Pac-12: best case worst case 2012

Best case-worst case: USC

August, 30, 2012
This is the final entry 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: USC

Best case

A duck floats on dark waters at night. It rises and a hand strips it off, revealing a shock of blond hair. It was a disguise! A man emerges from the water and hurries through a secret passage into some sort of sinister facility. He plants explosive charges and dashes away.

Outside the facility, he then tears away his wet suit to reveal an immaculate white tuxedo. He calmly walks down the street and then into a crowded, exotic night club. There is a massive explosion and the patrons scream and panic and run into the street. But our man doesn't flinch. He walks to the bar.

Man at bar: Congratulations Mr. Barkley. Mr. Romales and his friend will be out of business.

Matt Barkley: He won't be using heroin-flavored banana to finance revolutions.

Man at bar: Don't go back to your hotel, señor. They'll be watching you. There is a plane to Miami in an hour.

Barkley: I'll be on it. I have some unfinished business to attend to there.

Shirley Bassey then sings: "Crystal footbaalllllll!"

Barkley throws six touchdown passes combined in blowout wins over Hawaii and Syracuse.

"I don't always throw touchdown passes," Barkley says. "But when I do, I prefer Robert Woods and Marqise Lee."

USC heads to Stanford, which has beaten the Trojans three consecutive times.

The game is tied 17-17 at halftime, but Barkley throws a pair of four-quarter touchdown passes and Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd combine for 130 of their 200 yards after the break as the Trojans pull away 38-27.

Redd: What's Matt Barkley like? Well, he's never had an awkward moment.

McNeal: Actually, Silas, he did. Once. Just to see what it was like.

Redd: His charm is so contagious, vaccines have been created for it.

McNeal: He taught Traveler to nay in Russian.

Redd: You know he's entered the room because you'll hear "Barcelona Nights" playing. No idea where it comes from.

The Trojans whip California 42-10 and slip Utah 30-27. Barkley throws three touchdown passes in a 45-24 win over Washington.

Kevin Gemmell: Barkley is completing 70 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and just one interception. Both McNeal and Redd are on track for 1,000 yards rushing, as Woods and Lee are receiving. And the defense is better than expected.

Ted Miller: I hear Barkley's personality is so magnetic, he's unable to carry credit cards.

Gemmell: Sharks have a week dedicated to him.

Miller: He once ran a marathon backwards, just to see what second place looked like.

Gemmell: Two more Dos Equis, por favor.

The top-ranked Trojans post blowout wins over Colorado and Arizona. Up next: No. 4 Oregon.

A Spanish language reporter shows up Barkley's weekly news conference.

Reporter: ¿Qué es importante para usted?

Barkley: Mi familia y mis amigos, mi fe y mi país. Mis compañeros de equipo y entrenadores. Ayudar a los demás. La integridad y la honestidad. Una vida centrada en la belleza verdad y las buenas obras. Puestas de sol.

Everyone stands and claps. Even non-Spanish speakers.

"Look, I know, Barkley is the most ... best quarterback in the country," Oregon coach Chip Kelly says. "Look, he patted me on my back after last year's game and I put that on my resume. May have gotten me that offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But we're trying to win a championship here."

Lane Kiffin gathers his team inside the bowels of the Coliseum.

"Just out there the Ducks huddle, sheer terror gripping tight their hearts with icy fingers, knowing full well what merciless horrors they suffered against us last year in their stadium," he says. "Yet they stare now across the field at 71 Trojans! The Ducks outnumber us by a paltry 14 scholarship players, good odds for any Trojan. This day we rescue a conference from closed practices, ridiculous uniforms and obnoxious fans and deliver a future brighter than anything we can imagine!"

Barkley throws four touchdown passes in a 42-38 victory.

USC bombs Arizona State and beats UCLA and Notre Dame by a combined count of 100-3.

In the Pac-12 championship game rematch with Oregon, USC dominates, winning 48-17.

Barkley becomes the first unanimous winner of the Heisman Trophy. He delivers his acceptance speech in English, French and German. The text will later win the Pulitzer Prize for General Awesomeness.

Gemmell: USC is certainly in the discussion of greatest team in college football history if they defeat unbeaten SEC champion Alabama, which buried LSU 5-0 on Nov. 3. Of course, we've been here before. In 2005, the same was said before the Trojans fell to Texas, preventing them from winning three consecutive national titles.

Miller: If Barkley were to punch me in the face, I'd have to fight off the urge to thank him.

Gemmell: He once brought a knife to a gunfight, just to even the odds.

Before a national title game news conference, Kiffin runs into a rowdy mob of Alabama fans, they surround him, hurling insults and invective. Barkley appears.

Headline in the Miami Herald: "Barkely parts the Red Sea."

The Trojans whip Alabama 48-10, finish 14-0.

"We are witnessing the greatest team in college football history," says the TV announcer.

"Yep. And somehow it speaks to the utter buffoonery of the NCAA that USC is celebrating under a cascade of confetti," the colorman says. "Karma is a harsh mistress. Surely even UCLA fans can enjoy that goodness and fairness have triumphed over the injustice that was handed down by the NCAA."

"And that Matt Barkley!" the announcer replies. "I hear when he's in Rome, they do as he does."

Worst case

Barkley throws six touchdown passes combined in blowout wins over Hawaii and Syracuse.

But he sprains his ankle late in the victory over Syracuse, as does defensive tackle George Uko.

Stanford rushes for 256 yards in a 30-27 win over the Trojans, the Cardinal's fourth consecutive win over USC.

Barkley returns to action, and leads USC on a five-game winning streak. The 7-1 Trojans, ranked ninth, then face unbeaten and third-ranked Oregon.

Kevin Gemmell: It's the first matchup of what could be a two game series, as both teams are expected to reach the Pac-12 championship game.

Ted Miller: You do realize that this is the "worst case" scenario, right?

Gemmell: Dude, it's your freaking script.

Miller: That's right. And at this point I'd like to note that UCLA has just one conference loss. That will be important after two more, short paragraphs.

Oregon rolls over the Trojans 45-24, with Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota outplaying Barkley, tossing three touchdown passes and running for another.

The Trojans bounce back with a blowout win over Arizona State.

Gemmell: USC is 8-2 overall with two conferences losses and archrival UCLA is 9-1 with one conference loss. If the Bruins beat the Trojans and Stanford in the season finale, they -- not USC -- go to the Pac-12 championship game. If the Trojans win, they will go to the championship game by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

UCLA sacks Barkley four times, and Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley throws three touchdown passes in a 35-24 UCLA victory.

"Of course, it's special to beat USC," Bruins coach Jim Mora says. "But our program is no longer focused on our rival. It is focused only on winning championships. And that's what we plan to do."

The dispirited Trojans get drubbed at home 45-10 by Notre Dame.

UCLA, meanwhile, slips Stanford and upsets Oregon to win the Pac-12 title.

USC falls to Texas in the Holiday Bowl and finishes 8-5. The Bruins beat Michigan 28-24 in the Rose Bowl.

A handful of defecting USC commitments gives UCLA the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

Headline in LA Times, "17 USC players caught in chocolate chip cookie scandal, according to NCAA."

The members of the NCAA's infractions committee include Loki, Bain, the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, the late Bernie Madoff, Cruella de Vil, Darth Vader, Nurse Ratched, Gordon Gekko and Satan.

"Of course, we'll be fair to USC," committee chair Satan says. "Fair, you might not know this, is my middle name."

Best case-worst case: Oregon

August, 29, 2012
This is the 11th 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: Oregon

Best case

The sounds a football practice -- chatter, whistles, hitting -- echo outside the Moshofsky Indoor Practice Facility.

"Closed practices, smosed practices," the intrepid reporter says to himself. "I flew all the way up here to see Oregon practice and to figure out all the mysterious things that go on in there under Chip Kelly's cloak of silence."

Looking right and then left, the reporter, "Mission Impossible" theme music playing in his head, opens the door and slips in.

The building is empty. The football sounds are merely being piped through a speaker system. But on the far side of the field, there is a flickering black and white hologram-like image.

It repeats the same message, "This is our most desperate hour. Help me Obi Wan Kelly. You are my only hope."

Says the reporter, "That looks like Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, if he were wearing a white toga and large black ear muffs."

Suddenly, the reporter sees Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich tiptoeing by. He starts to run.

"Helfrich! I see you!" the reporter shouts.

Helfrich then runs right into the wall. Or it seems as though he did. Only he's gone.

"Hmm," the reporter says to himself. "I'm either insane and hallucinating, or Oregon football is wrapped up in some sort of Star Wars/Harry Potter intrigue."

The video suddenly changes to a fiery, evil, eye-like thingy. "My seventh ring! The ring to rule them all!"

"I knew it!" the reporter says, noting that he might be talking out loud to himself a wee much. "SEC commissioner Mike Slive is really the Dark Lord Sauron, Emperor Palpatine and Lord Voldemort all rolled into one ruler of the evilest of evil empires!"


"Or ... maybe the Pac-12 Blog's 'Best Case/Worse Case' stories are jumping the shark amid entropic creative failure?"

Oregon starts 5-0. A 47-24 win against Washington State in Seattle representing the closest challenge.

Up next: Washington.

"Just because we've beaten Washington eight consecutive times by at least 17 points doesn't mean we will do that again," Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota says. "And, please, stop calling me Frodo."

The Ducks beat Washington 38-20, a last-second touchdown run from Kenjon Barner ensuring that the Pac-12 blog will type, "nine consecutive times by at least 17 points" in 2013.

Oregon rolls past Arizona State and Colorado. The 8-0 Ducks rise to No. 3 in the nation.

Up next: No. 1 USC.

Ted Miller: Matt, can you talk a little bit about "unfinished business" and how you came back to win a championship?

Matt Barkley: We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little Duckies. Wicked, tricksy, false!

Kevin Gemmell: Ted, you don't look well.

Inside the visitor's locker room under the packed Coliseum just moments before kickoff, Mariota seeks out Kelly.

"Coach, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed," Mariota says. "I threw that interception against Washington. I just feel so angry all the time. What if after everything that I've been through, something's gone wrong inside me? What if I'm becoming a bad quarterback?"

Replies Kelly, who's been growing a beard, “It is a curious thing, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well. You'll be fine. And remember, the fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side."

Mariota throws two touchdown passes and runs for another, while Barner and De'Anthony Thomas combine for 280 yards rushing as the Ducks pull away from the Trojans in the fourth quarter 42-35.

Oregon moves up to No. 2, behind No. 1 LSU, which whipped Alabama 6-0 on the same day the Ducks slipped past the Trojans.

The Ducks roll past California, escape an upset bid by No. 10 Stanford with 17 unanswered fourth-quarter points, and blow out Oregon State 48-14.

The rematch with the 11-1 Trojans is set for the Pac-12 championship, only this game is in Autzen Stadium.

Still, Barkley comes out flinging, and USC jumps ahead 38-14 with three minutes left in the third quarter. Thomas returns the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, with a feeling of deja vu waking up the previously dormant crowd. Barner scores on runs of nine and two yards, and the margin is just three at 38-35.

USC takes over and drives to the Ducks 11-yard line with just over three minutes remaining. The crowd seems uneasy. But the Trojans fumble and Dion Jordan recovers.

Oregon quickly drives the other way. With five seconds remaining, Alejandro Maldonado lines up for a 37-yard field goal.

The snap. The hold.

It's a fake. Maldonado takes a pitch from holder Jackson Rice and sprints 20 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining.

It's Oregon vs. Alabama for the national title.

College football pundit: Yawn. We've seen this before. A nice little team with a gimmick offense from the Pac-12 against a group of finely tuned athletes from the SEC. It's boys versus men. Oregon doesn't have a chance, and they probably know it.

Kelly gathers his team inside Sun Life Stadium. All week, they've heard about the dominance of the SEC.

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me!" he says. "A day may come when the courage of the Ducks fails, when we don't win the day, decide to entertain hypotheticals and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this night. There may come an hour of overflowing SEC revenue, $6 million coaches and mutant defensive linemen fueled by grits and fried seafood, and when the Age of the Pac-12 comes crashing down, but it is not this night! This night we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"

The game is tied 10-10 at halftime. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott runs into SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

Slive: Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design. Your undersized Oregon offense is walking into a trap, as is your scrappy but untalented defense. It was I who allowed Oregon to score that touchdown just before halftime. Alabama is quite safe from your pitiful little team. An entire legion of Nick Saban's best troops awaits them!

Scott: What an eccentric performance!

Down 16-10 with two minutes left, Thomas returns a punt 32 yards to the Alabama 42. He runs out of bounds on the Alabama sideline in front of Saban.

Saban: Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Crimson Tide.

Thomas: What? You need to stop reading the Pac-12 blog. Messing up your brain.

Saban: Good. Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you.

On third and 12, Mariota connects with Josh Huff at the Alabama 18. Barner goes for nine yards to the Tide 9-yard line. Mariota scrambles to the one with 10 seconds left.

The Ducks line up. "Hey!" Mariota yells at Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. "It's a quarterback sneak!"

Mariota bulls in for the winning touchdown.

Oregon wins the national championship. And fortunately, not a single Ducks fan says, "Natty."

The NCAA rules that Oregon can no longer incorporate lime green into its color scheme due to its use of street agent Willie Lyles.

"You know what?" an Oregon fan writes on Addicted to Quack. "I'm not going to complain about a thing. Or trash talk. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. All is well."

Worst case

Oregon starts 5-0. A 47-24 win against Washington State in Seattle representing the closest challenge.

Up next: Washington.

"Just because we've beaten Washington eight consecutive times by at least 17 points doesn't mean we will do that again," Mariota says.

The Ducks lead 35-17 midway through the third quarter. Across the Autzen Stadium field, Chip Kelly eyeballs a gathering of Huskies.

"What are they up to?" he says. But he's not really that curious.

The Huskies huddle around quarterback Keith Price, "This is where they end and we begin. Right now! We're going to score a quick touchdown, our defense is going to get the ball back and then we're going to score again. And they will wilt. They will see us coming and know this night belongs to us."

Price connects with Kasen Williams for a 35-yard touchdown. Washington safety Shaq Thompson then reads a telegraphed throw from Mariota and jaunts 33 yards the other way for a touchdown. It's 35-31.

Josh Shirley sacks Mariota and 330-pound tackle Danny Shelton picks up the loose ball and rumbles into the end zone.

There's a palpable tearing sound in the stadium. It's Oregon's confidence.

Final: Washington 52, Oregon 35.

Kevin Gemmell: With wins against LSU and Oregon, and a close loss to Stanford, USC should be plenty worried about the 3-1 Huskies. It's fair to say Washington is back and Oregon's Northwest dominance might be teetering on the brink.

Ted Miller: It is fair to say that.

After a bye, the Ducks whip Arizona State and Colorado and improve to 7-1.

Up next: Undefeated and top-ranked USC.

Barkley comes out flinging, and the Trojans jump ahead 38-14 with three minutes left in the third quarter. But De'Anthony Thomas returns the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to the USC 10-yard line.

On first down, Mariota drops back to pass. But he's hit from behind by Wes Horton and fumbles. Dion Bailey picks up the loose ball and dashes the other way for a touchdown.

The Trojans roll in front of their home crowd 45-21.

The Ducks bounce back with wins against California and Stanford.

Gemmell: The Huskies' upset home loss to Utah leaves them a game behind the Ducks in the Pac-12 North Division.

Miller: That's right Kevin! All Oregon needs to do is beat rival Oregon State and it wins the North. So that's sort of a done deal. It's been, like, forever since the Beavers beat the Ducks.

The Ducks recover an onside kick from Oregon State, leading 35-30 with just over a minute left. Mariota takes a knee on first down. He takes a knee on second down.

Announcer: NO! The ball is free. Dylan Wynn is running the other way. The Beavers are going to beat Oregon on a fumbled snap with no time remaining!

Washington advances to the Pac-12 title game, where it upsets unbeaten, top-ranked USC 33-30.

Oregon loses to Texas in the Holiday Bowl 38-13.

Price nips Barkley for the Heisman Trophy. The Huskies pound Michigan in the Rose Bowl 42-10. Price announces he's coming back for his senior season.

Oregon is hit with a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 15 scholarships by the NCAA because of its use of street agent Willie Lyles.

Kelly is hired away by Arkansas.

Nike files for bankruptcy. Phil Knight moves to Tibet, becomes a monk.

"I planned to do this last year," Knight says. "But we ended up being good. Now that's no longer the case, I'm done with the Ducks."

Best case-worst case: Stanford

August, 28, 2012
This is the 10th 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: Stanford

Best case

Stanford gathers in the team hotel on the Friday night before its opener against San Jose State.

"Guys, Sam Schwartzstein has a slide show for you," Shaw says. "I believe you will find it most illuminating."

The lights dim, the Cardinal center picks up a remote control and clicks on an old-style slide projector.

Schwartzstein: [click] Peyton Manning, quarterback, Tennessee. Do you see? [Click] Peyton Manning, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts, [Click] Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford. [Click] Andrew Luck, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts. Do you see?

Tee Martin, quarterback, Tennessee? Do you see? Tennessee reborn. Tennessee national champions. Do you see? Josh Nunes, quarterback, Stanford? Do you see? Do you see? We are privy to a great becoming!

Chase Thomas whispers to fellow linebacker Shayne Skov, "I thought you were supposed to be the biggest loon on this team."

Replies Skov, "No way, man. Schwartzy is completely unhinged."

Stanford whips San Jose State and Duke by a combined count of 80-3. Nunes throws three touchdown passes, and Stepfan Taylor rolls up for 305 of the Cardinal's 452 rushing yards.

Up next is No. 1 USC.

Stanford leads 24-20 in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Matt Barkley leads the Trojans to a first-and-goal on the Stanford 9-yard line with 45 seconds left. Barkley connects with Robert Woods at the 1-yard line, but Curtis McNeal is stopped cold on second and third down. The Trojans call their final time out.

Barkley lines up in shotgun. He rolls to his right, looking for Marqise Lee, then pumps at Xavier Grimble. No one is open. He sprints and dives at the flag.

"I don't think he got in!" the announcer says. "Stanford is on the brink of upsetting the No. 1 team in the country, the mighty Trojans of USC."

The play is reviewed. "After further review," the official says. "The runner did cross the goal line. Touchdown."

"What do I think of the call?" Stanford coach David Shaw says after the game. "I think it was the right call. I think Barkley got in. A hardnosed play from him. And even if it was a bad call, we had plenty of chances to win that game. They just came down the field and took it from us. We'll see what we're made of over the next few weeks. If we keep our heads down and keep getting better, we'll get another shot at them."

After a bye, the Cardinal rushes for 275 yards at Washington, winning 33-21. They whip Arizona 51-24 and shut out Notre Dame 33-0. So Stanford, ranked 10th at 5-1, heads to Berkeley for an odd, midseason Big Game.

Schwartzstein: Please turn to page 100 in your dossier. You see a picture of Henry Kissinger. And you see a picture of Oski. Kissinger. Oski. Oski, Kissinger. Curious that neither is ever seen together, don't you think? And on page 245: Jeff Tedford. And then Nikita Khrushchev. Yes, I know. Very strange. What does it mean? Maybe nothing. But there is an unmistakable whiff of communism. Or maybe it means that if we fail on Saturday against Berkeley, everything we know and love just freaking blows up and nothing is left other than the ashes of humanity's grandest hopes and dreams.

A goal line stand preserves a 20-14 win over the Bears.

Stanford rolls over Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State, which means it takes a seven-game winning streak to No. 1 Oregon, which is two weeks removed from an overtime win at USC.

Ted Miller: Stanford doesn't have enough speed to keep up with Oregon. I'm sure of that.

Kevin Gemmell: Weren't you sure that USC would beat Oregon?

Ted Miller: Grrrr. Your round.

Stanford rushes for 245 yards and Nunes throws two touchdown passes in a 30-24 victory.

After a 44-17 win over UCLA, Stanford finishes 11-1 and rises to No. 4 in the BCS standings. Due to its victory over Oregon, it wins the North Division tiebreaker and will visit No. 5 USC for the Pac-12 championship game.

Barkley, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, but Taylor rushes for 230 yards and three scores. Taylor becomes the fourth conference running back to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing and his 28 touchdowns tie former Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart for the conference record.

Oh, and his third touchdown comes with 14 seconds left to give Stanford a 31-24 victory.

Oklahoma and LSU, both undefeated, will meet for the national title. Stanford will play undefeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Gemmell: We could have a split national title. No team has two better wins than Stanford, and Michigan whipped Alabama in the season-opener.

Miller: Yep.

In the closest Heisman Trophy vote in history, Taylor nips Barkley for the bronze statue.

In the Rose Bowl, a final Stanford drive is stymied at the Michigan 40-yard line with three seconds left. The Wolverines lead 23-21.

Out walks Cardinal kicker Jordan Williamson. He lines up for the 57-yard field goal.

"The goat of last year's Fiesta Bowl," the announcer says. "What must this young man be thinking? Wait ... he appears to be smiling."

Right down the middle with room to spare. Stanford wins 24-23.

The Cardinal finishes ranked second. Largely on the strength of the linemen it signs, Stanford's recruiting class is ranked fifth in the nation.

On the heels of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, presently a Stanford professor, becoming one of the first two female members at August National Golf Club, the storied and exclusive golf club decides that every Stanford graduate should get a membership.

Explains Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National, "Really, it's just based on the fact that if you go to Stanford you're pretty darn awesome."

Worst case

Nunes gets his "welcome to the Pac-12" moment against USC.

While he gets sacked four times and throws two interceptions, he watches as Barkley posts a masterful effort in a 40-17 USC victory.

Washington gangs up against the Stanford running game two weeks later, and Nunes and his still-middling receivers can't take advantage, as the Huskies end a four-game run of futility in the series, 27-24. Shaw announces that Brett Nottingham will start the following weekend.

With Nottingham behind center, the Cardinal bounce back with wins over Arizona and Notre Dame, as the defense steps up its effort and holds the both the Wildcats and Fighting Irish to fewer than 10 points.

Things seem to be righting themselves in advance of the Big Game, an oddly timed midseason affair. But, as players are vigilantly studying their playbooks on team-issued iPads, the screens become pixilated and blurry. Then they dissolve into the Cal logo.

"You've been hacked by Oski!" it scrolls across the screen over a laughing, dancing Oski. "Tell Schwartzstein to never compare Kissinger to anything at Cal ever again!"

Ten minutes later, Stanford's entire playbook is on Wiki Leaks.

The Big Game belongs to California, 28-21, as Zach Maynard throws two touchdown passes and the Bears roll up 210 yards on the ground against a rugged Stanford defense. Nottingham throws two interceptions, and Nunes takes over in the fourth quarter.

Relying on its defense and playing two quarterbacks, Stanford wins its next three over Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State. But Oregon ends all intrigue early, with De'Anthony Thomas rushing for 120 yards and a touchdown and catching four passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-21 Ducks victory.

Stanford looks deflated in a season-ending 24-17 loss to UCLA. The Cardinal finishes the regular season 7-5.

Boise State whips Stanford 30-21 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Playing in its first Rose Bowl since the 1958 season, Cal beats Michigan 30-28. It's the Golden Bears' first Rose Bowl win since 1938.

The Bears finish ranked sixth.

Lisa Simpson is admitted to rehab. TMZ reports that her life started falling apart when she was forced to attend Stanford.

Best case-worst case: Utah

August, 27, 2012
This is the ninth 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: Utah

Best case

Utah struggles to put Utah State away, but a pair of TD runs from John White IV give the Utes the 2-0 start everyone expected.

"I'm not happy," coach Kyle Whittingham says. "As noted above, we struggled to put the Aggies away. I don't care what everyone expected, we can't play like this and expect to beat BYU."

Tensions are high with the Holy War. Folks around the state are unhappy that Utah has opted to take a two-year hiatus from the rivalry, starting in 2014.

An alien from the planet Zumba Ho! named Fistlebicker arrives in Salt Lake City. After dinner at the Red Iguana, he shows up in Utah athletic director Chris Hill's office.

"Er, you're green and have a horn growing out of your forehead," Hill says. "That's OK, though. Just an observation."

Fistlebicker shoots Hill with a "Truth Ray." Then asks about the brief suspension of the Holy War. Hill's impulse for a political answer is overcome by the ray.

"I'm weary of the prattle from the BYU folks," Hill says. "Look, we're in the Pac-12. We make the rules. End of story. BYU long thought of itself as a sort of big brother in this rivalry. No more. We do home-and-home series with teams like Michigan. A long gulp from the cup of humility will be good for BYU."

Utah buries BYU 52-17.

Utah improves to 4-0 with a 33-24 win at Arizona State and rises to 13th in the AP poll. It has a bye before top-ranked USC comes to town for a Thursday night game on ESPN.

The MUSS, Utah's football student section, calls a meeting in its new headquarters, opened shortly after the Utes joined the Pac-12. It is filled with many leather-bound books and smells of rich mahogany. The bar features the finest selection of single malts in all of Salt Lake City.

MUSS president: So everyone brought their new MacBook Pro, right? Remember: Don't tell you friends at BYU that everyone in the Pac-12 gets a MacBook Pro.

MUSS vice president: Or the free ice cream. Don't tell them about that either.

MUSS president: Right. So, I've sent each of you our plan for USC and Matt Barkley?

MUSS vice president: Brain control? No more mind control, eh?

MUSS president: Yep. Brain control beats mind control any day of the week.

"Barkley is not himself tonight, throwing his first two interceptions of the season," the announcer says. "The MUSS is all over the Trojans, who have jumped offsides four times."

With seven seconds remaining, the Utes face a fourth and goal on the Trojans 9-yard line, down 28-24. QB Jordan Wynn drops back, but is immediately under pressure, he spins, reverses field, then reverses field again. He sees some daylight between T.J. McDonald and DeVonte Christopher. From his 25-yard line, he fires a throw

"Touchdown!" the announcer says. "The Utes have upset No. 1 USC. Wow. That was a bullet. Wynn's surgically repaired shoulder looked good there."

The Utes, after rising to No. 5 in the nation, suffer a proverbial "let-down game" the following weekend at UCLA, losing 20-17. They win their next three before losing in overtime at Washington. After a victory at Arizona, the 9-2 Utes rise to 11th in the AP poll.

Up next: Archrival Colorado.

"This red bike thing you guys keep asking me about?" Whittingham says. "You know that was made up, right? The Pac-12 blog made it up. It never happened. It was amusing, yes. Brilliant even. But it was fiction."

Whittingham is met with silence and crestfallen looks from the media contingent.

Says Colorado offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, "I don't know what's worse: Whittingham saying something on the Pac-12 blog was fiction or him doubting the truth of the 'Red Bike Incident.' I've seen the red bike. And it isn't pretty."

Nonetheless, the Utes prevail 33-24.

"Star," Whittingham says to defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. "I just talked to Coach Embree. It seems his starting QB, Jordan Webb, is missing."

"Mmftphfa?" says Lotulelei.

"Star, you know you can't eat the opposing QB," Whittingham says.

"Meph mungry," Lotulelei says. "Meh morry."

Utah beats Texas in the Alamo Bowl 21-17. It finishes 11-2 and ranked eighth.

The postseason media consensus is Utah looks like the 2013 favorite in the South Division.

MUSS president: OK guys, couple of things. These are your Pac-12 Diamond Cards. You flash these and you won't have to stand in line or wait for a reservation anywhere.

MUSS vice president: And automatic first class upgrades for air travel and hotel suites. Now what is this doohickey?

MUSS president: Every Pac-12 member gets a time machine, which is cool.

MUSS vice president: That is cool! And, of course, you can't tell your friend at BYU about these.

Worst case

Just as Utah embarrassed BYU at home in 2011, the Cougars return the favor in 2012. And, with the Utes putting the Holy War on a two -year hiatus starting in 2014, it seems a 50-21 win in Rice-Eccles Stadium is particularly sweet.

"Is this particularly sweet?" BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall asks. "Maybe."

The Utes fall the next weekend at Arizona State, 27-24, with QB Jordan Wynn throwing a late interception on the Sun Devils 31-yard line. After a bye, USC rips the Utes 45-17, sacking Wynn five times.

The Utes are unable to get John White IV going and protection for Wynn has been terrible. Questions at offensive tackle obviously didn't get answered. On defense, inexperience at linebacker is showing, but the lack of a pass rush is most surprising.

UCLA slips the Utes after Brett Hundley leads a game-winning TD drive in the waning moments. Utah ends a four-game losing streak with a win at Oregon State, and Whittingham reminds his team it opened the 2011 Pac-12 season at 0-4. But California pulls away from the Utes in the second half to win 33-21.

Utah is competitive for the most part, but it still lacks the depth and variety of offensive weapons to consistently win against Pac-12 foes. The Utes nip Washington State at home, 35-33, but fall at Washington 28-20. A win over Arizona leaves Utah, at 5-6, needing to beat hated archrival Colorado to earn bowl eligibility. Same thing for the Buffaloes.

Utah, down 17-13 with 1:30 left, drives to the Buffs 17-yard line. On first down, Wynn underthrows a wide-open DeVonte Christopher in the endzone.

"As has been the case all season, Wynn's ability to deliver the ball has been inconsistent," the announcer says. "The key here is to not force things."

On second down, Wynn sees Dres Anderson at the 5-yard line, but his pass sails off target and is intercepted by Ray Polk, who high steps down the sideline for a 95-yard touchdown as the Folsom Stadium crowd goes nuts.

The Utes finish 5-7, their first losing record since 2002.

"It's pretty clear that we are still a work in progress as far as making the jump from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says.

BYU, which goes 3-0 vs. the Pac-12 and finishes 12-1, is invited to join the SEC after the Cougars beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

"Oh, OK," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe says. "If you twist my arm, we'll take that ole $25 million."

Best case-worst case: Washington

August, 24, 2012
This is the seventh 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

Best case

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian walks into the postgame news conference after the Huskies 24-17 win over San Diego State.

"You guys were kind of vanilla today, eh?" a reporter asks.

"No, our entire playbook on both sides of the ball was open," Sarkisian says. "That's a good football team. And we will have our hands full next weekend."

Up next: A visit to No. 3 LSU.

"Dare a lot of peeshwanks bag daer in dat Pac-12, eh?" an LSU fan says from behind a pot of gumbo during the pregame tailgate. "But don't be boude'. Dôn matta. Ha' some gumbo."

"Er, thanks," says the Washington fan.

LSU takes the opening kickoff and drives to the Huskies 2-yard line. But the Washington defense stops the Tigers on two runs up the middle from Spencer Ware. On third-and-goal, Zach Mettenberger fakes a handoff and rolls to his right.

"He's got Russell Shepard open in the corner... Mettenberger tosses a dart... picked off... it's Desmond Trufant going the other way," the announcer says. "And he's gone... 100 yards for a Washington touchdown."

Washington wins 24-20. The Huskies new look defense sacks Metteberger four times and intercepts him twice. Keith Price completes 20 of 24 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns.

"Choooh! Dat game gave meh freesôns!" the Husky fans says to the LSU fan after the game. "Ga lee, pod nah! I got an ahnvee for some more gumbo!"

Says the LSU fan, "We're out. Leave me alone. I'm trying to call my therapist. This is not a good time for me."

"They kept us off balance," LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery says. "It was weird. They did a lot of stuff on offense. You know... stuff. We never see all that... stuff. And that Price guy is really good. It's nice to not have to play complicated offenses led by polished quarterbacks in our league. Wait... I'm not allowed to say that, am I?"

The Huskies whip Portland State but lose 28-24 to Stanford, the clock hitting zero with the Huskies on the Cardinal 10-yard line.

"I'm never happy with losing; we had plenty of opportunities to win," Sarkisian says. "But Stanford has physically dominated us the past couple of years. That didn't happen tonight."

Up next: A visit to Oregon. The Ducks have beaten Washington eight consecutive times by at least 17 points.

Oregon leads 24-0 at halftime. It's not easy wearing purple in the Autzen Stadium stands.

"You probably can stick a fork in this one," the announcer says. "It would take a miracle for the Huskies to even make a game of it. The question might be whether Chip Kelly keeps his starters in and tries to run the score up."

The Pac-12 blog is spinning with comments from gloating Oregon fans.

marinersblue96: Talk now, but we're going to come back and win this game. Guarantee it.

On the second play of the third quarter, Ducks QB Marcus Mariota drops back to pass. He's drilled by Josh Shirley and fumbles. 330-pound tackle Danny Shelton picks up the loose ball and rumbles into the end zone.

There's the slightest of murmurs in the crowd.

That becomes the first seven of 40 unanswered points from the Huskies, who roll to 40-24 victory in front of a shocked crowd.

marinersblue96: Hey, guys, went to Vegas on Sunday. Let's just say I'm buying dinner!

The Huskies, at 4-1, rise to No. 7 in the national polls. Up next: No. 2 USC.

Kevin Gemmell: It's a showdown of Heisman Trophy candidates with major national implications.

Ted Miller: How can you be so trivial? Oregon fans are blaming me for the loss to Washington in the comment section [sniffle]. Why must they be so mean!

USC comes from behind in the fourth quarter to slip Washington 33-30. Barkley and Price both throw three touchdown passes, but Barkley's 20-yard toss to Robert Woods with 33 seconds left in the game is the difference.

The Huskies roll off five consecutive wins. At 9-2, they are ranked seventh in the BCS standings. Price has passed for 3,190 yards with 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He's also rushed for six TDs.

Up next: The Apple Cup against No. 21 Washington State.

"I think it's great what Mike Leach has done in Pullman," Steve Sarkisian says. "I think everyone on both sides of this state can agree that it's been too long since the Apple Cup was relevant nationally. Huskies always want to beat the Cougars, but it's better when both teams are ranked and are going to bowl games."

Washington pulls away in the second half to win 40-28. Most important: The decisive win ensures the Huskies will finish ahead of Oregon and Stanford in the BCS standings, which becomes the North Division tiebreaker. The Huskies will face unbeaten and top-ranked USC for the Pac-12 title in the LA Coliseum.

Sarkisian gathers his players in the pregame locker room, the Coliseum throbbing above them.

"We've come a long way guys, from 2009, from last year," Sarkisian says. "We've built something together. You're the group, five classes, who rebuilt Washington football. We take another step tonight. We're going to do something special here in front of all these fans who are already thinking about a trip to South Florida. It's simple. We win this game, we go to the Rose Bowl. What's it going to take? Everything you've got on every play. Everything you've got and more because when you add us all together we become more, our individual selves become more. Play hard. Play for the guy beside you. Finish every play. Now, let's go break those guys hearts."

With 2:13 left, Washington takes over on its 44, down 38-33. The Huskies drive deep into USC territory, but face a fourth-and-5 at the Trojans' 8-yard line with 26 seconds left. Price drops back to pass, but is pressured in the pocket. He dashes to his right.

"He's going for the corner," the announcer says. "He's got it! Keith Price scores!"

The Huskies convert a 2-point conversion and win 41-38.

Price wins the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first Husky to do so.

Washington beats Michigan in the Rose Bowl and finishes 12-2 and ranked third.

Price announces he will return for his senior year.

Kevin Gemmell: Preseason No. 1?

Ted Miller: Yup.

Oregon is hit with a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 15 scholarships by the NCAA due to its use of street agent Willie Lyles.

The Huskies recruiting class is ranked fifth in the nation.

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

Global warming causes Seattle weather to closely resemble that of San Diego, though the skiing continues to be righteous just north of the city.

Worst case

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian walks into the postgame news conference after the Huskies 24-17 win over San Diego State.

"You guys were kind of vanilla today, eh?" a reporter asks.

"Yep, we didn't want LSU to see all of our schemes," Sarkisian says.

Schemes-smemes, things get ugly quickly in Baton Rouge, and Washington is never competitive in a 41-10 loss. The Huskies offensive line is outmatched by the Tigers defensive front, and the Huskies defense gets pushed around.

"That's a great football team," Sarkisian says. "We've got to learn from this and get better because our schedule doesn't get any easier."

The Huskies whip Portland State 44-17. They have a bye week before Stanford comes to town, but the Cardinal owns the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in a 33-20 victory.

No. 3 Oregon blasts Washington 50-17. It's the Huskies ninth consecutive loss to the Ducks by at least 17 points.

A debate ensues on Addicted to Quack over whether it's actually time to feel sorry for Washington and to no longer hate the Huskies. The motion is rejected. "You can hate something powerful, yes, and that might be your biggest hate," one Ducks fans opines. "But I hate the smell of garbage. I hate when birds poo on my windshield. The Huskies have become something we step in every year and go, 'Yuck! Look at this smelly mess on the bottom of my shoe. Anyone got a stick so I can scrape it off before I go to another BCS bowl game?'"

No. 2 USC bludgeons Washington 52-19.

"We've played three top five teams and No. 15 Stanford," Sarkisian says. "It hasn't gone the way we wanted but now we get to see who we are the rest of the way. I still have faith in this team."

The Huskies rally to beat Arizona and Oregon State but then fall to California and Utah in consecutive home games. After a win at Colorado, they head to the Apple Cup in Pullman needing a win to become bowl eligible against the 15th-ranked Cougars.

Alas, it's not to be. Too much Mike Leach and Jeff Tuel. The Cougars pass for 410 yards in a 44-28 win. The Huskies finish 5-7.

Washington State beats Texas in the Holiday Bowl and finishes 10-3 and ranked 11th. Oregon beats Alabama for the national championship. Leach and Chip Kelly share Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors.

Headline in the Seattle Times: "Sarkisian on the hotseat with Huskies regressing?"

Leach hires away Huskies assistant and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi, who immediately flips four players committed to Washington.

Sarkisian dials up athletic director Scott Woodward.

"Hey, how's it going? Good," Sarkisian says. "I'm standing out by Hec Ed... Yeah, in the rain. I have a question. Is our renovated stadium supposed to be under water?"

Best case-worst case: California

August, 23, 2012
This is the seventh 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: California

Best case

California dashes onto the field and takes in sold out, renovated Memorial Stadium.

"It's so sparkly," volunteers Cal defensive end Deandre Coleman. "Now Deandre must smash."

Cal rolls Nevada 44-10. Zach Maynard tosses three touchdown passes, and the Bears rush for 260 yards. After a blowout win against Southern Utah, the Bears head to Columbus to take on Ohio State.

All week, the Bears hear about how tough the Horseshoe is on visiting teams, how physical the Buckeyes are and how great a coach Urban Meyer is. On Friday night in a Columbus hotel meeting room, offensive tackle Matt Summers-Gavin stands before his teammates. And begins to talk in an English accent.

"Follow only if ye be men of valour, for the entrance to this stadium is guarded by a creature so foul, so cruel that no man yet has fought with it and lived," he deadpans. "Bones of full fifty men lie strewn about its lair. So, brave Bears, if you do doubt your courage or your strength, come no further, for death awaits you all with nasty, big, pointy teeth."

Says coach Jeff Tedford, "What an eccentric performance!"

Cal waltzes to a 24-10 victory. The defense sacks Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller four times, the Bears front seven dominates the Buckeyes offensive line. Maynard throws a 45-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen, and the Bears grind out 130 of their 190 yards rushing in the second half against a rugged Buckeyes defense.

"It's a great win," Tedford says. "But we can't dwell on it."

Up next: No. 1 USC. The Bears have lost eight consecutive games to USC, and only two of those defeats came by less than a touchdown.

"They've owned us of late," Tedford says. "But that doesn't mean they own us on Saturday."

The California Golden Blogs publishes a detailed, 20,000-word breakdown of each loss to USC, titled "Free field realizations of affine Kac-Moody Algebras applied to the Evil Empire's Domination of all that is right and good."

"Essentially, when you pencil out all the variables, it concludes that the earth should open up and swallow USC," says Cal mathematics professor Edward Frenkel.

Cal leads 17-14 early in the fourth quarter, but USC quarterback Matt Barkley leads the Trojans on an 80-yard touchdown drive. Maynard and company take over with six minutes left at the Bears' 15. Ten plays later, including three Maynard completions on third and long, and the Bears face a fourth and 3 on the Trojans' 12-yard line.

"What does Tedford have in his bag of tricks here with two minutes left?" the announcer says.

Maynard drops back. Tight end Richard Rodgers is wide open in the endzone. But Maynard, under pressure, doesn't see him. He runs up the middle and is stopped six inches short of a first down.

Tedford sighs.

USC takes over. Barkley hands off to Silas Redd who... no, wait. He runs to the wrong side of Barkley, who immediately is sandwiched by Coleman and Aaron Tipoti. The ball comes loose. Chris McCain recovers.

Cal takes over on the Trojans 9-yard line. But on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line, Anderson's leap is stopped by Trojans linebacker Lamar Dawson. Game over.

Tedford sighs.

But wait ... there's a review. Touchdown. Bears win.

The Cal section in the Coliseum is oddly quiet. "It appears everyone in the stadium wearing blue has fainted," the announcer says.

Cal survives an upset bid from Arizona State 24-21. The Bears then beat UCLA in overtime. At 6-0, the Bears jump to fourth in the national polls.

"Man," whispers one Bear to another. "I can't wait to whip Stanford."

Caught looking ahead to the Big Game, Cal falls 44-41 at Washington State.

"Man," whispers one Bear to another. "I can't wait to whip ... wait. We play Stanford on Saturday, right?"

Cal whips Stanford 44-10. The Bears outgain the Cardinal 475 yards to 255. Maynard completes 28 of 30 throws for 305 yards with three touchdowns.

Cal slips Utah 28-24, and buries Washington 40-24. Up next: No. 2 Oregon.

With a 58-yard field goal with no time left on the clock, the Ducks win 45-44.

Cal finishes the regular season with a 48-20 win against Oregon State. The Bears then watch as massive carnage ensues among the nation's top-10. While undefeated Oregon and LSU will meet for the national title, the Bears rise to No. 7.

Kevin Gemmell: I've got two words for you. Rhymes with "Hose Pole."

Ted Miller: Froze mole?

Gemmell: Sigh.

News reporter: We are live from Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley where everyone -- old and young -- is running around naked save for their Rose Bowl T-shirts.

Playing in its first Rose Bowl since the 1958 season, Cal beats Michigan 30-28. It's the Golden Bears' first Rose Bowl win since 1938.

"I'd like to unveil," says athletic director Sandy Barbour. "This statue of Jeff Tedford."

U.S. News & World Report ranks California "the best university... ever!" It further writes, "While Stanford is a good school, people who graduate from Berkeley are infinitely cooler than Stanford graduates."

Worst case

In its first game in newly renovated Memorial Stadium, California opens with a 20-17 win against Nevada, beating the Wolfpack with a last-second field goal. The Bears then don't look impressive while besting Southern Utah 35-20.

"Hey," writes the California Golden Blogs. "Just as Gertrude Stein said, 'A win is a win.'"

The Bears surrender six sacks at Ohio State in a 20-3 loss. They then lose 44-20 at USC.

"Sigh," writes the California Golden Blogs.

Cal bounces back with wins against Arizona State and UCLA. Quarterback Zach Maynard finds his groove, throwing four touchdown passes with no interceptions.

"Man," whispers one Bear to another. "I can't wait to whip Stanford."

Caught looking ahead to the Big Game, Cal falls 44-41 at Washington State.

Then it surrenders four sacks in a 33-17 loss to Stanford in the Big Game.

Maynard, not unlike 2011, remains inconsistent. The offensive line is struggling. The young talent on defense makes major mistakes for every big play. Injuries start to pile up.

After an overtime loss at Utah, a column in the San Francisco Chronicle asks if Tedford can survive a losing season.

The Utah loss seems to deflate the Bears. They suffer back-to-back home blowout defeats to Washington and Oregon. Amid rumors that Tedford will be fired, the Bears show fight at Oregon State, but lose 30-28.

At 4-8 with six consecutive losses to end the season, it's clear Cal will make a change. Athletic director Sandy Barbour announces that "with great regret" she is terminating Tedford.

USC wins the national championship. Stanford wins the Rose Bowl.

Barbour hires Andy Ludwig to replace Tedford.

UCLA eclipses Cal on the U.S. News & World Report university rankings.

"Er," says UC Berkeley professor Jack Moehle, a member of the campus’s Seismic Review Committee. "You know all that stuff we built into the stadium to save it from a potential earthquake? The concrete 'seismic blocks' at the end zones to keep fans from rocking as a quake rolls, the press box that can sway up to 12 inches in a large-scale temblor, and the shock absorbers to prevent the box from crashing into the western seating bowl? None of it works. If there was even a small earth quake, everything would tumble into Hayward Fault. Well, everything other than USC and Stanford."
Says GooooooooooBEARS, "Tedford!"

Best case-worst case: UCLA

August, 22, 2012
This is the sixth 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: UCLA

Best case

Brett Hundley passes for two touchdowns and runs for another as UCLA begins the Jim Mora Era with a 42-17 victory over Rice.

"So, coach, welcome to college football," a snazzy young reporter quips. "Did you think your were playing a cereal grain today or another football team?"

[Reporter then laughs at own joke].

"I have a lot of respect for Rice, great school academically, started playing football in 1919 as a member of the Southwest Conference," Mora says. "Played in four Cotton Bowls, an Orange Bowl and a Sugar Bowl. Beat Tennessee, Colorado, North Carolina and Alabama in those games. Won the 2008 Texas Bowl. Fine program, fine team."

The Bruins are tied with Nebraska 10-10 to start the fourth quarter, but, with two minutes minutes left, Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez gets away for a 32-yard touchdown run.

The Bruins take over on their 20. Two Hundley passes get them to midfield, and a third-and-6 draw play lands them on the Cornhuskers 23 with 45 seconds left. Hundely, under intense pressure, dumps the ball to Johnathan Franklin, who darts to the 9-yard line. On third-and-6 with 15 seconds left, Hundley finds Devin Lucien for the tying TD.

"It looks like Mora wants to go for two and the win instead of the tie and overtime," the announcer says.

Hundley rolls to his right and sees tight end Joseph Fauria scoot loose on the far side. Hundley slings the ball to him.

But his pass is inches high. Nebraska wins 17-16.

"No, I don't want to hear that," Hundley says. "Don't make excuses for me or for this team. Close doesn't count, whether you're a senior or a redshirt freshman. Fauria was open. I missed him. I make that throw, we win. I will not miss that play again. Lesson learned. I'm ready to get back on the field. I want to play again right now."

Kevin Gemmell: Did you notice the Bruins outgained Nebraska 398 yards to 279?

Ted Miller: Math is your specialty. I focus on saying amusing things like, 'Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.'

Gemmell: Yeah, that's riotously amusing. Your round.

The Bruins stomp Houston 38-17, nip Oregon State 24-20 and survive a late rally from Colorado to win 33-30. The Bruins come up with a goal line stand to beat California 24-20, stopping C.J. Anderson on a fourth down play from the 1/2-yard line. Damien Holmes and Cassius Marsh provide the push that ultimately turns back Anderson.

The Bruins, at 5-1, are ranked 16th.

"Have we turned a corner?" Mora says. "I like how hard we're playing. I like our attitude. I like what I hear in the locker room. But you never arrive. You claw forward each play, put it into the past and the claw again. It never ends. Even when you win a championship, part of that experience is thinking about what's next."

Utah shows up to a sold out Rose Bowl, but the Bruins play flat in a 30-24 defeat.

"I'm not going to scream and yell," Mora tells his team after the game. "What I'm certain of is many of you older guys are very familiar with how this feels, losing like this and knowing you didn't leave everything on the field. We weren't the same team today as we were against Nebraska and Cal. See, it's not just that scoreboard. It's about, as a ingrained reflex, knowing that your heart will explode in your chest before you decided to not give everything you have for yourself and the guys next to you."

Franklin stands up, "Coach, I am going to scream and yell. This [expletive] ends today. I've seen this [expletive] for five years. And it ends today."

After a bye week, the Bruins pound homestanding Arizona State 44-17 and then whip Arizona 40-31. But they fall in a blizzard at Washington State 28-27, with Cougars QB Jeff Tuel completing 28 of 30 throws for 335 yards.

"I hate losing but we played hard," Mora says. "Heck, our coverage was good. Tuel just had one of those days where he throws a bunch of perfect passes in places only his receivers can catch the ball. We've got to refocus because next week is what matters now."

Up next: No. 1, unbeaten USC.

Ted Miller: The Trojans are the best team since the 1992 Cowboys.

Kevin Gemmell: I wouldn't go that far...

Miller: I hear Matt Barkley can walk on water only he's too humble to do it. And Lane Kiffin should be knighted. I hear he's been cheated out of authorship of several of Shakespeare's play because of Tennessee fans.

Gemmell: I'm picking UCLA to beat them. Your round.

"Is USC just another game for us?" Mora says. "No."

The Trojans lead the Bruins 17-10 at halftime at the Rose Bowl. The Trojans are forced to punt on their first possession, and Steven Manfro goes 74 yards for a touchdown. On the ensuing possession, Barkely is intercepted by Tevin McDonald, who scampers 33 yards the other way for a score. After another USC punt, Hundley leads the Bruins 84 yards on 16 plays -- eight runs, eight passes -- for another TD.

It's 31-17 entering the fourth quarter.

"But you can never count out Matt Barkley and this offense," the announcer says. "This is the No. 1 team in the country for a reason."

It's 45-17 with three minutes left. Mora clears his bench.

"They're a great team; we respect them," Mora says. "But I think my guys just knew what they wanted to do today and they did it. I was great seeing the fans happy. I know they really wanted this and really enjoyed how things went down. But in that locker room, we're only about UCLA. We're not going to obsess about anyone else. Of course, our next measure is how well we get our minds focused for a tough Stanford team."

The Bruins slip No. 12 Stanford 30-24.

They then beat Texas 28-21 in the Alamo Bowl to finish 10-3 and ranked 11th.

Mora's 30-player recruiting class -- five elite prospects are brought in early to count against the 2012 class -- ranks sixth in the nation. It includes three defections from USC's class, which finished eighth.

"It was great to cherry-pick USC recruiting," Mora says. "So much talent. Glad we had a full allotment of scholarships."

Headline in LA Times, "17 USC players caught in chocolate chip cookie scandal, according to NCAA."

The members of the NCAA's infractions committee include Loki, Bane, the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, the late Bernie Madoff, Cruella de Vil, Darth Vader, Nurse Ratched, Gordon Gekko and Satan.

"Of course, we'll be fair to USC," committee chair Satan says. "Fair, you might not know this, is my middle name."

Worst case

While UCLA got pushed around by Nebraska, a 2-1 start looks encouraging for the Bruins as they head into Pac-12 play.

Of course, looks can be deceiving.

Oregon State whips UCLA 33-20. The Bruins bounce back with a 28-24 win at Colorado, but they then lose three in a row to California, Utah and Arizona State.

While quarterback Brett Hundley flashes promise, he makes the sort of mistakes that are not uncommon for a redshirt freshman. He forces throws. He holds the ball too long. He thinks he needs to scrap for every extra yard on scrambles.

Meanwhile, the Bruins defense clearly misses injured inside linebacker Patrick Larimore. The Bruins still can't stop the run and they give up too many big plays.

"We can't stop the run and give up too many big plays," Mora says.

UCLA picks up a third win over Arizona but gives up 420 passing yards in a loss at Washington State.

Up next: No. 1, unbeaten USC.

Headline in LA Times: "Kiffin wins $100 million lottery, gives it all to Habitat for Humanity."

"I don't want to talk about that," Kiffin says. "I'll talk about this football game."

"He might not want to talk about it, but I will," says Paul Leonard, CEO of Habitat for Humanity. "As far as I'm concerned, Lane Kiffin is a saint."

USC beats UCLA 51-0, with Barkley and the other starters sitting out the entire fourth quarter.

Barkley wins the Heisman Trophy in a landslide. His acceptance speech focuses on the rewards of community service.

The Trojans beat LSU 45-10 to finish undefeated and win the national title.

Ted Miller: Best college team of all-time after beating 14 teams by at least two touchdowns?

Kevin Gemmell: Yes.

USC signs nation's No. 1 recruiting class. UCLA finishes sixth in the Pac-12.

Patrick Soon-Shiong announces that he will completely finance a renovation of LA Coliseum.

"I know I've long been affiliated with UCLA," Soon-Shiong says. "But I've always secretly loved USC. And I want to make the Coliseum not just the college football's best stadium, I want it to be the best stadium in the entire freaking world."
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!


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

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireIn 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.

Best case-worst case: Oregon State

August, 17, 2012
This is the 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).

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

Up next: Oregon State

Best case

Oregon State makes sure there will be no FCS surprise this go-around, rolling up a 35-0 lead on Nicholls State before halftime and coasting home.

"I didn't have to remind them what happened last year," coach Mike Riley says. "And I don't have to remind them what happened last year against Wisconsin."

The Badgers take the opening kickoff 80 yards in 10 plays to go up 7-0.

"Gemuetlichkeit!" a Wisconsin fan says. "We beat these guys up pretty good last year and look to do it again, don'tcha know."

"Ohh, yaaa...yoo betcha," a second Wisconsin fan says. "I need a beer and a brat, but first I'm going to find me a bubbler. Why don't 'ya come with?"

While the Wisconsin fans are gone, Jordan Poyer returns the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a score.

"Cripes sakes! What happened?" Wisconsin fan No. 1 says. "These guys might be fair-to-middlin'."

Scott Crichton sacks Badgers QB Danny O'Brien, who fumbles. D.J. Welch picks up the ball and runs 35 yards for a TD.

"Oh, no," says Wisconsin fan No. 1.

"Yah, heard dat," says Wisconsin fan No. 2.

Beavers upset the 12th-ranked Badgers 33-30, forcing four turnovers.

"I think we did a good job against Montee Ball, holding him to 4 yards a carry," Riley says. "I really like how we had nearly as many rushing yards as them. Running the ball and stopping the run have been issues for the Beavers the past two years."

After a bye, the Beavers play flat at UCLA and lose 28-24. They bounce back with a 40-30 win at Arizona, nip Washington State in overtime and Sean Mannion throws four TD passes in a victory road over BYU.

The Beavers, at 5-1, are ranked 24th.

Post on "You know how we were all saying that Mike Riley's 'aw shucks' thing was getting old and were ripping his coordinators? It's possible we were wrong."

The Beavers slip Utah at home 28-24, but then they lose sloppy at Washington, a late unsportsmanlike conduct penalty keeping the Huskies game-winning drive alive.

A stern-faced Riley enters the locker room.

"Jimminy Christmas, guys, is that our best? Is that who we are?" he says. "You know, a lot of coaches would come in here and yell and scream and curse. That's not me. I'm not going to fake that hard-case routine. You are young men and I will treat you with respect. But let me say this. Those of you who can even imagine playing like that again, you can get the hell out of here. Take Sunday to think about what you want from the season. We're in full pads Monday."

After a spirited week of practice, the Beavers drub Arizona State 44-20. Wheaton catches two TD passes from Mannion, and Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew both eclipse 100 yards rushing. They lose in triple-overtime at Stanford but bounce back to beat California 30-21.

Up next: The Civil War. Unbeaten, second-ranked Oregon is coming to Corvallis.

Team meeting on Monday. Mannion stands up.

"Coach, we had an informal players meeting and talked about what it would mean for us to beat Oregon. Only the fifth-year seniors even know what that's like. I know what it would mean for all of us and our fans, but we also know what it would mean to you. I know you've taken a lot of heat from the outside. But we love you. You're the reason we're here. You built this program, transformed a loser to a winner and did it with class. So we thought it might be nice to come up with a thought of the week. Something you'd approve of. Markus, will you lower the curtain."

A lowered curtain reveals a sign with 10-foot tall lettering: "Fudge Oregon!" it reads. Laughter erupts from the coaches and players.

That phrase is repeated a thousand times the following week. It keeps things loose and focused. The Ducks spend the week calling Oregon State a nameless, faceless opponent, and the Beavers spend the week lavishly praising Oregon -- all the while requiring each player to use the word "fudge" at some point in the interview.

"Fudge, what was I going to say!" Poyer says. "Yeah, Chip Kelly is a great coach and a great guy. May want to cut back on the fudge, though." Poyer gets extra points for the double-use.

Riley gathers the Beavers in the pregame locker room.

"Play hard, play fast, have fun. Believe in yourselves," he says. "We've prepared as well as any team ever has. Enjoy this. Those guys have no idea what's about to happen."

Oregon State takes over on its 20 with 1:10 remaining, down 35-32. On third and 10, the Beavers run a double-reverse pass and Wheaton finds Brandin Cooks on the Ducks 40. Mannion scrambles out of bounds at the Oregon 29 with five seconds left.

Trevor Romaine lines up for the 46-yard field goal. Kelly uses all three time outs to ice him. The snap. The kick.

No... the holder flips the ball to Romaine, who rolls to his right. It's a fake. And Wheaton is running alone toward the end zone. Romaine lofts a pass that his grandmother will later tease him about.

At the last minute Ducks safety John Boyett tips the ball away.

And into the hands of Cooks. Touchdown. Beavers win. The crowd erupts. And begins to chant.

"I think they're chanting, 'Fudge the Ducks,'" Oregon State color man Jim Wilson volunteers. "That's a new one. I will consult with the Pac-12 blog on what that means."

The Ducks get drubbed 45-7 by USC in the Pac-12 title game.

The Beavers beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl and finished 10-3 and ranked 11th. Oregon is bombed by TCU in the Alamo Bowl, finishes 10-3 and ranked 15th.

On Jan. 15, the NCAA docks Oregon 15 scholarships and gives it a one-year postseason ban.

Kelly is hired by the Dallas Cowboys.

Thomas Tyner and Evan Voeller switch their commitments to Oregon State.

"Does Oregon State have any interest in becoming an Under Armor school?" company founder Kevin Plank asks Beavers AD Bob De Carolis.

"We're happy with Nike," De Carolis says.

"What if we build you the Taj Mahal and call it a football office?" Plank replies.

"Hmm," De Carolis replies. "I'm starting to like you."

Worst case

Oregon State avoids another FCS humiliation against Nicholls State, but it's not so lucky with Wisconsin, which again takes the Beavers to the woodshed.

Three interceptions from Sean Mannion in a loss at UCLA gives coach Mike Riley a QB controversy. He sticks with Mannion, who leads the Beavers to a win at Arizona. But then things get ugly.

A couple of injuries on both sides of the ball expose a lack of depth. Oregon State -- again -- can't run the ball and can't stop the run. The losses pile up: Washington State, BYU, Utah and Washington. At 1-6, an editorial in the Corvallis Gazzette-Times says Riley needs to finish strong to keep his job.

The Beavers rally for a win over Arizona State, but get pushed around by Stanford and then California.

Riley announces that he will resign after the season.

"We've done some great things here," Riley says. "We've proven the Beavers can win. I will always be a Beaver. But it's probably time for some new blood to come in and take the program to the next level."

In the Civil War against unbeaten, top-ranked Oregon, Chip Kelly takes his starters out midway through the third quarter in an effort to not run up the score. The Ducks win 40-3, and all the news reports afterwards praise Kelly's class.

"It's about time someone considered whether Chip Kelly deserves the Nobel Peace Prize," writes the Pac-12 blog.

Oregon goes on to beat USC for a second time in the Pac-12 championship game. The Ducks then win the national championship, whipping Alabama 38-17.

Kelly signs a lifetime contract after the NCAA announces the whole Willie Lyles investigation was "just a big misunderstanding." Nike boss Phil Knight finds $100 million in his sofa. He gives it all to Oregon, which then provides spaceships for its players to fly around campus, a move given the NCAA's stamp of approval because it feels bad about asking Kelly so many questions "and taking up his valuable time."

Joss Whedon announces he will make a film about Oregon football and how cool it is. "It will be like 'The Avengers,'" he says. "Only more of a blockbuster. And cooler."

George Clooney gets the role of Chip Kelly.

"I'd like to introduce the coach who can make Oregon State the best football program in the state," De Carolis says. "Ladies and gentlemen... John Mackovic."

Best case-worst case: Arizona

August, 15, 2012
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

Best case

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.

Worst case

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.

Best case-worst case: Arizona State

August, 14, 2012
This is the 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: Arizona State

Best case

While a 40-7 win over Northern Arizona wasn't terribly revealing, it became clear in la ast-second victory over Illinois what new Arizona State coach Todd Graham saw during preseason practices when he lauded quarterback Taylor Kelly's scrappiness.

The homestanding Sun Devils lined up fourth-and-goal on Illinois' 7-yard line with 10 seconds left and the Illini leading by four. Kelly took a quick drop but was immediately surrounded by orange helmets. He rolled to his right, reversed field around the pursuit, back-peddled and then, just after delivering a punishing stiff-arm to Illini end Michael Buchanan, he lobbed a ball across his body to the far corner of the end zone.

Where J.J. Holliday outleaped two defenders for the game-winning touchdown.

"Exactly how we drew it up," Graham quips after the game. "No, that's just a guy making a play on his own. That's what we saw this preseason and, more important, that's also what his teammates saw."

Also important: The Sun Devils have just one turnover and four penalties for 30 yards. None are personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conducts.

"That's still too many mistakes," Graham says.

The Sun Devils produce another thriller at Missouri, which was held to just 45 points in a SEC-debut win over Georgia. With the Sun Devils up 28-24 late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers face a second-and-goal on the Arizona State 1-yard line. Quarterback James Franklin tries to sneak it in, but he's met inches from the goal line by linebacker Brandon Magee, whose blow knocks the ball loose.

Mike Pennel, the 340-pound defensive tackle, nimbly scoops up the ball at the 10-yard line, and then takes an amusing minute and a half to rumble the other way for a touchdown -- Tigers bouncing off his rotund 6-foot-5 frame all the way down the field.

It's the ESPN Play of the Day, provided musical accompaniment by Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk."

The end result is a No. 20 ranking with No. 18 Utah coming to town.

"It's a battle of unbeatens in Tempe, the winner perhaps looking like the top contender against USC in the South Division," says Chris Fowler of ESPN's "College GameDay."

"And with Missouri stomping South Carolina earlier today, you might call the winner the early favorite in the SEC East," adds Kirk Herbstreit.

It proves to be a Cameron Marshall-John White IV battle, as both running backs eclipse 150 yards and score twice. The difference, however, proves to be Marshall turning a screen from Kelly into a 44-yard TD. Junior Onyeali's fifth sack of the season snuffs a late Utes drive and seals the 30-24 victory.

The Sun Devils are flagged just once for five yards.

"Still too much," Graham says.

It's not easy, however, for a program to cure all its bugaboos in a single season. The Sun Devils just don't win in the state of California very often and that holds true during a 20-17 loss to Cal in Berkeley.

The Sun Devils bounce back with a 42-17 victory over Colorado and, at 5-1, move up to No. 19 in the nation, but they get drubbed 44-19 by No. 3 Oregon the following weekend.

"This is about where we lost it last year," Marshall says. "We fell apart like we were Snooki taking the SAT."

A date with UCLA certainly doesn't bring back good memories. This is a different team, with different leadership, though. Alex Garoutte kicks field goals of 38, 48 and, with five seconds left on the clock, the winning 56-yarder in a 30-28 victory over the Bruins. That winning drive included the Sun Devils converting on a third-and-29 play.

The Sun Devils slip Oregon State 31-27, but get rocked 45-21 at No. 1 USC. A 44-40 win over Washington State pushes them to 8-3 and back into the top 25.

And so it's off to Tucson to try to take back the Territorial Cup from Arizona. The Wildcats need a victory to become bowl-eligible. An Arizona State win sends the Sun Devils to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. A loss means El Paso, Texas, and the Sun Bowl.

Magee gathers his teammates.

"We've had a lot of bad times in this program since I've been here," he says. "But I wouldn't trade them for anything because that's how I got here tonight -- this moment -- with you guys. This is the best place to be in the world, right here in this locker room before we open a can of whup-butt. We are the beginning. We are the foundation. And for that, we will always be remembered. When Arizona State wins a Rose Bowl, wins a national championship, we will all celebrate together as Sun Devils. And then everyone that wears our colors will raise their hands and point at us and say, 'But it started with you guys.'

"Now let's go bust those guys to pieces."

Arizona State rolls 38-20 and earns a berth in the Holiday Bowl opposite Texas. A 41-28 victory over the Longhorns earns the Sun Devils a 10-3 finish and final No. 14 ranking.

The Sun Devils lead the nation in fewest penalties per game.

Pittsburgh finishes 3-9, with players taking to Twitter saying how much they miss Coach Graham.

"I've got great news," says Steve Patterson, ASU vice president for athletics. "Now that the economy is rallying and local housing prices are soaring, we are pleased to announced a $200 million anonymous donation that will help finance a $300 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium."

It turns out that ASU alumni Nick Nolte, Jimmy Kimmel and David Spade pooled their money and gave the school the $200 million.

Says Spade, "Hey, 'Joe Dirt' was huge in France."

Worst case

It takes more than optimism and saying all the right things to transform a program. It doesn't take long for Graham to find out that talking about unity and discipline is one thing. Imposing it in the Arizona State locker room is another.

After whipping Northern Arizona in the opener, things go down hill quickly. Illinois sacks quarterback Taylor Kelly six times in a 28-10 defeat. Missouri QB James Franklin accounts for five touchdowns in a 40-17 loss, with Michael Eubank replacing Kelly in the second half but failing to rally the Sun Devils.

Eubank gets the start against Utah, but the Sun Devils turn the ball over three times in the first half and gain just 97 yards against a physical Utes defense. Kelly starts the second half but things don't get any better. Players are seen mouthing, "Put Mike Bercovici in!" on the sidelines.

After a blowout loss at California, the Sun Devils are averaging 105 yards in penalties per game.

Bercovici leads the Sun Devils to a 35-30 victory at Colorado, but he gets into a brief skirmish with Graham after he tells the punt unit to get off the field before a fourth-down play from the Buffs' 44-yard line.

It appears the Sun Devils completely surrender in a 52-3 loss to Oregon.

"This obviously isn't going to get fixed overnight," Graham says amid rumors of a post-game locker-room fight between offensive and defensive players. "It takes time to change a program's culture."

Just 24,000 fans show up to watch the Sun Devils fall to 2-6 against UCLA. The season further spirals down the toilet after a loss at Oregon State, a 56-6 evisceration at USC and a 42-21 home defeat to Washington State.

"I know this team will show up with some fight at Arizona," Graham says. "We always fight against the Wildcats."

Arizona whips the Sun Devils 44-24 and advances to the Holiday Bowl, where the Wildcats beat Texas and finish the season 9-4 and ranked 25th.

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," Ronstadt explains. "Bear down!"

Pittsburgh wins the Orange Bowl.

Graham texts his players at 4 a.m. on Dec. 25 that he's leaving for the head coaching job at McNeese State.

"It's always been my dream to coach the Honey Badger," he types.

Tyrone Willingham hired to replace Graham.

Best case-worst case: Colorado

August, 13, 2012
The nuttiness that is "Best case-worst case" is back.

This is the first 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 first: Colorado

Best case

Colorado coach Jon Embree gathers his players in a meeting room in the team hotel. It's Friday night. Tomorrow the Buffaloes open their season against Colorado State.

"Since last season ended, all you guys have heard and read is how bad you're going to be this season," Embree says. "Everybody thinks you'll finish last in the Pac-12. Tomorrow will be your first chance to answer back.

"Does anyone have something to say... Jon? I think you should go because your parents also forgot the 'h' in your name, just like mine, thereby connecting us for life."

Buffaloes linebacker Jon Major stands. He takes a deep breath.

"I am a swine flu survivor. I am a Pokemon trainer. I am Kung Fu white belt and a gardener extraordinaire. I am sweater enthusiast. And I'm not afraid to say that I cry every time I hear 'Someone like you' by Adele," he says. "And there is no freaking way we finish last in the Pac-12 and don't go to a bowl game this year.

"Shoulder to shoulder, baby, every single play."

Colorado wallops the Rams 42-28, with Jordan Webb throwing two touchdown pass and rushing for another.

The Buffs whip Sacramento State 44-10 and then win their second consecutive true road game outside the state with a gritty 28-24 win at Fresno State.

"Good teams have to win on the road," defensive tackle Will Pericak tells reporters. "We lost 24 games in a row on the road because we weren't a good team. We're different now."

The reporter asks a follow-up question: "Have you ever considered changing your last name to "Precheck" so folks would pronounce it correctly?"

"No," Pericak responds with a withering stare. We know it is a withering stare because the reporter actually withers.

The Buffaloes newfound stoutness on the road faces a tough test at newly energized Washington State. Both teams are 3-0.

From the Pac-12 blog: "You can't be much better than 3-0 after three games, but one of these long languishing teams will be just two wins from bowl eligibility by Saturday night." [Pac-12 blog wins Pulitzer the next day.]

The Cougars jump to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and it's 21-10 at halftime. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy strides across the halftime locker room and addresses his offensive line. "We're going to give it to Tony Jones. Every darn play."

Jones rushes for 160 of his 210 yards in the second half as the Buffs prevail 38-35. The key play is freshman cornerback Yuri Wright returning an interception 54 yards for a touchdown on the Cougs first possession of the third quarter.

"No," Wright says. "I'm not going to tweet about it."

Colorado suffers its first defeat at home the next weekend to UCLA, with Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley throwing three TD passes. The Buffs, after a bye week, regain their focus with a hard-fought 35-30 win over Arizona State. Linebacker Doug Rippy grabs a late interception to seal the win.

"I don't think anyone in that locker room isn't aware we are one win away from bowl eligibility," Rippy says. "But this team can't afford to think any further ahead than to practice on Monday."

The schedule, however, catches up to the Buffs. They lose 45-17 at No. 1 USC and 44-16 to No. 3 Oregon. They push Stanford to the brink before falling 31-28.

"No, I don't think the locker room is down," safety Ray Polk says. "We're 5-4 with three games to play. There is a lot to play for. There is no freaking way I'm not going to a bowl game my senior year."

The Buffs pick up their third road victory of the season with a 40-35 win at Arizona, and they shock Washington 30-28 when Major returns a fumble from Huskies quarterback Keith Price 44 yards for a late fourth-quarter touchdown.

Up next is the Buffaloes most bitter rival... Utah. On Monday, offensive tackle David Bakhtiari walks across the hushed locker room with a cherished piece of Buffs memorabilia: The vandalized bike of Embree's daughter.

Bakhtiari turns, "We will never, ever, forget the beautiful black and golden bike that was made red by our enemies to the West!"

Colorado beats the No. 19 Utes 28-20 and earns a berth in the Holiday Bowl.

The Buffaloes beat Texas 13-10, their fans serenading the Longhorns with chants of "Pac-12!" After the game, Major blasts "Someone like you." And everybody does, in fact, cry.

The Buffs finish ranked 24th. Just ahead of No. 25 Nebraska.

The snow comes early and often and is most righteous.

Worst case

Jon Embree tells reporters that he's not afraid to use two quarterbacks, but neither Jordan Webb nor Connor Wood is terribly impressive against Colorado State and Sacramento State. Nonetheless, at 2-0 with the youngest team in the Pac-12, Colorado fans remain cautiously optimistic.

"Of course, we've got to learn to win consistently on the road to take the next step as a program," coach Jon Embree warns.

That doesn't happen. Colorado falls at Fresno State and Washington State, and the 2011 finale at Utah that ended a 24-game losing streak outside of the Buffs home state seems like it never happened. Further, it's hard to win with six true freshmen seeing regular action on defense.

UCLA bullies the Buffs 31-17, and Arizona State just has too much team speed on both sides of the ball in a 35-21 win. Those two losses, however, only preview the physical mismatches at USC and Oregon and when Stanford comes to town. The Buffs are outscored 137-10, giving up over 500 yards to each.

Without receiver Paul Richardson -- rumors of his return throughout the season start to feel like Bigfoot sightings -- the offense doesn't have a threat that taxes a defense. Webb and Wood and then Nick Hirschman each get opportunities at QB, but none of the three provides any consistency. All three struggle with accuracy and interceptions. But the defense is the biggest issue. While the linebackers are strong, the defensive front is physically outmatched, and the secondary is young and lacks depth. A couple of key injuries make things even messier.

Colorado steals at win at equally beleaguered Arizona, but gets pushed around at home by Washington and revenge-minded Utah, which earns a berth in the Holiday Bowl with a win in Boulder.

A second-consecutive three-win season has Colorado fans grumbling.

"They should grumble," Embree says. "I'm grumbling. Even in my sleep. We have to get this solved."

Nebraska beats Oklahoma for the national championship. Texas, using the argument, "Hey, we're Texas!" talks its way into the Rose Bowl, where it beats USC.

Larry Scott leaves the Pac-12 for the Big 12 and, after two days on the job, announces a mega-TV deal worth zillions. And with satellite carriers.

It rains all winter.



Wednesday, 12/24
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12