Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Best case-worst case: Arizona
By Ted Miller
This is the third 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
Arizona's win over Toledo barely registers among the Wildcats. While so much is new with the program, there are some old scores that need to be settled. Most fans focus on the big stage debut of new coach Rich Rodriguez, but the players feel a visit from Oklahoma State is personal.
The Cowboys posted blowout victories over the Wildcats in the 2010 Alamo Bowl and in the second game of the ill-fated 2011 season by a combined count of 73-14. They had unmanned Arizona. Now they were coming into the Wildcats house intending to three-peat.
Center Kyle Quinn takes it upon himself to tell Rodriguez about the emotions at play. Rodriguez sees a teachable moment. He gathers his team in its meeting room. And then, without a word, rolls a low-light tape of the Wildcats two games with the Cowboys.
When the tape ends, he asks one simple question: "Can you live with that?"
Apparently not. The Wildcats roll the Cowboys 42-30, with Matt Scott passing for 285 yards and two scores and rushing for 85 yards and another touchdown. Ka'Deem Carey rushes for 120 yards and a score. The Wildcats lightly regarded defense proves opportunistic, forcing four turnovers, including an 87-yard interception return from Shaquille Richardson.
"We got kicked when were were down -- you have a team some day, you'll understand how it feels," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy says. "They came after us. Matt Scott, Ka'Deem Carey, Shaquille Richardson? You combine their jersey numbers? They're 40! They're men! Write something about them!"
The Wildcats improve to 3-0 with a 40-10 win over South Carolina State but come back down to earth with a 48-24 loss at Oregon. Carey's 2-yard plunge with 25 seconds left proves the difference in a win over Oregon State.
Up next, a visit to No. 18 Stanford.
"A lot of you guys don't remember this," Scott tells his teammates. "But in 2010, the last time we went to Stanford, we were 7-1 and nationally ranked. I remember it well because I had replaced Nick Foles when he got hurt and helped us win three straight games before we went up there and Nick returned to the starting lineup. They beat our butts 42-17 and since then we are 4-13. Last year, these guys really pushed us around. We need to push back."
The Wildcats put up an impressive fight, but there's just too much Stepfan Taylor in the fourth quarter. His 12-yard TD run with a minute left seals a 33-24 Cardinal victory.
Arizona uses the off week to plan an ambush for Washington QB Keith Price. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel conjures up an array of esoteric blitzes that baffle the Huskies offensive line, which yields five sacks. Meanwhile, Scott and Carey run the spread-option to perfection as the Wildcats rush for 255 yards in a 40-31 win.
At 5-2, the Wildcats are one win short of bowl eligibility and have already surpassed their 2011 win total.
"No," says Rodriguez. "I hadn't noticed that Michigan has a worse record than we do. We're hosting the nation's No. 1 team in USC, so I've got other things to think about."
Headline in the next day's Detroit Free Press: "Rodriguez trashes Michigan, which is not an NCAA violation but should be."
USC trashes the Wildcats 47-23. They head to UCLA amid questions about last season's game that was marred by a brawl.
"We lost the game but won the brawl," a UCLA player is quoted in the LA Times.
Carey rushes for 155 yards and two scores in an 31-28 victory. "We won the game -- again -- and had no penalties," notes Richardson, who was suspended after the 2011 game for his part in the brawl.
The Wildcats whip Colorado 44-17 but fall 24-21 at Utah.
That sets up a Territorial Cup matchup with rival Arizona State. Both teams enter the game at 7-4. The winner heads to the Holiday Bowl. And gets to be really, really obnoxious for an entire year.
Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly connects with J.J. Holliday on a game-winning 10-yard TD as time expires. Sun Devils fans rush the field at Arizona Stadium. They start to dance on the midfield "A."
"Bleeeep!" the game official says. "The play is under review."
The pass is ruled incomplete. Wildcats win 28-24. Their red-clad fans rush the field, politely explaining to their friends from Tempe that they should know you never, ever rush the field before the game is really and truly over.
The Wildcats beat Texas and finish the season 9-4 and ranked 25th.
"Please stop asking me about Michigan," Rodriguez says. "I'm actually sorry they finished with a losing record. I wish them only the best."
Headline in the next day's Detroit Free Press: "Rodriguez shamelessly fakes graciousness, probably hates puppies."
Tempe's own Priest Willis commits to Arizona, as do Jalen Ortiz and Cole Luke.
Arizona alumni Linda Ronstadt, Geraldo Rivera and Garry Shandling give the Wildcats athletic department $200 million dollars.
"We just want all their stuff to be way better than Arizona State's," Shandling explains. "Hey, do you ever get the feeling your trapped inside a Best Case scenario from the Pac-12 blog?"
Wildcats win the NCAA basketball tournament beating Michigan in the finals.
Because Arizona State failed to make the tournament. Again.
Rich Rodriguez always says it takes a while for his systems to take hold with a new team. He said that when he was hired at Michigan, but the Wolverines aren't a patient program. He better hope Arizona is.
After struggling in a 30-24 win over Toledo, the Wildcats are a sloppy mess in a 40-17 loss to Oklahoma State that has fans slipping out of Arizona Stadium late in the third quarter.
They rip South Carolina State but get bludgeoned 55-13 at Oregon. Making matters worse, QB Matt Scott sprains his ankle. Junior college transfer B.J. Denker is forced into action, and the offense sputters in losses to Oregon State and Stanford.
Scott was the athletic, experienced veteran who could make Rodriguez's spread-option offense work. While Denker is promising, he's not ready for Pac-12 speed. But the real issue is a defense that is overmatched and thin up front.
"We're overmatched and thin up front," Rodriguez notes.
The Wildcats give up 110 points in losses to Washington and USC and lose a sixth consecutive game at UCLA.
The Detroit Free Press arrives to do a multi-part series titled: "Whatever happened to Rich Rodriguez? Ha ha!"
With Scott returning, the Wildcats nip Colorado 38-37, but get trenched at Utah 35-20.
Arizona hopes to play the spoiler in the Territorial Cup. If Arizona State beats the Wildcats, it goes to the Holiday Bowl. If it loses, it heads to El Paso for the Sun Bowl.
"We'd prefer to not send them to San Diego," Scott says. "And we'd like to keep the cup."
Arizona State rolls 38-20 and heads to San Diego to play Texas. A 41-28 victory over the Longhorns earns the Sun Devils a 10-3 finish and final No. 14 ranking.
Sun Devils coach Todd Graham wins Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Tempe's own Priest Willis commits to Arizona State, as do Jalen Ortiz and Cole Luke.
ASU vice president for athletics Steve Patterson announces a $200 million anonymous donation that will help finance a $300 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. It's universally agreed that the design is, in technical terms, "really freaking cool."
Michigan wins the Rose Bowl over Oregon.
Arizona State reaches the Final Four as the Wildcats fall in the second round of the NIT.
The Sun Devils also win the College World Series.