injury.
"I know it's a great story, but is he a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate?" ESPN College GameDay's Chris Fowler asks. "Eight touchdowns in four games. Rodgers is well on his way to 1,000 yards receiving and 500 yards rushing. And he leads the nation in kickoff returns."
"I hear you, but his team needs to win," replies Kirk Herbstreit.
The Beavers win their next four, besting Arizona, BYU, Washington State and, in overtime, Utah.
"Stanford might be looking ahead to its matchup with Oregon," Fowler says.
Nope. The unbeaten Cardinal rolls 35-21.
Oregon State wins at California and nips Washington. The Beavers, at 8-3, are ranked 17th when they head to Oregon for another high stakes Civil War. The unbeaten Ducks are No. 1 in the nation, with many pundits already salivating over a matchup of the Alabama defense and the Oregon offense.
Rodgers stands up in the locker room. The din of Autzen Stadium can be heard -- felt -- through the walls. "I'm from Texas. I had to learn to dislike Oregon. My freshman year, I scored the game-winning touchdown on a 25-yard fly sweep in this damn stadium in double overtime. I never thought that would be my only victory over them. I know this is only a football game. And know what? I like a lot of guys in that other locker room. LaMichael James is a good dude. We go bowling together. I kick his butt in bowling [laughter]. But [Rodgers voice rises] I am sick of Oregon. Everything about them. Everybody is sick of Oregon. But we will all -- everyone in this room, my brothers! -- will continue to be sick, to suffer, to have something inside us, biting at us, until we go out there and shut. Them. Up. Until we go out there and beat their butts.
"Know what? @%$@! Oregon!"
As his teammates mob Rodgers moments after he hauled in the game-winning 2-point conversion in triple-overtime, they chant together, "@%$@! Oregon!"
"Well, at least we're still going to the Rose Bowl!" angry Ducks fans shout as the ebullient Beavers head back to their locker room.
Utah beats Oregon 45-42 in the first Pac-12 championship game. The Utes, in their first year in the conference, go to the Rose Bowl. Oregon settles for the Alamo Bowl, where it loses to Oklahoma State.
Oregon State beats Texas A&M 24-17 in the Holiday Bowl and finishes 10-3 and ranked 12th. Oregon finishes 17th.
Chip Kelly becomes Georgia's new head coach.
On July 20, the NCAA docks Oregon 15 scholarships and gives it a one-year postseason ban.
Though it was using vanilla schemes, the performance against Sacramento State suggests Oregon State has issues. A 45-17 loss at Wisconsin makes it abundantly clear the Beavers do.
The Beavers, not deep to begin with, are missing too many key starters, most notably receiver James Rodgers, H-back Joe Halahuni, cornerback Brandon Hardin, linebacker Cameron Collins and defensive tackle Kevin Frahm.
"I'm hoping we get some guys back," coach Mike Riley says. "James is still a ways away, though."
Frahm and Collins return and the Beavers beat UCLA. Halahuni comes back for the Arizona State game, but the Beavers are overwhelmed 35-20. Arizona takes revenge for a 2010 defeat with an overtime victory in Reser Stadium.
Rodgers returns against BYU. He catches six passes for 80 yards and a TD, and the Beavers win 28-24. But he's clearly not his old self.
Oregon State, highly motivated after losing at home to Washington State in 2010, improves to 4-3 with a win over the Cougars. But all the news isn't good.
"We're shutting James down," Riley says. "He's got an NFL future, and we need to protect that. His knee needs to be cleaned up, and if they do it now he'll be 100 percent before the NFL combine."
Bowl hopes end after four consecutive defeats. The Beavers limp into Eugene to face unbeaten and top-ranked Oregon.
"Chip, a lot of folks are saying this is the best team of all time," Chris Fowler says from the GameDay set in front of Autzen Stadium. "What do you think?"
"Maybe," Kelly replies.
"What are your feelings on the NCAA clearing you and the program of all wrong-doing in the Willie Lyles investigation?" Fowler asks.
"Who?" Kelly replies. "Oh, you mean, Will. My feelings are ... good."
Oregon whips the Beavers 55-10.
The Ducks roll Alabama 48-17 in the BCS national title game.
"That," says Alabama coach Nick Saban afterward, "is the best football team I've ever seen. And that include my tenure with the Miami Dolphins."
Oregon announces it's expanding Autzen Stadium to 100,000 seats and that Nike has figured out a way to get the work done in advance of the 2012 season.
The Ducks sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. Kelly signs a lifetime contract. Oregonian columnist John Canzano requests that he be put on the Oregon State beat. His request is granted.