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Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Best case-worst case: Washington State

By Ted Miller

This is the fifth 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).

You can see previous best case-worst case posts here.

Up next: Washington State

Best case

Mike Leach walks into the postgame interview room after Washington State upsets homestanding BYU 44-40.

"Arrghhhh!" says Washington State booster and Seattle media gadfly Jim Moore.

"You know, Jim, pirates don't say, 'Arrghhh!" Leach replies. "Have you ever heard a pirate say, 'Arghhhh!' No, you haven't. While there have been a number of instances of the term attributed to pirates, I think we can't all agree that its connection in our recent popular culture is derived from Captain Horatio McCallister from the TV show 'The Simpsons.' Now, that is a good show, The Simpsons, I mean. My favorite episode of The Simpsons is 'Diatribe of a Mad Housewife.' You guys know why that episode is famous? It's because reclusive author Thomas Pynchon appears in the episode wearing a bag over his head. But what's really cool about it is the guy who does the voice for that character is actually novelist Thomas Pynchon, who doesn't give interviews and no one has photographed since 1963. It's a travesty he hasn't been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. I understand he's one of your favorite authors, Pac-12 blog. I had lunch with him the other day. He said you picked us to lose. Ha!

"Questions?"

The Cougars roll over Eastern Washington and UNLV to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2005.

Mike Leach
In his first season at Washington State, Mike Leach takes over a program aiming to win the Pac-12.
"Yeah, but 3-0 means nothing," Leach says. "Last time the Cougars were 3-0, what did they finish? 4-7. Four and seven. No. 47. John Lynch. Now that guy was a heck of a safety. Hardnosed player. That's what we're looking for here. Guys who play safety like John Lynch. But, speaking of safety, there is none in 3-0. The thing is, there is no award for 3-0."

The Cougars beat Colorado 38-35, with quarterback Jeff Tuel and Marquess Wilson hooking up for their seventh and eighth TD connections. The Cougars are averaging 340 yards passing per game, with the defense doing just enough.

"Just enough?" Leach says. "Who wants to do just enough? That's what losers do."

[The Pac-12 blog looks behind itself, wondering if its been caught in a metafiction trap].

Just enough, however, isn't good enough against Oregon, which whips the Cougars 47-28. But they bounce back with consecutive wins over Oregon State and California.

They take a 6-1 record and No. 23 ranking to No. 14 Stanford. The Cougars lead 35-30 late in the fourth quarter, but Stepfan Taylor leaps over the pile on a fourth and goal from the 1-yard line to give the Cardinal a winning margin. The Cougs then play flat at Utah, losing 33-24.

"The central role of a coach is to reach his players," Leach says. "What happened today, we're either coaching it or allowing it to happen. So this is on us. And we all can talk about our feelings during 'Midnight Maneuvers,' early Monday morning."

The Cougars bounce back with a win over UCLA, and then improve to 8-3 with a 48-35 win at Arizona State.

Up next: Washington. The Huskies also are 8-3, but they are ranked 15th, having won five in a row since losing to USC in overtime.

"Purple," Leach says to his team in the pre-game locker room. "Purple is reputed to be the color of royalty. In the Classical Era, Tyrian purple was only affordable to the elites. In Byzantium, a child born to a reigning emperor was porphyrogenitos or 'born in the purple.' Purple is a color of privilege and high birth. I haven't been around this rivalry very long, but the thing is I'm not much of a fan of people who get things due to privilege rather than hard work. I understand the Huskies have been recruiting well for a few years. Lots of four and five-star guys, I hear. But I don't buy into the notion that whoever has the best players automatically wins. I never have and never will. Washington State isn't the football team of privilege in this state, but that means we get to decide who we are by how we conduct ourselves and what we accomplish. So who are we? We are the team that prepares better than any other. That focuses better than any other. The team that plays without hesitation. And plays together. When we show up for a fight, we are ready. And we fight hard."

The Cougars lead 21-17 at halftime. They take the third-quarter kickoff and drive to the Huskies' 8-yard line. But on a second-down play, Tuel's ankle gets twisted in a pile-up. Backup Connor Halliday, suffering from the flu, is forced to take over.

Keith Price leads the Huskies on two touchdown drives. Washington leads 31-24 with 1:10 left. The Cougars take over on their 20-yard line.

A low rumble rises quickly from a corner of Martin Stadium. No. 10 limps away from Leach and into the huddle. It's Tuel. The crowd erupts.

Tuel connects with Ricky Galvin for 8 yards. He finds Marquess Wilson for 12. Kristoff Williams for 10. Andrei Lintz for 17. Galvin for 11. Wilson for 12. After seven plays, the Cougars have a first and goal on the Huskies 10 with 14 seconds left and no time outs.

Tuel, who is 7-for-7 for 70 yards on the drive, drops back. He dodges Josh Shirley, and limps to his right to buy time. He ducks under Andrew Hudson, sprints to the middle. He pumps. Then he takes off.

"Noooooo!" says the crowd.

Tuel dives. Touchdown.

"Yessssss!" says the crowd.

"It appears Leach will go for two here and the victory," says the announcer.

Tuel stands in the shotgun and surveys the defense. He then steps forward. And gets under center. The ball is hiked. Tuel hands the ball to Carl Winston, who walks in for the winning conversion because the Cougs line has driven the Huskies back five yards into the endzone and onto their rear ends.

The Cougars beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl and finish 10-3 and ranked 11th.

The renovation of Husky Stadium uncovers a massive lake of quicksand, into which the entire stadium sinks in just minutes.

"Quicksand," Leach says. "The thing is, it's really just liquefied soil that can't support any weight. But it's unlikely a person would sink all the way down, like in the movies. If you get caught in quicksand, you should wiggle your legs slowly to reduce viscosity and then try to expand your surface area so you can crawl out. But I didn't get a chance to tell the stadium that before it went under."

Worst case

Mike Leach's Washington State offense looked pretty good at BYU, but the defense looked like it was stuck in quicksand, as the Cougars from Provo, Utah rolled 48-40 over the Cougars of eastern Washington.

Washington State bounces back with wins over Eastern Washington and UNLV, but they get nipped by Colorado 33-30 on a last-second field goal. The Cougs are no match for No. 3 Oregon, with the Ducks running away 55-20.

The Cougars post a third win with an upset at Oregon State, but they then lose three in a row to California, Stanford and Utah. A blizzard helps them overcome a chilled UCLA team, but they fall to 4-7 at Arizona State.

Up next: No. 1 Washington. The unbeaten Huskies, led by Heisman Trophy frontrunner Keith Price and the nation's No. 2 defense, has rolled through the nation's toughest schedule, beating LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC, teams still ranked in the top 10.

"If playing spoiler against Washington is all we get this season, then that's something," says linebacker Travis Long.

The Huskies win 45-13. Price throws four touchdown passes and runs for another before leaving the game late in the third quarter. The Huskies play every player on their travel squad and don't pass the ball in the fourth quarter. Backup QB Derrick Brown takes a knee on the Cougars 1-yard line, allowing the clock to hit zero.

"There's no need to run the score up," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian explains. "Call it noblesse oblige. We're a noble, classy program with nothing to prove. Other than to win another national title."

Sarkisian, the national coach of the year, leads the Huskies to a 33-10 win over Alabama for the national title. Price, despite winning the Heisman Trophy, announces he's returning for his senior year.

Renovated Husky Stadium is named the Eighth Wonder of the World. Architectural Digest calls it "The most extraordinary construction project since the pyramids."

Pullman becomes a dry city and all the bars are closed down.

"Arrghhhh!" say Coug fans everywhere.