Pac-12: Chris Fowler
Oregon, ranked eighth in last week's BCS standings, is 8-1 and has won 18 conference games in a row. The Ducks lone loss came in the opener against No. 1 LSU. Stanford, ranked fourth in last week's BCS standings, is 9-0 has won 17 in a row, the nation's longest winning streak.
Yes, it's big.
This will be the fourth time this season Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and Erin Andrews have been at a Pac-12 game. "GameDay" was at the season opener between Oregon and LSU, at Oregon for the Ducks' matchup with Arizona State and at USC for the Trojans game with Stanford.
This will be the third time this season Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Desmond Howard and Erin Andrews have been at a Pac-12 game. "GameDay" was at the season opener between Oregon and LSU, and it was at Oregon for the Ducks' matchup with Arizona State.
This will be "GameDay's" first trip to LA since Oct. 30 of last year (Oregon at USC).
This will be GameDay's sixth trip to Oregon. The Ducks are 4-1 in the five previous games.
The game kicks off at 10:15 p.m. ET.
Oregon was ranked ninth before it beat California 43-15 on Thursday. Arizona State was 22nd before beating Utah 35-14.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.
We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).
Up next: Oregon State
Even the Wisconsin fans couldn't help but notice the crescendo building from the orange and black pie slice in the visitor's section at Camp Randall Stadium.
"Cripes sakes!" says a Wisconsin fan. "What's all that racket?"
"It's for the little guy, don'tcha know," says another. "'That one in the No. 1 jersey. Pass me a brat!"
James Rodgers takes the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
"By golly, I tells ya, sure as God made little green apples, he's a fast one!" says the first.
"Ohh, yaaa...Yoo Betcha!" replies the second.
Wisconsin scores a late touchdown and holds on for a 30-28 victory, but the Beavers matching up well physically with the Big Ten favorites bodes well for the season.
"This bodes well for the season," coach Mike Riley says. "You never like losing, but what I saw today made me optimistic after a tough go with injuries in preseason camp."
Rodgers didn't play in the opening win over Sacramento State and his entry was a bit of a surprise.
"That, yeah, well, James thought it would be fun not to tell any of y'all about that," Riley said. "Our little surprise for the Beaver Nation."
Rodgers catches two touchdown passes in a 28-17 win over UCLA.
The Beavers drop a 28-24 decision at Arizona State to fall to 2-2, which is good news: The only time two early losses didn't auger a good season since 2006 was last fall, and that was due to Rodgers knee injury.
"I know it's a great story, but is he a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate?" ESPN College GameDay's Chris Fowler asks. "Eight touchdowns in four games. Rodgers is well on his way to 1,000 yards receiving and 500 yards rushing. And he leads the nation in kickoff returns."
"I hear you, but his team needs to win," replies Kirk Herbstreit.
The Beavers win their next four, besting Arizona, BYU, Washington State and, in overtime, Utah.
"Stanford might be looking ahead to its matchup with Oregon," Fowler says.
Nope. The unbeaten Cardinal rolls 35-21.
Oregon State wins at California and nips Washington. The Beavers, at 8-3, are ranked 17th when they head to Oregon for another high stakes Civil War. The unbeaten Ducks are No. 1 in the nation, with many pundits already salivating over a matchup of the Alabama defense and the Oregon offense.
Rodgers stands up in the locker room. The din of Autzen Stadium can be heard -- felt -- through the walls. "I'm from Texas. I had to learn to dislike Oregon. My freshman year, I scored the game-winning touchdown on a 25-yard fly sweep in this damn stadium in double overtime. I never thought that would be my only victory over them. I know this is only a football game. And know what? I like a lot of guys in that other locker room. LaMichael James is a good dude. We go bowling together. I kick his butt in bowling [laughter]. But [Rodgers voice rises] I am sick of Oregon. Everything about them. Everybody is sick of Oregon. But we will all -- everyone in this room, my brothers! -- will continue to be sick, to suffer, to have something inside us, biting at us, until we go out there and shut. Them. Up. Until we go out there and beat their butts.
"Know what? @%$@! Oregon!"
As his teammates mob Rodgers moments after he hauled in the game-winning 2-point conversion in triple-overtime, they chant together, "@%$@! Oregon!"
"Well, at least we're still going to the Rose Bowl!" angry Ducks fans shout as the ebullient Beavers head back to their locker room.
Utah beats Oregon 45-42 in the first Pac-12 championship game. The Utes, in their first year in the conference, go to the Rose Bowl. Oregon settles for the Alamo Bowl, where it loses to Oklahoma State.
Oregon State beats Texas A&M 24-17 in the Holiday Bowl and finishes 10-3 and ranked 12th. Oregon finishes 17th.
Chip Kelly becomes Georgia's new head coach.
On July 20, the NCAA docks Oregon 15 scholarships and gives it a one-year postseason ban.
Though it was using vanilla schemes, the performance against Sacramento State suggests Oregon State has issues. A 45-17 loss at Wisconsin makes it abundantly clear the Beavers do.
The Beavers, not deep to begin with, are missing too many key starters, most notably receiver James Rodgers, H-back Joe Halahuni, cornerback Brandon Hardin, linebacker Cameron Collins and defensive tackle Kevin Frahm.
"I'm hoping we get some guys back," coach Mike Riley says. "James is still a ways away, though."
Frahm and Collins return and the Beavers beat UCLA. Halahuni comes back for the Arizona State game, but the Beavers are overwhelmed 35-20. Arizona takes revenge for a 2010 defeat with an overtime victory in Reser Stadium.
Rodgers returns against BYU. He catches six passes for 80 yards and a TD, and the Beavers win 28-24. But he's clearly not his old self.
Oregon State, highly motivated after losing at home to Washington State in 2010, improves to 4-3 with a win over the Cougars. But all the news isn't good.
"We're shutting James down," Riley says. "He's got an NFL future, and we need to protect that. His knee needs to be cleaned up, and if they do it now he'll be 100 percent before the NFL combine."
Bowl hopes end after four consecutive defeats. The Beavers limp into Eugene to face unbeaten and top-ranked Oregon.
"Chip, a lot of folks are saying this is the best team of all time," Chris Fowler says from the GameDay set in front of Autzen Stadium. "What do you think?"
"Maybe," Kelly replies.
"What are your feelings on the NCAA clearing you and the program of all wrong-doing in the Willie Lyles investigation?" Fowler asks.
"Who?" Kelly replies. "Oh, you mean, Will. My feelings are ... good."
Oregon whips the Beavers 55-10.
The Ducks roll Alabama 48-17 in the BCS national title game.
"That," says Alabama coach Nick Saban afterward, "is the best football team I've ever seen. And that include my tenure with the Miami Dolphins."
Oregon announces it's expanding Autzen Stadium to 100,000 seats and that Nike has figured out a way to get the work done in advance of the 2012 season.
The Ducks sign the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. Kelly signs a lifetime contract. Oregonian columnist John Canzano requests that he be put on the Oregon State beat. His request is granted.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly and ESPN's Chris Fowler sat down Thursday at the home office in Bristol, Conn., and chatted.
It started like this.
Fowler: We cannot ignore the elephant on the lawn out here.
Kelly: I don't see an elephant.
Fowler does a good job of drawing out a little bit more from Kelly on the Willie Lyles-NCAA inquiry. Specifically, he asks Kelly if his conscience is clear. Kelly quickly replied: "My conscience is clear."
Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard has a nice summary of the interview here, and he does a good job of describing what might be the best moment of the interview:
The host then presented to Kelly a hypothetical: What if he were recruiting a player who signed elsewhere, and Kelly discovered that school had a financial arrangement with someone close to the player?
Kelly usually brushes aside hypotheticals, but perhaps the combination of being on camera and in the presence of a trusted personality led him to entertain this one.
"What would I think?" Kelly said. "I would think that that's not the right thing to do. ...
"I understand why everybody looks at the situation," he continued. "But until you get all the facts -- I've always been a person (that) no matter what the situation is, let me get all the facts first before I make a decision on how I'm going to react or what I'm going to do."
Kelly then acknowledged that "I think everybody's going to change their philosophy" about the use of scouting services in recruiting based on this situation.
It's a good interview beyond the Lyles stuff. Kelly talks about suspended cornerback Cliff Harris, the loss to Auburn in the national championship game and the Sept. 3 matchup with LSU.
So it might be worthwhile to revisit each.
Next up is Washington, which finished 7-6 and beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
Best case: 10-3, final No. 9 ranking after beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
What was right: Not much, and the Jake Locker skeptics surely will want to crow. The Huskies did beat Syracuse, Oregon State and win their final three games. They did lose to Arizona and Stanford. They did win their bowl game over a Big 12 team. And Husky Stadium is being renovated.
What was wrong: Of the Huskies' first five games, only one -- Syracuse -- was projected correctly. The biggest miss, of course, was Locker's "tour de force performance" against Nebraska that inspired ESPN's Chris Fowler to say, "Guess the Locker skeptics will hush now." Er, no. There was no win at Oregon, no Heisman Trophy for Locker nor a final national ranking. And, no, Bill Gates didn't volunteer to fund a Husky Stadium renovation, which has been considerably scaled back from ambitious original models.
Worst case: 3-9.
What was right: Not a lot. An injury to Locker -- ribs -- did hamper him and cause him to miss one game, the blowout loss at Oregon. The Huskies did lose to BYU, Nebraska, Arizona, Stanford and the Ducks. They did beat Syracuse.
What was wrong: For one, the scenario is missing a game: UCLA, which was apparently projected as a win. So score one for stupid. The entire tone is off, considering the projection hangs on the Huskies being a one-man team, relying entirely on Locker. The key to the Huskies' turnaround in 2010 was becoming more than Locker. Losses to USC, Oregon State, California and Washington State were wrong. A win over Arizona State was wrong. The Huskies ended up winning a bowl game, which capped a four-game winning streak to end the season.
Conclusion: Is it just me or are both these scenarios just flat wrong? No, it's not just me. It's fair to say that the Huskies' moderately successful season -- first bowl game since 2002; first bowl win since 2000 -- played out in a way that surprised many, including me. The reality fell somewhere in the middle, and in an unanticipated way.
"Still," the glum head shakes from the Beavers said afterwards. They had the ball and a chance with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter, but they made their biggest error of the evening. A miscommunication on a shotgun snap from senior center Alex Linnenkohl to sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz, who was making his first career start, sailed over a surprised Katz's shoulder, which forced Katz to kick the ball through the end zone for a safety.
Those would be the final points -- and the last time the Beavers touched the ball -- in a 30-21 defeat.
What happened was this: Oregon State, down seven, had a first down on its 18-yard line. A draw play was called. Katz saw something he didn't like. He tried to change the play. Linnenkohl didn't get the message and snapped the ball.
The Horned Frogs got two points and the ball and they didn't give it back.
"The safety was a big deal," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "You go up by nine and you play the game a lot different."
The biggest deal was TCU's running game and the Beavers lack of one. While Jacquizz Rodgers gained a tough 75 yards on 18 carries, the Beavers finished with just 73 yards on the ground. Three TCU runners gained at least 64 yards, topped by Ed Wesley with 134 on just 17 carries, which works out to a crisp 7.9 per rush.
Suffice it to say, the Horned Frogs option worked even though the Beavers knew it was coming.
"We just couldn't get off a block to make a play," Riley said.
Oregon State was still in the game in the fourth because of two interceptions of TCU quarterback Andy Dalton -- one by Lance Mitchell and the other by Dwight Roberson -- and a well-executed fake punt that netted 23 yards on a fourth-and-1. The fake punt set up the second of Katz's two touchdown passes, which gave the Beavers a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
Katz made some nice throws -- his TDs covered 30 and 34 yards -- but he only completed 9 of 25 passes for 159 yards. Nonetheless, it was a solid first start on the road. He didn't throw an interception and was mistake-free until the muddled shotgun snap.
The only plus coming from that play was Katz taking responsibility for the miscue, just like a veteran quarterback would.
"We should have just stayed with the [called] play," he said. "That's on me."
Riley agreed, by the way: "He didn't have to get out of it."
As for TCU, it got another win over a BCS conference foe. In the constant fight for respect, this was another notch on the musket. Seeing that the Horned Frogs are 14-3 in their past 17 games against teams from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences, they might need another musket.
"The national spotlight and national attention I think will pick up," Dalton said. "I think a lot of people will watch the game tonight and see how we play football."
One thing is for sure: TCU still enjoys seeing itself as an underdog. It didn't escape detection that ESPN GameDay analyst Lee Corso picked the Frogs to go down by "three touchdowns."
"I did text [Corso]," Patterson said. "You guys thought that was a bogus text. That was me. I asked Chris Fowler, 'Lee: Three touchdowns?'"
Big week for the Mountain West Conference, too. Utah beat Pittsburgh, the Big East favorite, on Thursday, and BYU's win over Washington -- along with Oregon's 72-0 win over New Mexico -- gave the conference a 2-1 Saturday vs. the Pac-10. Why is the conference in turmoil when it's so darn good?
Perhaps the most disappointed Beavers were the Rodgers brothers, who were playing their first -- and likely only -- game together in the state of Texas. Both turned in solid performances -- James Rodgers caught four passes for 75 yards and a TD -- but both only saw what they didn't do.
"We left a lot of plays out there," James Rodgers said.
For both programs, this big stage was an opportunity. Both are nationally respected -- see national rankings -- but both want to take the next step. TCU knows only perfection will get it into the national championship conversation -- or even BCS bowl contention -- while the Beavers want to climb toward the top-10 while they make a run at their first Rose Bowl since 1965.
For TCU, mission accomplished. For Oregon State, it's another nonconference loss to start the season, which fits into a pattern: The Beavers started 2-3 in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and 2-2 in 2009.
Of course, if any team knows that an early loss doesn't end the season, it's the Beavers.
"It's very frustrating, but we can't let that get to us," James Rodgers said. "We've got 11 more games."
That's 11 more games, including a date with Boise State on Sept. 25, in which to make a statement.
But on this night, TCU made the statement: Count us in the mix in the national championship chase.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.
Up next: Oregon
"Nate Costa is our quarterback," Oregon coach Chip Kelly tells reporters on Aug. 23." "But Darron Thomas is going to play, too."
A reporter asks, "Are you concerned that..."
"No," says Kelly.
"I mean to say, might it become an issue that..."
"No," says Kelly.
Both Costa and Thomas play and play well in a 50-13 win over New Mexico. With LaMichael James on the sidelines serving a one-game suspension, Kenjon Barner rushes for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
"Truth is, when our offense is rolling like that, getting a break isn't such a bad thing," Costa says.
James returns to score two touchdowns and run for 133 yards in a 35-17 win at Tennessee.
"I know from my 'How to talk like an SEC coach' class that we're supposed to act like no body plays good football outside the SEC," new Volunteers coach Derek Dooley says. "But, man, that is a really fast team. They could play with anybody in our league."
Three men in seersucker suits and panama hats seemingly appear from nowhere behind Dooley. They grab him by the shoulder and whisper in his ear.
"Er, just kidding," Dooley says. "Just ignore the Pac-10's consistent success against the SEC. Nothing to see there."
The Ducks whip Portland State and survive a sloppy performance against a rugged Arizona State defense. Stanford's Andrew Luck throws three TD passes at Oregon, but Thomas leads a nifty 80-yard drive for the winning score late in the fourth. The Ducks, now ranked fourth, improve to 7-0 after easy wins over Washington State and UCLA. They average 485 yards on offense and surrender just 287 yards on defense. Combined, Costa and Thomas average 254 yards passing and 88 yards rushing per game and their twin efforts lead the conference in passing efficiency.
"This is almost like USC's bowl game," Kirk Herstreit says from the ESPN "College GameDay" set in front of the Coliseum. "If the Trojans win this game, they have a good chance to go undefeated. That means they could even end up ranked No. 1 in Lane Kiffin's first season."
A Matt Barkley TD pass to Ronald Johnson gives USC a 28-24 lead with two minutes left. Costa and company take over at the Ducks 20. James takes a first-down screen for 20 yards. A reverse to Barner moves the Ducks into USC territory. On third and 10, Costa finds Jeff Maehl for a first down at the Trojans 28. Under pressure, Costa scrambles for a first down at the 7-yard line with 40 seconds left. After an incomplete pass, James rushes for five. The Ducks use their final time out with 17 seconds left. Costa dumps a pass to Barner, but he's knocked out of bounds at the 1.
On fourth down, USC stops Costa on a spread-option play. The Coliseum releases its pent-up, NCAA-sanctions-induced frustration.
"I think Chip Kelly is challenging the spot," Brent Musburger says through the din.
Touchdown. Oregon wins 31-28.
"The Ducks look like the best -- the most complete -- team we've seen this season," Chris Fowler says.
Oregon returns home triumphant and avoids a let-down against Washington after intercepting Jake Locker twice. At California, things go splat. Perhaps it's back-to-back emotional victories followed by a road trip to Berkeley with a bye week ahead. Whatever the excuse, the Ducks turn in a lethargic performance and a late comeback attempt falls short in a 28-24 loss. Oregon drops from No. 2 to No. 6 in the rankings.
The Ducks trounce No. 17 Arizona 38-20, which sets up another Civil War for the Roses at No. 9 Oregon State.
With two minutes left, Oregon trails 27-23 and faces a fourth-and-3 from the Beavers' 33-yard line. Kelly has no choice but to go for it. Costa drops back and, under pressure, shovels the ball to James, who breaks to his right toward the sideline. One yard. Two yards. But at the marker Stephen Paea grabs James from behind. A battle of wills ensues. And the 180-pound James drags the 300-pound Paea, perhaps the strongest player in college football, forward for the first down.
And then he slips away and high steps into the endzone for the win. Later, most folks agree it was the moment that won James the Heisman Trophy.
The Ducks, one of four teams with only one loss, finish behind Alabama and Ohio State in the BCS standings even though they are ranked No. 2 in both the final human polls.
"Coach Kelly, have you noticed that the folks who do the computer polls all wear seersucker suits and panama hats?" a reporter asks.
"Yes," says Kelly.
The Ducks bludgeon Boise State 42-14 in the Rose Bowl and split the national title with Ohio State.
A week after winning the quarterback competition with Nate Costa, Darron Thomas posts an uneven performance in an easy win over New Mexico. The sophomore clearly has skills both as a runner and passer, but he fumbles once and frequently tries to force the ball through tight coverage, though only one pass ends up picked off.
Those issues are even more glaring at Tennessee, where a crowd of 105,000 seems to be distracting the young QB. The Ducks trail 10-7 at halftime, and coach Chip Kelly makes a switch, inserting the senior Costa.
Costa isn't spectacular, but he doesn't make mistakes and he leads two second-half scoring drives as the Ducks escape 21-17. The Ducks improve to 4-0 with wins over Portland State and Arizona State.
But the ninth-ranked Ducks yield three TD passes to Stanford's Andrew Luck in a 30-24 home loss. After needing overtime to slip improving Washington State, and a fourth-quarter comeback to survive a challenge from UCLA, USC pounds the Ducks 35-20, knocking them out of the national rankings.
Then hated rival Washington comes to town.
Locker, who ranks just ahead of Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers in most Heisman Trophy polls, is asked if he's aware of how Oregon fans constantly tweak him as all hype and no substance.
"No, I've never heard that," Locker replies. "I love Oregon fans. A lot of fans in the Pac-10 are obnoxious. But Oregon fans are gracious and mellow. Like Michigan fans."
Locker rushes for 205 yards and two TDs and passes for 310 yards and two scores as the Huskies roll over the Ducks 41-17, ending a six-game losing streak in the series.
"Wow," says Rece Davis back in the ESPN studios. "If Jake Locker isn't atop your Heisman Trophy contender list, I don't know what you're thinking. Who would have thought that Autzen Stadium would provide him such an accommodating stage to record a signature performance."
Oregon bounces back with a win at California and beats Arizona in overtime.
The Ducks find themselves in the unusual role of spoiler when they visit Oregon State for the annual Civil War. The Beavers must win in order to go to their first Rose Bowl since 1965.
Rodgers, who ranks just behind Locker in most Heisman Trophy polls, is asked if he's aware of how Oregon fans constantly tweak him and say he isn't as good as LaMichael James.
"No, I've never heard that," Rodgers replies. "I love Oregon fans. A lot of fans in the Pac-10 are obnoxious. But Oregon fans are gracious and mellow. Like Michigan fans."
Rodgers rushes for 225 yards and three touchdowns and catches 10 passes for 107 yards and a TD as the Beavers roll over the Ducks 44-14.
Wow," says Davis back in the ESPN studios. "Seems like Oregon is the team to play to make a Heisman Trophy statement."
Locker wins the Heisman. Rodgers finishes second and announces he's coming back for his senior season.
A 31-24 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl earns Washington a 10-3 finish and a final No. 9 ranking. The Beavers beat Iowa 28-24 in the Rose Bowl and finish 11-2 and ranked fourth.
Oregon loses the Las Vegas Bowl to Utah and finishes 8-5.
Phil Knight converts to Buddhism, gives his fortune to the United Way and moves to Tibet. Chip Kelly goes with him.
Tyrone Willingham comes out of retirement to become the Ducks head coach.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.
Up next: Oregon State
TCU coach Gary Patterson looks at the scoreboard and shakes his head.
"We were lucky to win this one," he says. "Very lucky. That's a very good team and they pushed us around."
Nonetheless, a 24-23 loss doesn't offer Oregon State much consolation, even if it comes against the nation's No. 7 team. The Beavers outgain the Horned Frogs 435 yards to 305, but three turnovers -- two off tipped passes in TCU territory -- and a missed extra point explain the final tally. Jacquizz Rodgers' 135 yards rushing and 65 yards receiving and two TDs are only a footnote.
After a week off, the Beavers take out their frustration on overmatched Louisville. QB Ryan Katz throws two TD passes-- one to each Rodgers brother -- and Jacquizz rushes for 188 yards.
Up next: a visit to No.3 Boise State.
"We have a chance to do something special here and really get everything back from that tough loss to TCU," coach Mike Riley says.
That's exactly what the Beavers do. With the Broncos forced to double-team defensive tackle Stephen Paea inside, end Gabe Miller sacks Kellen Moore three times. The Broncos are unable to run the ball consistently, and the constant pressure gets to Moore, who's uncharacteristically off-target. Meanwhile, Katz plays a mistake-free game, distributing the ball to the Rodgers brothers and breaking off a handful of backbreaking first-down scrambles.
"[The Rodgers brothers] are the two most dangerous players in college football," Katz says afterwards "They make it easy for me. Jacquizz should win the Heisman, but what they really should do is give it to both of them."
What ensues is a six-game winning streak. The Beavers, at 8-1, ascend to No. 6 in the national rankings. With unbeaten, third-ranked USC coming to town, ESPN's "College GameDay" makes its first trip to Corvallis.
"I know Jacquizz Rodgers is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy at this point," GameDay's Chris Fowler says. "But isn't the bigger story that they may be the best brothers combination on the same team in college football history?"
Replies Lee Corso, "It probably won't happen, but wouldn't it be neat if they both were invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony?"
The Trojans jump ahead 14-0 in the first half, with Matt Barkley connecting on two long TD passes to Ronald Johnson and the defense bottling up the Rodgers brothers until Jacquizz slips away for a 56-yard scoring run just before the break. A 23-yard toss from Katz to James Rodgers ties the score in the third, but the Trojans retake the lead early in the fourth when Allen Bradford bursts in from 2-yards out.
Heisman Trophy winners typically produce a signature highlight. Jacquizz Rodgers already has potential candidates for that, but none more spectacular than the screen pass he transforms into a 62-yard, game-tying score with 1:10 left.
The only problem is Johnson silences the euphoric Reser Stadium crowd with a 65-yard kick off return to the Beavers 35-yard line. Three plays later, with five seconds left, Jacob Harfman boots the game-winner from 44 yards.
"This was a tough one," Riley says. "But we've still got a lot to play for. We've got to get re-focused quickly because if we don't Stanford is going to kick our butts."
The Rose Bowl is still up for grabs: The Beavers, Stanford and Oregon only have suffered one conference defeat. After the Beavers dispatch the Cardinal, 30-28, everyone knows the stakes: It's a Civil War for the Roses II.
Riley gathers his players in the locker room.
"Oregon State hasn't been to a Rose Bowl since 1965," he says. "That's going on 46 years. Every person in this stadium knows what's at stake. You carry the hopes of everyone who wears black and orange. Tonight you have an opportunity to make a permanent mark, to be remembered and to create a memory that you will be able to return to fondly for the rest of your lives. But that team over there in that other locker room has an advantage over you. They think they are better than you. They carry that confidence. It's a smirk, isn't it? They are smirking at us in our house. I want you to see that smirk in your mind's eye right now. Hold on to that. If at any moment tonight you start to doubt or start to falter, think of that smirk. Now let's go knock it off their faces."
Speeches don't win football games, though. The game plays out much like the 2009 version. With two minutes left, Oregon leads 27-23 and faces a fourth-and-3 from the Beavers' 33-yard line. Ducks coach Chip Kelly opts to go for it. Quarterback Nate Costa drops back and, under pressure from Paea, shovels the ball to LaMichael James, who breaks to his right toward the sideline. One yard. Two yards. But at the marker he meets safety Lance Mitchell, who blasts James backward inches short of the first down.
Fumble. Keith Pankey recovers at the 50.
On first down, Riley shocks everyone by running a draw play to Rodgers, who bounces outside and is forced out of bounds at the 7-yard line. With just under a minute left, Rodgers gains four yards up the middle. The Beavers use their final timeout. Rodgers goes for two. The Beavers hustle to the line. 11, 10, 9 goes the clock.
Rodgers. Touchdown. Rose Bowl. Pandemonium in Reser Stadium.
With his brother at his side, Rodgers wins the Heisman Trophy. And the Beavers beat Iowa 28-24 in the Rose Bowl and finish 11-2 and ranked fourth.
A brutal nonconference schedule sometimes offers opportunity. But playing a pair of top-10 teams ultimately ends up meaning Oregon State is 1-2 heading into conference play.
The Beavers bounce back to beat Arizona State at home, but after consecutive road losses to Arizona and Washington, it becomes clear that sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz is a different player on the road, which is to be expected with a young, first-year starter. Teams crowd the line of scrimmage to stop Jacquizz Rodgers, run bracket coverages on James Rodgers and dare the offense to use other weapons to win. It can't, at least not consistently.
Still, after beating California and Washington State at home and UCLA on the road, the Beavers sit at 5-4 overall and are again in good position to play in a quality bowl game.
But the back-loaded schedule is brutal. USC whips the Beavers 30-17. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck throws four TD passes in a 35-24 win.
A final opportunity for redemption: Oregon and Stanford are tied atop the Pac-10 (USC also has one loss but is ineligible for the postseason). If the Beavers beat Oregon in the Civil War, it will knock the Ducks out of the Rose Bowl.
But LaMichael James, the nation's leading rusher, outshines Jacquizz Rodgers, rushing for 193 yards and three TDs in the Ducks' blowout, 35-17 win.
"I don't get into that comparing myself to Rodgers -- I leave that to the media and fans," James says afterward. "But you guys did see the game, right?"
James wins the Heisman Trophy and the Ducks roll over Ohio State 27-14 in the Rose Bowl.
Beavers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf is hired as the head coach at Nevada, while defensive coordinator Mark Banker is hired by Pete Carroll to run the Seattle Seahawks' defense.
Jacquizz Rodgers opts to leave a year early and join his brother in the NFL draft.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.
Up next: Stanford
Hard to say when it really started. "It" being the notion that Stanford was a national title contender. And a team to be feared.
The blowout win over Sacramento State didn't exactly reverberate with the college football nation. Nor did three running backs combining for 225 yards and doing their best Toby Gerhart imitation at UCLA earn top billing on SportsCenter.
A 24-3 win over Wake Forest pushes the Cardinal to 14th in the nation. A 31-17 win at Notre Dame lands them just outside the top-10. Still, things were mostly quiet outside the Farm.
"Things are mostly quiet here," says coach Jim Harbaugh. "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. That's what Stanford football is about. Not noise."
Oh, but there are whispers.
"What about the Stanford Cardinal?" Kirk Herbstreit asks on College GameDay. "Their quarterback may end up the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft. They may have the best offensive line in the nation. They're averaging over 200 yards rushing per game, despite the departure of Toby Gerhart. And, finally, they've got a defense to match."
Replies Chris Fowler, "Let's see what they do at No. 5 Oregon."
What they do is Luck throws for three touchdowns and the Cardinal rolls up 485 yards of offense in a 31-24 win.
The Cardinal climbs to No. 7 in the national polls. Yet some are still not sold.
"I'm still not sold," says Lou Holtz. "Let's see what they do against Southern Cal."
What they do is stink up the joint. For three quarters. But Luck completes 10 of 12 passes for 148 yards and two TDs in the fourth quarter, including a 28-yard seeing-eye bullet that finds Ryan Whalen for the winning score with 15 seconds left.
"That's two unbeaten, top-10 teams in two weekends," Rece Davis says to Holtz. "Are you sold?"
"Yep," says Holtz.
After a bye week, Stanford easily dispatches Washington State. It then heads to Washington. Scouts from every NFL team are on hand to watch Luck's showdown with Jake Locker. Luck and Locker each account for three TDs apiece, but the Huskies get the ball last, and that proves the difference. Stanford suffers its first defeat. When Oregon wins at USC that night, it looks like the Cardinal and the Ducks will engage in a race to the Rose Bowl finish.
After wins over Arizona and Arizona State, the fifth-ranked Cardinal heads to Berkeley for the Big Game, with California eagerly embracing the role of spoiler. Stanford leads 28-14 in the third, but a pair of TD passes from Kevin Riley ties the count with two minutes left. Then Jeff Tedford shocks everyone in the stadium with an on-side kick. The Bears recover. Riley expertly leads his offense to the Stanford 10-yard line, and Giorgio Tavecchio lines up for the chip-shot winner.
Stanford blocks the kick. Chris Owusu picks up the ball and runs it the other way for the game-winning score. "D'oh," is the one-word column on California Golden Blogs that night.
After beating Oregon State 28-24, Stanford finishes fourth in the BCS standings. It's consolation prize is the Rose Bowl opposite No. 3 Ohio State, which is one of three unbeaten teams. The mighty Buckeyes, Rose Bowl champs the year before and ranked No. 1 in both human polls, aren't happy they got computered out of the national title game.
"We're going to make a statement," says quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Before taking the field, Harbaugh gathers his team.
"From this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered," he says. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother."
Whispers Whalen to center Chase Beeler, "Is it Saint Crispin's Day?" Replies Beeler, "Forget the Rose Bowl. We're at Agincourt!"
Stanford wins 21-17, securing its first Rose Bowl victory since 1971 after stopping the Buckeyes on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line.
The 12-1 Cardinal finishes ranked No. 2 behind Alabama. Harbaugh announces he's signed a lifetime contract.
"Yes, I'm coming back," Luck tells reporters a week later. "We have unfinished business."
A switch to a 3-4 defense evidently isn't the answer for Stanford's defensive woes. That's made clear when UCLA and quarterback Kevin Prince roll up 468 yards in a 35-30 win.
Despite beating Wake Forest and Notre Dame, it becomes clear that Stanford has to score a lot of points to win. Its defense still lacks top-end athleticism, which is abundantly evident during a 45-30 loss at Oregon. Moreover, a backfield-by-committee approach does not a Toby Gerhart make.
That puts pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck to make plays downfield against defenses scheming to stop him. USC does just that in a 31-20 win, sacking Luck five times.
Washington State doesn't have the talent to follow the plan. Luck out-duels Washington's Jake Locker in Husky Stadium and leads a comeback win over Arizona. But, in the first quarter at Arizona State, Luck feels a tweak in his hamstring as he tries to elude Vontaze Burfict. With Luck out, the Sun Devils record the upset.
A Big Game in Berkeley without Luck is not a good thing for Stanford. California rolls 38-17. Luck again isn't available for the finale vs. Oregon State, and the Beavers drop the Cardinal to 6-6 on the year.
Luck returns to lead the Cardinal to a victory over Temple in the Eagle Bank Bowl, but it's hardly a day of celebration when Harbaugh announces he's headed to Michigan.
That's big news over at Rose Bowl practices for both California and Ohio State.
A week after Cal's victory, Luck announces he's entering the NFL draft.
"I'm sure the program will do great things during the second tenure of Walt Harris," Luck says.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction.
Up next: Washington
Certainly Washington quarterback Jake Locker answers the bell at BYU after a summer of coast-to-coast publicity that perhaps pushed to the precipice of proper decorum, but the more interesting story is the quarterback who found himself contemplating Provo's beautiful Wasatch Mountains from a supine position most of the day.
"All I saw was purple," says BYU's true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, who hails from the Seattle area. "I mean, I know they were in their road white jerseys and everything, but after the sixth or ninth hit, things started to get fairly dark out there for me."
The Huskies ostensibly suspect defense sacks Heaps five times and harasses him throughout the day. Ends Kalani Aldrich and Everette Thompson, who sat out spring practices with worrisome injuries, both take down Heaps twice.
"It was a most illuminating performance," Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt says. "I told the lads to never give in. Never give in! Never; never; never; never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
Reporters are baffled as to why Holt suddenly sounds like Winston Churchill, but then Locker comes out for his interview and distracts them.
After easily dispatching Syracuse, Nebraska pays a visit to an overflowing Husky Stadium. With ESPN's "College GameDay" on campus, it's billed as a showdown between Locker and the Cornhuskers top-ranked defense. What it becomes is an electric moment when all observers witness the realization of extraordinary potential.
In a tour de force performance, Locker completes 26 of 32 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns and rushes for 93 yards and two touchdowns as the Huskies stun No. 7 Nebraska 31-24.
"Well," says ESPN's Chris Fowler afterward. "Guess the Locker skeptics will hush now."
The rejuvenated Husky nation comes back down to earth after a 35-27 loss at USC, but the Huskies bounce back to beat Arizona State and then announce themselves as Pac-10 contenders with a victory over Oregon State.
Still, while Locker is clearly ready for prime time, the Huskies remain a program clawing its way back into the national picture. An overtime loss at Arizona and a home loss to Stanford -- Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck and Locker each account for three TDs apiece in a duel of future NFL first-round picks -- knock the Huskies out of the national rankings. A visit to unbeaten and third-ranked Oregon doesn't look promising. The Ducks last lost to the Huskies in 2003 in the once-heated rivalry.
"Wow," says Rece Davis back in the ESPN studios after Washington rolls over the Ducks 41-17. "If Jake Locker isn't atop your Heisman Trophy contender list, I don't know what you're thinking. Who would have thought that Autzen Stadium would provide him such an accommodating stage to record a signature performance."
That victory becomes the first of a four-game winning streak, as Washington completes its return to national prominence.
Locker becomes the 76th Heisman Trophy winner and the first from Washington. A 31-24 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl earns the Huskies a 10-3 finish and a final No. 9 ranking.
The school announces that Bill Gates has agreed to fund a $450 million renovation of Husky Stadium.
"He told me he now wants to be to Washington what Phil Knight is to Oregon," Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward tells reporters. "Only he's got a lot more money than Phil Knight."
There are ankle sprains and there are "high" ankle sprains and then there are catastrophic ankle sprains.
The latter is what Locker suffers while diving into the end zone in the third quarter at BYU. The Cougars and Heaps come back from a 10-point deficit to earn the win.
"We hope Jake will be back soon," says coach Steve Sarkisian, "but he obviously has a future in this game, and we're not going to rush him."
With redshirt freshman Keith Price replacing Locker, the Washington offense does just enough to beat Syracuse, but gets dominated by Nebraska and USC. A 14-10 win over Arizona State provides some hope, particularly when rumors spread that Locker will be ready for Oregon State's visit the following weekend. But Locker aggravates his ankle while doing some light running, and the Huskies lose their next four, including a 51-10 loss at unbeaten Oregon.
"Embarrassing," says linebacker Mason Foster.
It's announced that Locker is done for the season.
The Huskies miss a late field goal and lose 21-20 at California, and they limp into the Apple Cup hoping to salvage some pride during a lost season. In Pullman, it's zero degrees and there's three feet of snow on the ground when the Huskies walk out for the opening kickoff.
Neither team can score a TD, and Washington leads 9-3 late. But an errant shotgun snap in the fourth quarter gets by Price and is recovered at the 1-yard line by Cougars defensive end Travis Long. On fourth down, Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel runs a naked boot and runs into Foster. The ball gets away. It rolls into the end zone. The Cougars recover for a touchdown, and the PAT gives them a 10-9 lead with two minutes left.
Price drives the Huskies to the WSU 10-yard line. But the snap for the potential game-winning field goal goes over the holder's head.
Cougars win. They finish 5-7. Washington is 3-9.
"We're heard a lot during the summer about Washington being back in the Pac-10 hunt," Long says afterward. "Well, they took our place in the cellar and we've got everyone coming back next year. So you tell me which program is on the rise?"
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Tenth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
Up next: USC
Decades hence, the old timers will say the ball flew 100 yards. And that a bald eagle raced beside it for an instant, grinning with approval.
The truth is Matt Barkley's first pass as USC's quarterback only traveled 55 yards in the air. Receiver Damian Williams took it the remaining 25 for a touchdown in the Trojans season-opener against San Jose State.
"I'm pumped," USC coach Pete Carroll tells reporters.
"Wait!" he bellows as they head into the locker room. "I always say that. I say that about a tuna sandwich. Gary, what is another way for me to say 'I'm pumped'?"
"Aflame?" offers L.A. Times USC beat reporter Gary Klein. "Feverish. Blissful. Ecstatic. Perhaps tickled pink?"
Barkley, the true freshman phenom, and a defense that looked almost the equal of the 2008 unit, one of the best in college football history, roll over Ohio State in Columbus, again transforming a marquee interconference showdown into a yawner by halftime, the 40-10 final making it clear that the Trojans are contenders to win a third national title under Carroll.
"I'm tickled pink," Carroll says.
Carroll keeps his starters in well into the fourth quarter in a 40-7 win over Washington and former Trojans assistant Steve Sarkisian, but he yanks them in the third in a 55-9 win over Washington State.
That sets up the showdown in Berkeley: No. 2 USC vs. No. 4 California. ESPN's GameDay is on the scene.
Barkley throws an interception on the Trojans' first possession, which Syd'Quan Thompson returns 33 yards for a touchdown.
Thereafter, things get quiet in Strawberry Canyon. The Trojans speedy defense yields a long touchdown run to Jahvid Best, but it otherwise shuts down the Bears, while Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight and Curtis McNeal combine for 210 yards rushing. Barkley bounces back from the early pick to compete 19 of passes for 215 yards and a touchdown as USC rolls 28-14.
"Can Notre Dame handle the mighty Trojans?" ESPN's Rece Davis asks Mark May and Lou Holtz.
"No," May replies.
"What! I'm picking an Irish upset," Holtz counters.
USC beats Notre Dame 44-0.
Oregon State heads to the Coliseum the next weekend. Suffice it to say, the Trojans weren't asleep on the bus ride to the stadium this time.
USC rolls 42-17. Barkley throws three touchdown passes.
"Is Matt Barkley a Heisman Trophy candidate?" ESPN GameDay host Chris Fowler asks.
"Maybe," replies Kirk Herbstreit.
No. 10 Oregon puts a scare into the Trojans, with Ducks coach Chip Kelly outflanking Carroll's defense a number of times, but USC prevails 38-28.
The Trojans look uninspired during lackluster wins over Arizona State and Stanford, and more than a handful of pundits wonder whether they are headed for a fall against resurgent UCLA, which has broken into the Top 25 with five consecutive victories.
USC, however, leaves little doubt, taking a 21-0 lead in the first half and coasting home 35-14.
After a 30-20 win over Arizona, the unbeaten No. 2 ranked Trojans are on a collision course with top-ranked unbeaten Florida.
"It's the matchup everyone wants to see," Fowler says. "Florida vs. USC, Tim Tebow vs. Matt Barkley. SEC vs. Pac-10. Pete Carroll vs. Urban Meyer. It's beautiful."
"Are you sure it's the matchup the SEC wants, though?" Herbstreit counters with a troubled look. "This is a rebuilding USC squad with a true freshman quarterback and eight new starters on defense. The Gators are being touted as the best team in SEC history. Yet Las Vegas lists the Trojans as a 3-point favorite. Why is that?"
The line grows to five by Jan. 6.
USC covers with a 28-17 win, sacking two-time Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow four times. Barkley throws two touchdown passes and immediately becomes the front-runner for the 2010 Heisman.
The Trojans win their third national title under Carroll.
The NCAA announces the following week that it finds USC's football program blameless in the Reggie Bush investigation. Curiously, it ends the press release with a, "Fight ON!" though only Bruins Nation thinks that's a big deal.
Says Carroll, "I'm tickled pink."
When USC coach Pete Carroll tapped true freshman Matt Barkley as the Trojans' starter on Aug. 29, it wasn't much of a surprise. The only problem was Aaron Corp, who missed two weeks of practice with a knee injury, was far more consistent over the final week of practice.
When Barkley throws two beautiful touchdown passes in the Trojans' opening win over San Jose State, the decision appears sound. But it seems less so when he also tosses two interceptions.
A week later in the Horseshoe, Barkley comes apart, the apparently unflappable young man looking out of sorts amid the cacophony of 103,000 fans.
Corp comes off the bench in the third quarter to rally the Trojans, but Ohio State prevails 28-24.
Corp gets the start the following weekend at Washington, but the Trojans play without inspiration. It appears that Steve Sarkisian will get the best of his mentor and notch a monumental upset until Joe McKnight takes a fourth-quarter screen pass 58 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.
No. 4 California then jolts the Trojans 40-17, handing Carroll his worst loss as USC coach.
USC bounces back with a 44-0 victory at Notre Dame and appears to be finding its rhythm at quarterback with Aaron Corp. Corp throws for two touchdowns in a win over Oregon State and is impressive for three quarters at Oregon.
But, with a 30-17 win safely in hand, Corp reinjures his knee.
Barkley takes over and is at times brilliant and other times clueless during victories over Arizona State and Stanford.
Corp returns for the UCLA game, but Bruins defensive tackle Brian Price knocks him out in the first quarter with a vicious sack. UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner runs back two Barkley interceptions for touchdowns as the Bruins roll to a 30-24 victory.
With a Holiday Bowl berth on the line against Arizona, Barkley connects with Damian Williams for a game-winning touchdown with just 10 seconds left.
"We're pumped to play in the Holiday Bowl," Carroll says.
The Trojans whip Nebraska 45-17.
On Jan. 14, the NCAA ends its previously endless investigation into improper benefits provided by would-be sports agents to Reggie Bush. It finds USC lacked institutional contro
l and the football program is placed on probation for five years, loses 21 scholarships and receives a two-year postseason ban.
"I'm not pumped," Carroll says. "This will make it harder to win forever."
He then bolts for the NFL, becoming the Oakland Raiders' head coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ninth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
Up next: California
Last year, California running back Jahvid Best blew a technicolor pizza on national television at Maryland. This year, he made the Terrapins nauseous.
In a tour de force performance that announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy like a bolt of lightning, Best rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 105 yards and a score -- most of which came on a 58-yard touchdown off a screen -- in a 44-10 victory.
Best produced touchdown runs of 55 and 68 yards but sat out the second half of a blowout victory over Eastern Washington.
The Bears overcame a shaky start at Minnesota and rolled in the second half for a 30-17 win.
That set up a marquee showdown for the No. 8 Bears at No. 5 Oregon with ESPN's College GameDay on location in Eugene.
Lee Corso donned the Duckhead. Kirk Herbstreit tapped the Bears.
"It's fair to say the winner of this game will send a player to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony," Chris Fowler said about Best and Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
The Bears led 17-10 at the half, a 76-yard run from Best being the difference.
With 3:05 left, the Bears led 24-20. From the Oregon 47, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley did a play-action fake to Best and launched a bomb.
But Ducks safety T.J. Ward didn't bite on the fake, and he out-leapt Marvin Jones for the interception.
Masoli drove the Ducks to Cal's 32, but faced a fourth-and-8 with 0:55 remaining.
Masoli set up to pass, but Bears end Cameron Jordan was on him. Masoli stiff-armed Jordan, and started to backpedal. Jordan was joined by Mike Mohamed in pursuit of Masoli, who reversed the field and started directing receivers downfield.
There was room to run. Masoli tucked and made a break, but just short of the line of scrimmage, he stopped and lobbed the ball into the corner of the endzone.
Tight end Ed Dickson leapt, but the ball was tipped away by safety Brett Johnson.
And onto the turf.
Autzen went silent.
"California might be the best team in the nation," Herbstreit said after the game.
"See you next week in Berkeley," Fowler concluded.
No. 2 USC vs. No. 4 California. Big. Perhaps the biggest game in Cal history.
"People have contemplated the origin and evolution of the universe since before the time of Aristotle," said George Smoot, Cal physics professor and Nobel Prize winner. "Very recently, the era of speculation has given way to a time of science. The advance of knowledge and of scientific ingenuity means that at long last, we can actually test our theories. But no body will be testing anything Saturday because the Bears are going to stomp 'SC. Go Bears! Whoooo! How 'bout another margarita!"
One piece of good news that emerged from the day as a sidebar was that Memorial Stadium, awaiting a major seismic retrofitting, proved it could withstand a minor earthquake.
We know that because the rumble inside Strawberry Canyon probably could have be heard across the Bay in San Francisco when Best went 75 yards for a touchdown on the Bears first possession, having outraced Trojans safety Taylor Mays the final 35 yards.
On the biggest stage, Best and Riley and an inspired defense pushed the Trojans around in a 40-17 victory, the worst loss of the Pete Carroll era.
Cal rose to No. 2 in the rankings. Texas coach Mack Brown complained. According to an ESPN.com poll, 78 percent of the college football nation believed he should quit whining.
"It's the matchup everyone wants to see," Fowler says. "Florida vs. Cal, Tim Tebow vs. Jahvid Best. SEC vs. Pac-10. It's freaking beautiful."
The Bears rolled through their next seven games by an average of 24 points. The offense ranked third in the nation with 41 points per game, the defense fifth with 13 ppg.
On a technicality, however, Cal didn't play in its first Rose Bowl since 1959.
"While disappointed we're not playing in the Rose Bowl, it is some consolation to play for the national title in the Rose Bowl Stadium against a fine team like Florida," Cal coach Jeff Tedford sighs.
Best, already called the best player in the nation by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, won the Heisman.
During a pre-BCS title game press conference, a reporter asked Best whether he won the Heisman because folks were tired of hearing and reading about Tebow.
"I hope not," Best says. "Because that would mean people are really stupid. Tim Tebow is the greatest college football player in history. And he's a great person. And I use the term 'great' in its true sense, not as a casual compliment. Why would people get tired of hearing about a guy who does so much good? A guy who remains humble despite all the accolades? I don't care if you don't subscribe to his religion. I don't care if you don't like Florida. I certainly don't like Florida this week. But the idea that people are tired of hearing about such an outstanding person bothers me and it should bother you. It's the worst type of cynicism."
Florida nipped Cal 43-42 in triple-overtime when Gators linebacker Brandon Spikes tipped away a Riley pass on a 2-point conversion.
California opened 2-0 with wins over Maryland and Eastern Washington, but a team that wanted to contend for championships had to win on the road.
And Cal still didn't prove that it can, which became clear when the Bears fell at Minnesota, 28-24, the program's fifth consecutive road defeat.
That, of course, didn't bode well for a visit to Oregon. This time the Bears were sharp to start, but Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli led a fourth-quarter rally and the Ducks prevailed, 27-24.
A home loss the following weekend to USC left a season that started with such promise on the brink of disaster. Coach Jeff Tedford announced he was benching quarterback Kevin Riley in favor of Brock Mansion.
While the passing offense continued to struggle, running back Jahvid Best and a tough defense led the Bears on a five-game winning streak.
But Best hurt his shoulder in the overtime win over Arizona, meaning he missed the Big Game vs. Stanford.
Stanford improved to 9-3 and earned a berth in the Holiday Bow
Cal slipped Washington in the season-finale and headed to the Sun Bowl.
The Bears whipped Notre Dame 38-10.
The following day, Best, Jordan, Mohamed and cornerback Darian Hagan announced they will forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft a year early.
And Tedford was named the Oakland Raiders head coach.
Cal hired John Mackovic.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Eighth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
Up next: Oregon
Just because Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli is a chill dude doesn't mean he can't hold a grudge.
That became abundantly clear when he took a spread option keeper and smashed his shoulder into the chin of Boise State safety Jeron Johnson. It appeared that Masoli, who was knocked out of last year's upset loss to the Broncos on what some described as a cheap shot, had no interest in juking Johnson, who left the game with a broken jaw.
Call it revenge on the blue turf, but Boise State is no match for the enraged Ducks, who roll up 574 yards of offense in a 56-28 win.
"Guess our offensive line is going to be OK," Ducks coach Chip Kelly quips afterwards.
The Ducks don't let up, breaking the 50-point barrier in wins over Purdue and Utah. Masoli's newfound proficiency of as a passer starts to generate Heisman Trophy buzz.
"I always knew he could be a proficient passer," Kelly said. "It's not newfound."
[A Pac-10 blogger notes to himself that it's eerie that Kelly seems to be participating in a fantasy post about the Ducks].
"Why is it eerie?" Kelly asks.
[Voices ... in ... my... head. Quiet!].
Oregon ascends to No. 5 in the national rankings, and a visit from No. 8 California brings ESPN's College GameDay to Eugene.
Lee Corso dons the Duckhead. Kirk Herbstreit taps the Bears.
"It's fair to say the winner of this game will send a player to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony," Chris Fowler says about Masoli and Cal's Jahvid Best.
Cal's defense is a different animal. It bottles up Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount. The Bears lead 17-10 at the half, a 76-yard run from Best being the difference.
With 3:05 left, the Bears lead 24-20. From the Oregon 47, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley does a play-action fake to Best and launches a bomb.
But Ducks safety T.J. Ward doesn't bite on the fake, and he outleaps Marvin Jones for the interception.
Masoli takes over at the Oregon 5-yard line. He connects with Jamere Holland for 15 yards. He finds Ed Dickson for 26. He scrambles for 18. A screen to Blount goes for 12 to the Cal 34.
But Jeff Maehl can't haul in a tough ball over the middle, Blount drops a short pass in the flat and a scramble nets only two yards.
It's fourth and 8 with 0:55 left. Masoli sets up to pass, but Bears end Cameron Jordan is on him. Masoli stiff arms Jordan, and starts to backpedal. Jordan is joined by Mike Mohamed in pursuit of Masoli, who reverses field and starts directing receivers downfield.
There's room to run. Masoli tucks and makes a break, but just short of the line of scrimmage, he stops and lobs the ball into the corner of the endzone.
Dickson leaps, but the ball is tipped away by safety Brett Johnson.
And into the hands of Rory Cavaille. Touchdown.
"Oregon might be the best team in the nation," Herbstreit says after the game.
The Ducks roll through Washington State, UCLA and Washington.
No. 2 USC heads to town to take on the No. 3 Ducks. It's billed as the biggest game in Autzen Stadium history. GameDay comes back to Eugene. It's impossible to get a seat at Beppe & Gianni's Trattoria.
But this is not the Ducks day. The Trojans have the offense to match and their defense is fast enough to keep up with the Ducks. USC wins 38-28.
"We should have won this game," Kelly said. "Why didn't we win this game?"
[Must ignore him... how does he do that? We knew he was a control freak but this is a little much.]
Predictions of a hangover prove overstated. The Ducks roll through their final four games, including a 40-28 win over Oregon State.
With USC playing Florida for the national title, it appears Oregon will head to the Rose Bowl to face Ohio State. But by some complicated BCS machinations that everyone agrees would make your head explode if they were explained, the Ducks head south to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Masoli finishes third in the Heisman Trophy race.
"Neh," he says. "No big deal. I ate at Le Bernardin and hung out with Thomas Pynchon and the the Kings of Leon. That was cool."
Oregon, which has thrived on balance much of the year, throws only four passes but rushes for 388 yards against the Bulldogs in a 48-21 victory.
After USC beats Florida in the BCS title game, Oregon finishes No. 2 in both polls.
Boise State doesn't lose on the blue turf, and the Broncos season-opening 38-35 victory over Oregon becomes the foundation of an unbeaten season and another BCS bowl berth.
The Ducks rebuilt offensive line plays fairly well, but it surrenders three sacks. The defense, however, is clearly a work in progress, with Boise quarterback Kellen Moore throwing three touchdown passes and the Broncos rushing for 190 yards.
Oregon whips Purdue and outlasts Utah, but quarterback Jeremiah Masoli suffers a concussion in the fourth quarter.
Nate Costa is the surprised starter the following week against California, but he goes down in the second quarter. With a thumb injury.
Darron Thomas comes off the bench and plays well, but the Bears roll 40-24 on 173 yards and two touchdowns from Jahvid Best.
The Ducks whip Washington State and UCLA, Masoli returning to action against the Bruins.
Then they head to Husky Stadium. The Ducks have owned rival Washington of late, winning five in a row in the series.
Huskies quarterback Jake Locker passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns and rushes for 98 yards another score, but the key play comes when it seems like Oregon is driving late for the victory.
From the Huskies 8-yard line, Masoli throws the ball to his left into the flat toward the endzone pylon, but Washington cornerback Quinton Richardson snags the ball and sprints down the sideline.
"Quinton Richardson's gonna score!" screams Huskies play-by-play man Bob Rondeau.
Huskies win 31-20.
Richardson's 97-yard interception return for a game-clinching touchdown becomes known as "The Pick," and it will be played repeatedly in Husky Stadium whenever Oregon visits in the future.
The Ducks seem lethargic while losing 35-17 to USC, but they bounce back with wins over Stanford, Arizona State and, in double-overtime, at Arizona.
The stakes in the Civil War are mostly pride. Oregon State appears headed to the Holiday Bowl in any event, while Oregon could end up in the Sun Bowl with a victory.
Yet the Beavers clearly have revenge on their minds for the disaster of 2008. They pound the Ducks defense with Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 159 yards and three scores, and Masoli and company never find their rhythm in a 35-20 defeat.
Oregon then beats Boston College in the Emerald Bowl and finishes 8-5.
Three days later, Nike files for bankruptcy.
2:00 PM ET Hawaii Colorado 3:30 PM ET Utah Michigan 6:00 PM ET Georgia State Washington 10:00 PM ET California Arizona 10:30 PM ET 2 Oregon Washington State 10:30 PM ET San Diego State Oregon State