Pac-12: best case worst case 2010

Best case-worst case: USC

July, 23, 2010
7/23/10
1:37
PM ET
The final post in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: USC

Best case

It starts with a Tennessee football helmet.

Perhaps it is fitting that Lane Kiffin, who always took the high road after his completely reasonable departure from Tennessee, would use the symbol of a program that hated him to solve a major environmental crisis. Where the oilmen and scientists failed, Kiffin, with an assist from USC quarterback Matt Barkley, successfully plugs the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

"It was pretty cool," Barkley says. "I don't know where the Tennessee football helmet came from, but he just swam right into the middle of the oil flow -- it was really jetting out of there -- and slammed the helmet in the hole. I was a little worried about him for a second, but all of the sudden -- slam! -- and the oil stopped. And then, of course, there was that trip to the White House."

The trip to the White House turns eventful when Kiffin invites President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh out for a beer.

"Pelosi is a riot -- you don't get that on TV," Kiffin says. "She and Limbaugh start singing "99 Red Balloons" together, and the President manages to extract this pesky splinter from Boehner's thumb. Dude just brightened. Great smile. Everybody got along famously and agreed to stop bickering over fatuous things and actually solve problems. I joked that a good start would be NCAA sanctions against the Trojans."

While USC enters the season as a slight Pac-10 favorite, much of the preseason talk centers on Kiffin's skill as a diplomat and humanitarian.

"Look guys," Kiffin tells reporters after the Trojans open with a 42-7 win at Hawaii. "This isn't about me. I've never been a 'me' guy. I'm about team, whether you're talking about the world, the United States or USC. But I'm the USC coach and let's keep the focus on USC and not Lane Kiffin. Darn it! Did I just talk about myself in the third person! That's terrible. Sorry."

USC doesn't allow a touchdown in wins against Virginia and Minnesota. Barkley throws his 11th TD pass of the season at Washington State before sitting out the second half of a blowout victory. USC needs a late scoring run from Allen Bradford to beat Washington and Steve Sarkisian.

"Steve is a friend first and rival second," Kiffin says afterwards. "Men of character can compete and compete hard but still break bread together. I would hope that's a lesson for my team. We're not just about winning at USC, though we do a lot of that. We're about family and character and building leaders."

USC whips Stanford 33-10.

"I don't know anything about 'What's your deal?'" Kiffin says afterwards. "Revenge? That's not why we play football at USC. We play for the pure joy of sport and competition. We should share that with our opponent. So we should always strive for a respectful relationship with our foe. That's the deeper meaning to me."

The Trojans beat California and a ballyhooed showdown with No. 5 Oregon becomes just another blowout win. USC rises to No. 1 in the AP poll.

There simply is no stopping the Trojans. Their defense ranks No. 1 in the nation. Barkley leads the nation in passing efficiency. They are the nation's least penalized team. Meanwhile, on the student side of things, players switch majors from criminal justice and recreation science to pre-med, English and political science.

"Unusual to hear players talking about theoretical physics?" linebacker Chris Galippo replies to an eavesdropping reporter's question. "Really? We talk about stuff like that all the time here in the locker room. Coach Kiffin encourages it. You should hear [fullback Stanley] Havili. He's obsessed with movies. He's always going on about 'mise en scène'. You should have heard him after movie night at the Boys & Girls Club when we saw 'The 400 Blows.' Dude really has a thing for François Truffaut."

USC rumbles past Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon State and gets a standing ovation from Notre Dame fans after a flawless performance in South Bend.

A column appears on UCLA blog "Bruins Nation": "Is it wrong from Bruins to respect Kiffin?" Writes "Nestor": "It's like John Wooden and USC fans. Wooden's greatness transcended the bitter rivalry. So it's possible to acknowledge that a great man is the leader of your hated enemy. Of course, I'm not yet ready to compare Kiffin to Wooden after just one season. But the idea obviously has hatched."

USC beats UCLA 30-17. Kiffin and Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel share a warm handshake afterwards.

Once-beaten Florida wins the BCS title game. The AP crowns unbeaten but NCAA-sanctioned USC national champions.

"Are we the true champions?" Kiffin says. "Well, I like our team. I like its character. But Florida is a great team with great character, too. [Gators coach Urban] Meyer has done such a great job down there. I called him yesterday to congratulate him. I feel bad about how things started between us. I feel like we're both ready to move past that. I think doing so would be a great example to our players and our fans."

In the spring, the NCAA apologizes to USC and gives it all of its scholarships back.

Worst case

Four games. Four blowout victories. It doesn't look like USC has taken a step back. Perhaps it's taking a step forward under Lane Kiffin?

And, yes, Trojans players, knowing they are banned by the NCAA from the postseason, start to crow. The general theme is: "We're the best and everybody knows that."

Such talk gets a bit quieter when Washington quarterback Jake Locker takes a Heisman Trophy turn in the Coliseum during a 35-21 Huskies victory. Kiffin runs off the field yelling at the officials instead of meeting his friend, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, at midfield for the postgame handshake.

Last year, Toby Gerhart dominated USC during Stanford's blowout win. This year, it's quarterback Andrew Luck, who tosses four TD passes in a 41-24 victory.

"Do I think [Jim] Harbaugh ran up the score on us?" a steaming Kiffin says. "Absolutely. His quarterback throws TD passes. Ours throws interceptions. His guys are physical. Ours quit when things get tough. We had a good plan. Our players just didn't execute it. Harbaugh's got a good thing going. But we won't always be down. We'll get our guys in here and then let's see how things go."

After said speech, even those who are just learning English become familiar with all the nuances of the phrase, "throwing under the bus," a cliche that appears in nine out of 10 columns about the game.

"We're playing for ourselves, for our teammates, not for Kiffin," an anonymous player is quoted in the LA Times after the Trojans beat California.

Oregon rolls up 510 yards in a blowout win in a half-empty Coliseum. After the game, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin announces that he will retire at the end of the season.

The Trojans beat Arizona State 10-9, an effort that's attributed to a show of respect for the elder Kiffin. But the Trojans drop their next three games before visiting arch-rival UCLA.

"Any of you guys think it's funny UCLA plays in the Rose Bowl?" Kiffin asks reporters during his weekly press conference. "What's the word I'm looking for? Ironic? Isn't it ironic that the Bruins play in the Rose Bowl? The Rose Bowl is the Trojans home. We'll be back playing in the real Rose Bowl soon enough."

Replies UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, "Whatever."

The Bruins prevail 21-3, holding Kiffin's offense to 215 total yards.

"I'm not going to talk about [Kiffin]," Neuheisel says after the game. "This is about us, not them. This is about building classy hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk. We don't care about the other guys. Just as long as they pay rent when they land on our squares."

After UCLA trounces Missouri in the Holiday Bowl, Christian Westerman, George Farmer, Todd Barr and Antwaun Woodsannounce they will sign with the Bruins, who finish 9-4 and ranked 14th.

UCLA finishes a consensus No. 1 in the nation in recruiting. With its last full class before scholarship limitations are invoked, USC finishes fifth in the Pac-10.

"Recruiting rankings don't mean anything," Kiffin tells reporters. "We didn't want any of those guys that went to UCLA. Sure, we recruited a lot of them. But when I looked in their eyes, I could tell they weren't Trojans."

The NCAA rejects USC's appeal of sanctions.

Tennessee fans put up 15 billboardsaround the USC campus.

Best case-worst case: Oregon

July, 22, 2010
7/22/10
1:15
PM ET
Ninth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Oregon

Best case

"Nate Costa is our quarterback," Oregon coach Chip Kelly tells reporters on Aug. 23." "But Darron Thomas is going to play, too."

A reporter asks, "Are you concerned that..."

"No," says Kelly.

"I mean to say, might it become an issue that..."

"No," says Kelly.

Both Costa and Thomas play and play well in a 50-13 win over New Mexico. With LaMichael James on the sidelines serving a one-game suspension, Kenjon Barner rushes for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

"Truth is, when our offense is rolling like that, getting a break isn't such a bad thing," Costa says.

James returns to score two touchdowns and run for 133 yards in a 35-17 win at Tennessee.

"I know from my 'How to talk like an SEC coach' class that we're supposed to act like no body plays good football outside the SEC," new Volunteers coach Derek Dooley says. "But, man, that is a really fast team. They could play with anybody in our league."

Three men in seersucker suits and panama hats seemingly appear from nowhere behind Dooley. They grab him by the shoulder and whisper in his ear.

"Er, just kidding," Dooley says. "Just ignore the Pac-10's consistent success against the SEC. Nothing to see there."

The Ducks whip Portland State and survive a sloppy performance against a rugged Arizona State defense. Stanford's Andrew Luck throws three TD passes at Oregon, but Thomas leads a nifty 80-yard drive for the winning score late in the fourth. The Ducks, now ranked fourth, improve to 7-0 after easy wins over Washington State and UCLA. They average 485 yards on offense and surrender just 287 yards on defense. Combined, Costa and Thomas average 254 yards passing and 88 yards rushing per game and their twin efforts lead the conference in passing efficiency.

"This is almost like USC's bowl game," Kirk Herstreit says from the ESPN "College GameDay" set in front of the Coliseum. "If the Trojans win this game, they have a good chance to go undefeated. That means they could even end up ranked No. 1 in Lane Kiffin's first season."

A Matt Barkley TD pass to Ronald Johnson gives USC a 28-24 lead with two minutes left. Costa and company take over at the Ducks 20. James takes a first-down screen for 20 yards. A reverse to Barner moves the Ducks into USC territory. On third and 10, Costa finds Jeff Maehl for a first down at the Trojans 28. Under pressure, Costa scrambles for a first down at the 7-yard line with 40 seconds left. After an incomplete pass, James rushes for five. The Ducks use their final time out with 17 seconds left. Costa dumps a pass to Barner, but he's knocked out of bounds at the 1.

On fourth down, USC stops Costa on a spread-option play. The Coliseum releases its pent-up, NCAA-sanctions-induced frustration.

"I think Chip Kelly is challenging the spot," Brent Musburger says through the din.

Touchdown. Oregon wins 31-28.

"The Ducks look like the best -- the most complete -- team we've seen this season," Chris Fowler says.

Oregon returns home triumphant and avoids a let-down against Washington after intercepting Jake Locker twice. At California, things go splat. Perhaps it's back-to-back emotional victories followed by a road trip to Berkeley with a bye week ahead. Whatever the excuse, the Ducks turn in a lethargic performance and a late comeback attempt falls short in a 28-24 loss. Oregon drops from No. 2 to No. 6 in the rankings.

The Ducks trounce No. 17 Arizona 38-20, which sets up another Civil War for the Roses at No. 9 Oregon State.

With two minutes left, Oregon trails 27-23 and faces a fourth-and-3 from the Beavers' 33-yard line. Kelly has no choice but to go for it. Costa drops back and, under pressure, shovels the ball to James, who breaks to his right toward the sideline. One yard. Two yards. But at the marker Stephen Paea grabs James from behind. A battle of wills ensues. And the 180-pound James drags the 300-pound Paea, perhaps the strongest player in college football, forward for the first down.

And then he slips away and high steps into the endzone for the win. Later, most folks agree it was the moment that won James the Heisman Trophy.

The Ducks, one of four teams with only one loss, finish behind Alabama and Ohio State in the BCS standings even though they are ranked No. 2 in both the final human polls.

"Coach Kelly, have you noticed that the folks who do the computer polls all wear seersucker suits and panama hats?" a reporter asks.

"Yes," says Kelly.

The Ducks bludgeon Boise State 42-14 in the Rose Bowl and split the national title with Ohio State.

Worst case

A week after winning the quarterback competition with Nate Costa, Darron Thomas posts an uneven performance in an easy win over New Mexico. The sophomore clearly has skills both as a runner and passer, but he fumbles once and frequently tries to force the ball through tight coverage, though only one pass ends up picked off.

Those issues are even more glaring at Tennessee, where a crowd of 105,000 seems to be distracting the young QB. The Ducks trail 10-7 at halftime, and coach Chip Kelly makes a switch, inserting the senior Costa.

Costa isn't spectacular, but he doesn't make mistakes and he leads two second-half scoring drives as the Ducks escape 21-17. The Ducks improve to 4-0 with wins over Portland State and Arizona State.

But the ninth-ranked Ducks yield three TD passes to Stanford's Andrew Luck in a 30-24 home loss. After needing overtime to slip improving Washington State, and a fourth-quarter comeback to survive a challenge from UCLA, USC pounds the Ducks 35-20, knocking them out of the national rankings.

Then hated rival Washington comes to town.

Locker, who ranks just ahead of Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers in most Heisman Trophy polls, is asked if he's aware of how Oregon fans constantly tweak him as all hype and no substance.

"No, I've never heard that," Locker replies. "I love Oregon fans. A lot of fans in the Pac-10 are obnoxious. But Oregon fans are gracious and mellow. Like Michigan fans."

Locker rushes for 205 yards and two TDs and passes for 310 yards and two scores as the Huskies roll over the Ducks 41-17, ending a six-game losing streak in the series.

"Wow," says Rece Davis back in the ESPN studios. "If Jake Locker isn't atop your Heisman Trophy contender list, I don't know what you're thinking. Who would have thought that Autzen Stadium would provide him such an accommodating stage to record a signature performance."

Oregon bounces back with a win at California and beats Arizona in overtime.

The Ducks find themselves in the unusual role of spoiler when they visit Oregon State for the annual Civil War. The Beavers must win in order to go to their first Rose Bowl since 1965.

Rodgers, who ranks just behind Locker in most Heisman Trophy polls, is asked if he's aware of how Oregon fans constantly tweak him and say he isn't as good as LaMichael James.

"No, I've never heard that," Rodgers replies. "I love Oregon fans. A lot of fans in the Pac-10 are obnoxious. But Oregon fans are gracious and mellow. Like Michigan fans."

Rodgers rushes for 225 yards and three touchdowns and catches 10 passes for 107 yards and a TD as the Beavers roll over the Ducks 44-14.

Wow," says Davis back in the ESPN studios. "Seems like Oregon is the team to play to make a Heisman Trophy statement."

Locker wins the Heisman. Rodgers finishes second and announces he's coming back for his senior season.

A 31-24 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl earns Washington a 10-3 finish and a final No. 9 ranking. The Beavers beat Iowa 28-24 in the Rose Bowl and finish 11-2 and ranked fourth.

Oregon loses the Las Vegas Bowl to Utah and finishes 8-5.

Phil Knight converts to Buddhism, gives his fortune to the United Way and moves to Tibet. Chip Kelly goes with him.

Tyrone Willingham comes out of retirement to become the Ducks head coach.

Best case-worst case: Oregon State

July, 21, 2010
7/21/10
12:58
PM ET
Eighth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Oregon State

Best case

TCU coach Gary Patterson looks at the scoreboard and shakes his head.

"We were lucky to win this one," he says. "Very lucky. That's a very good team and they pushed us around."

Nonetheless, a 24-23 loss doesn't offer Oregon State much consolation, even if it comes against the nation's No. 7 team. The Beavers outgain the Horned Frogs 435 yards to 305, but three turnovers -- two off tipped passes in TCU territory -- and a missed extra point explain the final tally. Jacquizz Rodgers' 135 yards rushing and 65 yards receiving and two TDs are only a footnote.

After a week off, the Beavers take out their frustration on overmatched Louisville. QB Ryan Katz throws two TD passes-- one to each Rodgers brother -- and Jacquizz rushes for 188 yards.

Up next: a visit to No.3 Boise State.

"We have a chance to do something special here and really get everything back from that tough loss to TCU," coach Mike Riley says.

That's exactly what the Beavers do. With the Broncos forced to double-team defensive tackle Stephen Paea inside, end Gabe Miller sacks Kellen Moore three times. The Broncos are unable to run the ball consistently, and the constant pressure gets to Moore, who's uncharacteristically off-target. Meanwhile, Katz plays a mistake-free game, distributing the ball to the Rodgers brothers and breaking off a handful of backbreaking first-down scrambles.

"[The Rodgers brothers] are the two most dangerous players in college football," Katz says afterwards "They make it easy for me. Jacquizz should win the Heisman, but what they really should do is give it to both of them."

What ensues is a six-game winning streak. The Beavers, at 8-1, ascend to No. 6 in the national rankings. With unbeaten, third-ranked USC coming to town, ESPN's "College GameDay" makes its first trip to Corvallis.

"I know Jacquizz Rodgers is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy at this point," GameDay's Chris Fowler says. "But isn't the bigger story that they may be the best brothers combination on the same team in college football history?"

Replies Lee Corso, "It probably won't happen, but wouldn't it be neat if they both were invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony?"

The Trojans jump ahead 14-0 in the first half, with Matt Barkley connecting on two long TD passes to Ronald Johnson and the defense bottling up the Rodgers brothers until Jacquizz slips away for a 56-yard scoring run just before the break. A 23-yard toss from Katz to James Rodgers ties the score in the third, but the Trojans retake the lead early in the fourth when Allen Bradford bursts in from 2-yards out.

Heisman Trophy winners typically produce a signature highlight. Jacquizz Rodgers already has potential candidates for that, but none more spectacular than the screen pass he transforms into a 62-yard, game-tying score with 1:10 left.

The only problem is Johnson silences the euphoric Reser Stadium crowd with a 65-yard kick off return to the Beavers 35-yard line. Three plays later, with five seconds left, Jacob Harfman boots the game-winner from 44 yards.

"This was a tough one," Riley says. "But we've still got a lot to play for. We've got to get re-focused quickly because if we don't Stanford is going to kick our butts."

The Rose Bowl is still up for grabs: The Beavers, Stanford and Oregon only have suffered one conference defeat. After the Beavers dispatch the Cardinal, 30-28, everyone knows the stakes: It's a Civil War for the Roses II.

Riley gathers his players in the locker room.

"Oregon State hasn't been to a Rose Bowl since 1965," he says. "That's going on 46 years. Every person in this stadium knows what's at stake. You carry the hopes of everyone who wears black and orange. Tonight you have an opportunity to make a permanent mark, to be remembered and to create a memory that you will be able to return to fondly for the rest of your lives. But that team over there in that other locker room has an advantage over you. They think they are better than you. They carry that confidence. It's a smirk, isn't it? They are smirking at us in our house. I want you to see that smirk in your mind's eye right now. Hold on to that. If at any moment tonight you start to doubt or start to falter, think of that smirk. Now let's go knock it off their faces."

Speeches don't win football games, though. The game plays out much like the 2009 version. With two minutes left, Oregon leads 27-23 and faces a fourth-and-3 from the Beavers' 33-yard line. Ducks coach Chip Kelly opts to go for it. Quarterback Nate Costa drops back and, under pressure from Paea, shovels the ball to LaMichael James, who breaks to his right toward the sideline. One yard. Two yards. But at the marker he meets safety Lance Mitchell, who blasts James backward inches short of the first down.

Fumble. Keith Pankey recovers at the 50.

On first down, Riley shocks everyone by running a draw play to Rodgers, who bounces outside and is forced out of bounds at the 7-yard line. With just under a minute left, Rodgers gains four yards up the middle. The Beavers use their final timeout. Rodgers goes for two. The Beavers hustle to the line. 11, 10, 9 goes the clock.

Rodgers. Touchdown. Rose Bowl. Pandemonium in Reser Stadium.

With his brother at his side, Rodgers wins the Heisman Trophy. And the Beavers beat Iowa 28-24 in the Rose Bowl and finish 11-2 and ranked fourth.

Worst case

A brutal nonconference schedule sometimes offers opportunity. But playing a pair of top-10 teams ultimately ends up meaning Oregon State is 1-2 heading into conference play.

The Beavers bounce back to beat Arizona State at home, but after consecutive road losses to Arizona and Washington, it becomes clear that sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz is a different player on the road, which is to be expected with a young, first-year starter. Teams crowd the line of scrimmage to stop Jacquizz Rodgers, run bracket coverages on James Rodgers and dare the offense to use other weapons to win. It can't, at least not consistently.

Still, after beating California and Washington State at home and UCLA on the road, the Beavers sit at 5-4 overall and are again in good position to play in a quality bowl game.

But the back-loaded schedule is brutal. USC whips the Beavers 30-17. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck throws four TD passes in a 35-24 win.

A final opportunity for redemption: Oregon and Stanford are tied atop the Pac-10 (USC also has one loss but is ineligible for the postseason). If the Beavers beat Oregon in the Civil War, it will knock the Ducks out of the Rose Bowl.

But LaMichael James, the nation's leading rusher, outshines Jacquizz Rodgers, rushing for 193 yards and three TDs in the Ducks' blowout, 35-17 win.

"I don't get into that comparing myself to Rodgers -- I leave that to the media and fans," James says afterward. "But you guys did see the game, right?"

James wins the Heisman Trophy and the Ducks roll over Ohio State 27-14 in the Rose Bowl.

Beavers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf is hired as the head coach at Nevada, while defensive coordinator Mark Banker is hired by Pete Carroll to run the Seattle Seahawks' defense.

Jacquizz Rodgers opts to leave a year early and join his brother in the NFL draft.

Best case-worst case: Stanford

July, 20, 2010
7/20/10
11:38
AM ET
Seventh in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Stanford

Hard to say when it really started. "It" being the notion that Stanford was a national title contender. And a team to be feared.

The blowout win over Sacramento State didn't exactly reverberate with the college football nation. Nor did three running backs combining for 225 yards and doing their best Toby Gerhart imitation at UCLA earn top billing on SportsCenter.

A 24-3 win over Wake Forest pushes the Cardinal to 14th in the nation. A 31-17 win at Notre Dame lands them just outside the top-10. Still, things were mostly quiet outside the Farm.

"Things are mostly quiet here," says coach Jim Harbaugh. "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. That's what Stanford football is about. Not noise."

Oh, but there are whispers.

"What about the Stanford Cardinal?" Kirk Herbstreit asks on College GameDay. "Their quarterback may end up the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft. They may have the best offensive line in the nation. They're averaging over 200 yards rushing per game, despite the departure of Toby Gerhart. And, finally, they've got a defense to match."

Replies Chris Fowler, "Let's see what they do at No. 5 Oregon."

What they do is Luck throws for three touchdowns and the Cardinal rolls up 485 yards of offense in a 31-24 win.

The Cardinal climbs to No. 7 in the national polls. Yet some are still not sold.

"I'm still not sold," says Lou Holtz. "Let's see what they do against Southern Cal."

What they do is stink up the joint. For three quarters. But Luck completes 10 of 12 passes for 148 yards and two TDs in the fourth quarter, including a 28-yard seeing-eye bullet that finds Ryan Whalen for the winning score with 15 seconds left.

"That's two unbeaten, top-10 teams in two weekends," Rece Davis says to Holtz. "Are you sold?"

"Yep," says Holtz.

After a bye week, Stanford easily dispatches Washington State. It then heads to Washington. Scouts from every NFL team are on hand to watch Luck's showdown with Jake Locker. Luck and Locker each account for three TDs apiece, but the Huskies get the ball last, and that proves the difference. Stanford suffers its first defeat. When Oregon wins at USC that night, it looks like the Cardinal and the Ducks will engage in a race to the Rose Bowl finish.

After wins over Arizona and Arizona State, the fifth-ranked Cardinal heads to Berkeley for the Big Game, with California eagerly embracing the role of spoiler. Stanford leads 28-14 in the third, but a pair of TD passes from Kevin Riley ties the count with two minutes left. Then Jeff Tedford shocks everyone in the stadium with an on-side kick. The Bears recover. Riley expertly leads his offense to the Stanford 10-yard line, and Giorgio Tavecchio lines up for the chip-shot winner.

Stanford blocks the kick. Chris Owusu picks up the ball and runs it the other way for the game-winning score. "D'oh," is the one-word column on California Golden Blogs that night.

After beating Oregon State 28-24, Stanford finishes fourth in the BCS standings. It's consolation prize is the Rose Bowl opposite No. 3 Ohio State, which is one of three unbeaten teams. The mighty Buckeyes, Rose Bowl champs the year before and ranked No. 1 in both human polls, aren't happy they got computered out of the national title game.

"We're going to make a statement," says quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Before taking the field, Harbaugh gathers his team.

"From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered," he says. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother."

Whispers Whalen to center Chase Beeler, "Is it Saint Crispin's Day?" Replies Beeler, "Forget the Rose Bowl. We're at Agincourt!"

Stanford wins 21-17, securing its first Rose Bowl victory since 1971 after stopping the Buckeyes on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line.

The 12-1 Cardinal finishes ranked No. 2 behind Alabama. Harbaugh announces he's signed a lifetime contract.

"Yes, I'm coming back," Luck tells reporters a week later. "We have unfinished business."

Worst case

A switch to a 3-4 defense evidently isn't the answer for Stanford's defensive woes. That's made clear when UCLA and quarterback Kevin Prince roll up 468 yards in a 35-30 win.

Despite beating Wake Forest and Notre Dame, it becomes clear that Stanford has to score a lot of points to win. Its defense still lacks top-end athleticism, which is abundantly evident during a 45-30 loss at Oregon. Moreover, a backfield-by-committee approach does not a Toby Gerhart make.

That puts pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck to make plays downfield against defenses scheming to stop him. USC does just that in a 31-20 win, sacking Luck five times.

Washington State doesn't have the talent to follow the plan. Luck out-duels Washington's Jake Locker in Husky Stadium and leads a comeback win over Arizona. But, in the first quarter at Arizona State, Luck feels a tweak in his hamstring as he tries to elude Vontaze Burfict. With Luck out, the Sun Devils record the upset.

A Big Game in Berkeley without Luck is not a good thing for Stanford. California rolls 38-17. Luck again isn't available for the finale vs. Oregon State, and the Beavers drop the Cardinal to 6-6 on the year.

Luck returns to lead the Cardinal to a victory over Temple in the Eagle Bank Bowl, but it's hardly a day of celebration when Harbaugh announces he's headed to Michigan.

That's big news over at Rose Bowl practices for both California and Ohio State.

A week after Cal's victory, Luck announces he's entering the NFL draft.

"I'm sure the program will do great things during the second tenure of Walt Harris," Luck says.

Best case-worst case: Washington

July, 19, 2010
7/19/10
9:00
AM ET
Sixth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Washington

Best case

Certainly Washington quarterback Jake Locker answers the bell at BYU after a summer of coast-to-coast publicity that perhaps pushed to the precipice of proper decorum, but the more interesting story is the quarterback who found himself contemplating Provo's beautiful Wasatch Mountains from a supine position most of the day.

"All I saw was purple," says BYU's true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, who hails from the Seattle area. "I mean, I know they were in their road white jerseys and everything, but after the sixth or ninth hit, things started to get fairly dark out there for me."

The Huskies ostensibly suspect defense sacks Heaps five times and harasses him throughout the day. Ends Kalani Aldrich and Everette Thompson, who sat out spring practices with worrisome injuries, both take down Heaps twice.

"It was a most illuminating performance," Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt says. "I told the lads to never give in. Never give in! Never; never; never; never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

Reporters are baffled as to why Holt suddenly sounds like Winston Churchill, but then Locker comes out for his interview and distracts them.

After easily dispatching Syracuse, Nebraska pays a visit to an overflowing Husky Stadium. With ESPN's "College GameDay" on campus, it's billed as a showdown between Locker and the Cornhuskers top-ranked defense. What it becomes is an electric moment when all observers witness the realization of extraordinary potential.

In a tour de force performance, Locker completes 26 of 32 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns and rushes for 93 yards and two touchdowns as the Huskies stun No. 7 Nebraska 31-24.

"Well," says ESPN's Chris Fowler afterward. "Guess the Locker skeptics will hush now."

The rejuvenated Husky nation comes back down to earth after a 35-27 loss at USC, but the Huskies bounce back to beat Arizona State and then announce themselves as Pac-10 contenders with a victory over Oregon State.

Still, while Locker is clearly ready for prime time, the Huskies remain a program clawing its way back into the national picture. An overtime loss at Arizona and a home loss to Stanford -- Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck and Locker each account for three TDs apiece in a duel of future NFL first-round picks -- knock the Huskies out of the national rankings. A visit to unbeaten and third-ranked Oregon doesn't look promising. The Ducks last lost to the Huskies in 2003 in the once-heated rivalry.

"Wow," says Rece Davis back in the ESPN studios after Washington rolls over the Ducks 41-17. "If Jake Locker isn't atop your Heisman Trophy contender list, I don't know what you're thinking. Who would have thought that Autzen Stadium would provide him such an accommodating stage to record a signature performance."

That victory becomes the first of a four-game winning streak, as Washington completes its return to national prominence.

Locker becomes the 76th Heisman Trophy winner and the first from Washington. A 31-24 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl earns the Huskies a 10-3 finish and a final No. 9 ranking.

The school announces that Bill Gates has agreed to fund a $450 million renovation of Husky Stadium.

"He told me he now wants to be to Washington what Phil Knight is to Oregon," Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward tells reporters. "Only he's got a lot more money than Phil Knight."

Worst case

There are ankle sprains and there are "high" ankle sprains and then there are catastrophic ankle sprains.

The latter is what Locker suffers while diving into the end zone in the third quarter at BYU. The Cougars and Heaps come back from a 10-point deficit to earn the win.

"We hope Jake will be back soon," says coach Steve Sarkisian, "but he obviously has a future in this game, and we're not going to rush him."

With redshirt freshman Keith Price replacing Locker, the Washington offense does just enough to beat Syracuse, but gets dominated by Nebraska and USC. A 14-10 win over Arizona State provides some hope, particularly when rumors spread that Locker will be ready for Oregon State's visit the following weekend. But Locker aggravates his ankle while doing some light running, and the Huskies lose their next four, including a 51-10 loss at unbeaten Oregon.

"Embarrassing," says linebacker Mason Foster.

It's announced that Locker is done for the season.

The Huskies miss a late field goal and lose 21-20 at California, and they limp into the Apple Cup hoping to salvage some pride during a lost season. In Pullman, it's zero degrees and there's three feet of snow on the ground when the Huskies walk out for the opening kickoff.

Neither team can score a TD, and Washington leads 9-3 late. But an errant shotgun snap in the fourth quarter gets by Price and is recovered at the 1-yard line by Cougars defensive end Travis Long. On fourth down, Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel runs a naked boot and runs into Foster. The ball gets away. It rolls into the end zone. The Cougars recover for a touchdown, and the PAT gives them a 10-9 lead with two minutes left.

Price drives the Huskies to the WSU 10-yard line. But the snap for the potential game-winning field goal goes over the holder's head.

Cougars win. They finish 5-7. Washington is 3-9.

"We're heard a lot during the summer about Washington being back in the Pac-10 hunt," Long says afterward. "Well, they took our place in the cellar and we've got everyone coming back next year. So you tell me which program is on the rise?"

Best case-worst case: Arizona

July, 16, 2010
7/16/10
9:00
AM ET
Fifth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Arizona

Best case

Toledo and The Citadel got Arizona's vanilla. Iowa got the Rocky Road.

Workmanlike efforts during a 2-0 start didn't generate much buzz, but when the Wildcats roll up 480 yards of offense in a 41-28 slamming of No. 8 Iowa, let's just say the 'Zona Zoo goes politely cuckoo. Quarterback Nick Foles & Co. make a defense reputed to be among the nation's best look like it's stuck in molasses, as five receivers catch at least four passes and Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin combine for 193 yards rushing.

"Some folks were skeptical whether we could make four coordinators work," says coach Mike Stoops while giving the hairy-eyeball to a mild-mannered Pac-10 reporter. "Well, I've got one thing to say: 'Ha!'"

Arizona prevails over California in a hard-fought battle and, at 4-0, rises to No. 12 in the national rankings with No. 15 Oregon State coming to Tucson. The Beavers arrive having bounced back from a season-opening loss vs. TCU to win at No. 3 Boise State. With Jacquizz Rodgers emerging as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, Arizona fans try to mount a grassroots effort on behalf of Foles, who's thrown 11 touchdown passes and is averaging 295 yards passing per game. T-shirts and signs are distributed throughout the stadium asking, "Why not Nick?"

Neither Foles nor Rodgers disappoint, but it's the other Rodgers -- receiver James -- who takes a fly sweep 16 yards for the winning score in overtime.

"Our offense is doing great, but we're still looking for answers on defense," Stoops says.

That defense seems to find its rhythm though over the next month. The Wildcats whip Washington State, take revenge on Washington for 2009's controversial ending and slip by UCLA in the Rose Bowl. A trip to Stanford features two ranked teams that are still in the conference hunt and two quarterbacks who are hanging up All-America numbers.

Yet Foles seems out of sorts much of the afternoon as Stanford takes a 28-17 lead into the fourth quarter. Then, just as Andrew Luck and the Cardinal look to be driving for the score that will put the game out of reach, Trevin Wade takes an interception to the house 72 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats get the ball back with 2:30 left and drive to the Cardinal 8-yard line. On fourth down, Foles scrambles away from pressure and lobs a toss to the corner of the end zone.

Where it falls just out of reach of a diving Juron Criner. It's a dispiriting loss, but Stoops rallies his team the following weekend, as they nip USC 20-17. They head to Oregon after a bye week still with an outside chance to play in the Rose Bowl.

The two teams played a double-overtime thriller the year before in Tucson, and this one is no different in Eugene, with dizzying momentum swings, odd-ball miscues and eye-popping playmaking. Only there is one difference: This time Nate Costa instead of Jeremiah Masoli makes the key plays that save the day for the Ducks in a 41-38 win.

The Wildcats take out their frustrations on Arizona State, blitzing the Sun Devils 33-10 and earning a berth in the Alamo Bowl opposite Oklahoma, which ensures a great media angle but makes Stoops and his brother Bob uncomfortable.

Still, one has to think Mike Stoops feels pretty good about his team's precise execution on both sides of the ball in a 28-20 victory. The Wildcats' 10-3 finish, their best since 1998, lands them at No. 11 in the nation in the final polls.

"It's been a great season, but this program has higher goals," Foles says afterward. "Next year, we want the Granddaddy."

Worst case

Talk about deja vu. For a second consecutive season, Iowa provides a physical humbling that takes the shine off Arizona's 2-0 start.

This time, however, the Wildcats' defense deserves much of the blame for the 40-27 loss, as Nick Foles passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns against a stout Hawkeyes defense. But Iowa's offense, led by senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, pushes around and picks apart the Wildcats' rebuilding defense.

That becomes the theme of the season: Good on offense, inconsistent on defense. And, of course, that frustrates the defensive-minded Mike Stoops.

"Being inconsistent on offense frustrates me," Stoops says. "You might notice a look of frustration on my face."

The Wildcats squeak by California, in large part because of four Bears turnovers. But Oregon State comes to town, and the Rodgers brothers put together highlight film for the 'Zona Zoo. A win at Washington State is followed by a home loss to Washington, with Jake Locker rushing for 155 yards and passing for 240. Still, after a last-second win at UCLA, the Wildcats remain in position to secure a good bowl berth.

But the schedule over the final third of the season is brutal. Andrew Luck outduels Foles at Stanford. Matt Barkley throws for three TD passes in a USC win in Tucson. Oregon rolls up 500 yards of offense in an easy win in Eugene.

The stakes when Arizona State comes to town are high. Both teams are 5-6. Both, therefore, need a win in order to be eligible for a bowl berth. And, of course, these two programs hate each other.

Arizona leads 21-17 with 12 minutes left and pins the Sun Devils on their own 1-yard line. What ensues, however, will go down as perhaps the worst 12 minutes in program history. The Sun Devils drive 99 yards in 18 plays -- all runs and none longer than seven yards -- as their much-maligned offensive line takes control. Stoops is apoplectic on the sidelines, but it doesn't help.

"I'm worried that his head may explode," remarks the play-by-play announcer.

With 30 seconds left in the game, ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler sneaks in for the game-winning score.

A reporter meekly asks after the game if Stoops will continue to use four coordinators going forward. Four of five news stories the next day reference Linda Blair's 360 degree, head-turning scene in "The Exorcist" to describe Stoops' reaction.

Elite local recruits Christian Westerman and Brett Hundley both announce that they have changed their minds and want to go to Arizona State.

Best case-worst case: California

July, 15, 2010
7/15/10
9:00
AM ET
Fourth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: California

Best case

California fans had seen it before. They were suspicious of a 3-0 start. Even though quarterback Kevin Riley was completing 65 percent of his passes and had thrown only one pick. Even though the defense was averaging three sacks per game. There was a feeling of foreboding heading down to Tucson for a date with unbeaten Arizona.

"I have a foreboding feeling about this," Cal fans tell each other.

And when Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles throws three first-half TD passes to take a 24-7 lead into the locker room at the break, Bears fans feel vindicated in that odd, masochistic way fans often do.

But Riley, off-target early, takes over in the second half, throwing scoring passes to Marvin Jones, Anthony Miller and Shane Vereen. With the Bears down one with two minutes left, he completes 5 of 5 passes for 63 yards, and Giorgio Tavecchio hits the chip-shot field goal for the win.

A Cal fan then writes a 11,000-word essay on The California Golden Blogs, the gist of which is Riley only needs to beat UCLA for the Bear nation to finally believe in him. The Bears beat the Bruins 28-24. Another fan writes that she'll only buy-in if Riley leads the Bears to a win over USC.

Not this time. Riley turns in solid numbers but his defense can't stop Matt Barkley and company: Trojans win 30-24.

The Bears bounce back and beat Arizona State, lose a heartbreaker at Oregon State and whip Washington State. Oregon beats the Bears in overtime after Tavacchio misses a 49-yard field goal for the win in regulation.

"Of course it hurts," Riley tells reporters after the game. "But this is a mentally tough team. We still have plenty to play for, including the Big Game."

Stanford comes to Berkeley talking about revenge for 2009, not to mention that the Cardinal can go to the Rose Bowl if it wins its final two games. But Vereen provides an encore performance from a year ago, rushing for 168 yards a two TDs, and the Bears defense mostly contains Stanford QB Andrew Luck in a 28-24 victory.

Before the Bears take the field against Washington, coach Jeff Tedford rolls 10 televisions into the locker room. He says nothing. He turns on the TVs and walks out. It's highlights of Jake Locker and the Huskies 42-10 beatdown of the Bears in 2009.

Cal wins 40-21, sacking Locker five times.

The Alamo Bowl picks Cal over Stanford. The opponent? Texas. A Cal fan writes a 58,345-word essay on TCGB about how the Bears got screwed out of the Rose Bowl in 2004 because of old-school Texas politicking. A Texas fan shows up and demonstrates that, mathematically, the changes in the poll votes had little to no affect. Bears fans are irritated but respect the math skills and everyone becomes great friends.

"Who cares?" Riley says about the 2004 controversy. He then throws three TD passes in a 28-20 win. Cal finished 10-3 and ranked 10th.

Worst case

When California quarterback Kevin Riley threw six touchdown passes in victories over UC Davis and Colorado, it looked like the senior had finally arrived. His three interceptions in an upset loss at Nevada brought that theory into question. As a result, there was a feeling of foreboding heading down to Tucson for a date with unbeaten Arizona.

"I have a foreboding feeling about this," Cal fans tell each other.

Feelings justified. Arizona beats the Bears 28-17. A win over UCLA is followed by a blowout loss at USC. A win over Arizona State is followed by a loss at Oregon State. The Bears barely squeak by at Washington State.

Bears fans rant about the inconsistency. That shortly will be solved. Cal is uniformly bad while losing its final three games to Oregon, Stanford and Washington.

The 5-7 finish is Jeff Tedford's first losing season.

"We're going to have to take a long look at everything we do," Tedford says.

Stanford beats Iowa in the Rose Bowl and finishes ranked fifth in the country. Coach Jim Harbaugh wins National Coach of the Year and signs a long-term contract extension.

"We've only just begun," Harbaugh says. "Prometheus has brought fire down the mountain and we have become mighty men. But we only will be happy when we live among the Olympians."

Best case-worst case: UCLA

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
9:00
AM ET
Third in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: UCLA

Best case

Rick Neuheisel's critics might have called it "smug," but his reaction after UCLA's much-maligned "pistol" offense rolled up 450 yards in a 42-17 win at Kansas State more accurately should be termed "vindicated." Might even have been a bit of relief there.

"It took us a lot of hard work to get here," he says after the Bruins impressive road win. "But it will take us even more to get where we want to go."

Solid wins over Stanford and Houston mean the Bruins carry a No. 19 ranking to No. 3 Texas on Sept. 25.

"We aren't afraid of them," Bruins linebacker Akeem Ayers says before the game. "It's not like UCLA hasn't won at Texas before." Ayers refers to the 66-3 stomping the Bruins delivered the Longhorns during their last visit to Austin in 1997.

Of course, Texas isn't the same in the Mack Brown Era as it was during John Mackovic's ill-fated tenure. Still, the Bruins don't yield until a Kevin Prince pass is intercepted in the endzone in the waning moments. Texas holds on 20-17, despite four Bruins sacks of QB Garrett Gilbert.

"Ten [Ayers] and 56 [end Datone Jones] -- those guys can really run," Gilbert says afterwards. "Seemed like they were in my face all day."

After dispatching Washington State, it's made clear, however, that the Bruins haven't arrived. Four turnovers sinks them at California, and Oregon surprises the Bruins by going to the air, with Ducks QB Nate Costa throwing for 320 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-24 win.

The Bruins beat Arizona when kicker Kai Forbath drills a 55-yard field goal with 30 seconds left, but lose in double-overtime to Oregon State. The visit to Washington feels like a must-win, and the good news for everyone is it has nothing to do with Neuheisel's controversial tenure as the Huskies coach. Both teams are trying to fight into the top-half of the conference.

Huskies QB Jake Locker puts on quite a show. Only, on this evening, he's not as good as Prince, who runs for two scores and throws for three others as the Bruins win a shootout, 45-42.

A win at Arizona State then sets up the annual showdown with city rival USC. The stakes? Well, if the Bruins prevail, they earn a Holiday Bowl berth. And if USC wins? It goes undefeated and likely is voted No. 1 in the AP poll, despite NCAA sanctions that prevent it from playing in the postseason.

"It's clear we are the best team in the nation," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin says before the game. "Just look at the numbers. We've won every game by double-digits playing in the best conference in the country. Heck, even UCLA can almost win at Texas and the Longhorns look like they are going to play for the BCS title."

Kiffin uses finger quotes when he says, "BCS."

The Bruins win 21-3, holding Kiffin's offense to 215 total yards. "I'm not going to talk about [Kiffin]," Neuheisel says after the game. "This is about us, not them. This is about building classy hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk. We don't care about the other guys. Just as long as they pay rent when they land on our squares."

After UCLA trounces Missouri in the Holiday Bowl, Christian Westerman, George Farmer, Todd Barr and Antwaun Woods announce they will sign with the Bruins, who finish 9-4 and ranked 14th.

The NCAA rejects USC's appeal of sanctions.

Worst case

Who's idea was this freaking "pistol" offense anyway?

That is the general feeling among UCLA fans after a lackluster 13-10 win at Kansas State, with Akeem Ayers 38-yard fumble return giving the Bruins their only touchdown.

Even the defense looks bad in a 30-17 loss to Stanford. The Bruins get their feet back under them -- after reverting back to a more pro-style scheme -- and outlast Houston and QB Case Keenum 33-30, but the Bruins' multiple issues are laid bare in a 35-10 embarrassment at Texas.

The offensive line can't protect Kevin Prince. It can't open holes. And the defense is good but not dominant.

A win over Washington State only preludes a desperate five-game losing streak -- Cal, Oregon, Arizona, Oregon State and Washington. Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow bench Prince in favor of Richard Brehaut for the trip to Arizona State.

"The offensive struggles aren't Kevin's fault," Neuheisel says. "But we need something to change. We want to see what Richard can do."

Brehaut does just enough to lead the Bruins to a win over Arizona State, but few fans are happy with the state of the program as it limps toward its annual showdown with USC, which is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the AP poll.

It further doesn't help the Bruins mood that the week is dominated by talk of how USC coach Lane Kiffin and QB Matt Barkley had, in late July, together plugged the BP oil spill in the Gulf, earning a commendation from the president.

"It wasn't that big of a deal," Kiffin says. "We were on the beach and Matt said he wanted to swim out there and take a look. So we did. I just happened to have an old Tennessee football helmet with me, and Matt said we might be able to plug it with that. Not that I needed the helmet anymore. Hey, it worked. But you have to understand: That's what we do. We're USC Trojans."

USC wins 45-3. After two irrelevant teams play for the BCS title, the president and congress jointly decree that -- just like in 2003 -- anyone who says "BCS national champion" is required to use finger quotes.

In the spring, the NCAA apologizes to USC and gives it all of its scholarships back.

Best case-worst case: Arizona State

July, 13, 2010
7/13/10
9:00
AM ET
Second in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up next: Arizona State

Best case

Arizona State didn't inspire much confidence from its frustrated fanbase with a pair of workmanlike wins over FCS foes Portland State and Northern Arizona. The defense looked good, the offense didn't. Same old same old.

[+] EnlargeDennis Erickson
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireIn either scenario, Dennis Erickson and the Sun Devils should win their first two games.
The 24-13 win at Wisconsin, however, changed that. "We won't see a better defense than that," Badgers coach Bret Bielema says after the game. "And their quarterback impressed me."

That would be Brock Osweiler, who threw a pair of scoring passes vs. the Badgers.

Still, the schedule is unforgiving. The Sun Devils head to Washington smarting after an 0-2 start in conference play thanks to back-to-back losses against the Oregon schools. But the defense bottles up Jake Locker on a rainy Seattle day and ASU wins.

Losses at California and USC -- the Sun Devils struggle in the state of California -- are sandwiched around a win over Washington State. It's still unclear which way the season will go when 20th-ranked Stanford comes to town with a high-powered offense led by Andrew Luck.

But something clicks for the Sun Devils. The defense harasses Luck all day and forces three turnovers, while Osweiler tosses a pair of TD passes as the the Sun Devils roll 30-17.

After dumping UCLA, ASU heads to Tucson to take on arch-rival Arizona. Both teams enter the game at 7-4 overall and 4-4 in conference play. A berth in the Sun Bowl, as well as bragging rights, is at stake. The bad taste of last year's dispiriting loss lingers for the Sun Devils.

ASU trails 21-17 with 12 minutes left when it takes over at its 1-yard line. What ensues will go down in Sun Devils lore: They drive 99 yards in 18 plays -- all runs and none longer than seven yards -- as the much-maligned offensive line takes control. Wildcats coach Mike Stoops is apoplectic on the sidelines, but it doesn't help.

"I'm worried that his head may explode," remarks the play-by-play announcer.

With 30 seconds left in the game, Osweiler sneaks in for the game-winning score.

Elite local recruits Christian Westerman and Brett Hundley both announce that they have changed their minds and want to go to Arizona State.

The Sun Devils whip Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl and finish 9-4. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is named national Assistant Coach of the Year.

"We feel like we'll be in the Rose Bowl hunt in 2011," says coach Dennis Erickson.

Worst case

Any optimism supplied by a 2-0 start -- albeit against FCS competition -- disappears when Arizona State manages to gain just 210 yards in a 20-3 loss at Wisconsin.

That's the first defeat in what becomes a five-game losing streak that only ends due to a visit from Washington State. The story is not unlike the previous two seasons: Good defense, bad offense. But the defense starts to leak as morale falls.

During a bye week after consecutive blowout defeats to USC and Stanford, coach Dennis Erickson is fired, though he agrees to coach the final two games.

Those are a pair of dreary losses, including a 30-7 beatdown by Arizona in Tucson, as the 'Zona Zoo lets the Sun Devils have it. The Wildcats head to another bowl game. The Sun Devils 3-9 finish is the program's worst since 1994.

"We were given an opportunity, and we just didn't get it done," Erickson says.

Best case-worst case: Washington State

July, 12, 2010
7/12/10
9:00
AM ET
First in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.

Up first: Washington State

Best case

Paul Wulff
Steve Dykes/US PresswirePaul Wulff's Cougars will finish the season with a losing record.
People have long wondered if anything could silence Oklahoma State's mouthy billionaire booster T. Boone Pickens. Well, Washington State waltzing into Stillwater, Okla., and whipping his beloved Cowboys 24-20 seems to do the trick.

The Cougars use five turnovers from a young Cowboys team to notch the upset.

"We're young but this team is growing up," coach Paul Wulff tells reporters.

The Cougars actually get a vote in the AP poll after whipping Montana State, but it becomes clear they aren't a finished product when they lose at 35-24 at SMU and get clobbered 44-10 by USC.

But instead of crumbling after being brought back down to earth, the Cougars shock UCLA when Nico Grasu boots a 51-yard field goal as the clock expires.

"No way did that just happen," stunned UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel says after losing to the Cougars for the first time.

Still, Washington State is young and the Pac-10 is deep. It loses five of its next six games, managing only a last-second win at Arizona State.

The Cougars have two weeks off before the Apple Cup, and they used the time well. First, they get healthy. Second, let's just say there are lots of wrinkles in the game plan.

Washington arrives in Pullman needing a victory to secure its first bowl berth since 2002. Oh, and it's zero degrees and there's three feet of snow on the ground when the Huskies walk out for the opening kickoff.

Neither team can score a TD, and Washington leads 9-3 late. But an errant shotgun snap in the fourth quarter gets by Huskies quarterback Jake Locker and is recovered at the 1-yard line by Cougars defensive end Travis Long. On fourth down, quarterback Jeff Tuel runs a naked boot and runs smack into linebacker Mason Foster. The ball gets away. It rolls into the endzone. James Montgomery recovers for the touchdown, and the PAT gives the Cougars a 10-9 lead with two minutes left.

Locker isn't done, though. He drives the Huskies to the Cougars 10-yard line. But the snap for the potential game-winning field goal goes over the holder's head.

Cougars win. They finish 5-7. Same record as the Huskies.

"We've come a long way," Tuel says. "But as my favorite band, 'The Carpenters,' sing so sweetly, 'We've only just begun.'"

Worst case

Thank God for Montana State. The FCS foe provides the Cougars their only victory in 2010.

Oh, there are some close calls. Solid showings at Oklahoma State and SMU. Near misses versus UCLA and Arizona State. A surprisingly competitive game with Oregon State.

But the Cougars are too young and too thin to compete in the rugged Pac-10, particularly when the injury bug returns. Oregon crushes them with speed. Stanford with power. USC with a little of both.

Most galling is the tour de force performance produced in Pullman by Washington quarterback Jake Locker in the Apple Cup. Locker's 310 yards passing, 135 yards rushing and seven total touchdowns earns the Huskies an invitation to the Holiday Bowl and Locker an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Further, the 1-11 campaign forces athletic director Bill Moos' hand. Coach Paul Wulff has won only one conference game in three seasons. While the Cougars are far better in 2010 than they were in 2008 and 2009, the results haven't shown up in the record book.

Wulff agrees to resign. "I'll always be a Cougar," he says. "My only regret is we didn't win more games."

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