Pac-12: Michael Egnew

Best case-worst case: Arizona State

August, 29, 2011
8/29/11
7:00
PM ET
Tenth 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 season'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

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict collects 11 tackles, including two sacks and an interception, and quarterback Brock Osweiler throws two touchdown passes as Arizona State announces itself as a national contender with a 33-17 drubbing of No. 21 Missouri.

And Burfict shows up for post-game interviews.

"I want to read a statement," Burfict begins. But then he tosses the piece of paper aside. "No. I'm not going to be managed. That's part of my problem. The effort to manage me, which includes using my so-called shyness to justify my refusal to talk to reporters, has hurt me and this program. I am not a great talker. Probably never will be. But being a man is sometimes doing things you don't like to do. Being a man is also admitting mistakes and not looking for excuses. If an Internet report about me gets details wrong about something that still is mostly true, I shouldn't get mad about those incorrect details if I won't show up to correct the record and say what happened. And when I get in a locker room fight with a teammate, well, while I appreciate the rationalization and blind support from so many Sun Devils fans, the absolute bottom line is this: No excuses. It's on me. 100 percent. I need to grow up. Talk is cheap, but it's even cheaper that I haven't taken responsibility. Today, I am. I owe that to my coaches, teammates and our great fans."

Arizona State rolls over Illinois 42-10, then nips USC 24-21 after Burfict stuffs Matt Barkley on a fourth-and-inches quarterback sneak on the Trojans final drive. After beating Oregon State 30-17, the 5-0 Sun Devils move up to ninth in the national rankings.

"Utah and Arizona State are the two South Division front-runners after both beat USC," says ESPN's Chris Fowler. "But is this a bigger game for the Sun Devils because the Utes don't play Oregon or Stanford?"

Osweiler connects with Gerell Robinson for the game-winning tally in overtime. Up next: The No. 6 Sun Devils visit No. 1 Oregon.

"Did I fake an injury against the Ducks last year?" says Burfict. "You guys! I could answer that, but then you'd have to promise to let me smack you."

The reporters laugh nervously and then get quiet as Burfict glowers at them.

"You guys need to lighten up!" says Burfict. "Just messing with y'all!"

The Ducks prevail 30-27 on a late field goal.

"Look, the Ducks look like they are going to steamroll into their showdown with Stanford on Nov. 12," Fowler says. "But, wow, Vontaze Burfict. Should he at least get invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony?"

"An absolute beast on the field," Kirk Herbstreit replies. "But, really, we've gotten to know him off the field this year. Just a big Teddy bear. If your Teddy bear is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds and really, really fast and aggressive."

The Sun Devils roll over Colorado, UCLA and Washington State. Two weeks after beating Utah, Arizona arrives in Tempe. The Wildcats' only two defeats came against Oregon and Stanford, so beating the Sun Devils would win them the South title.

"I respect the hell out of them," Burfict says. "But respect isn't what I'm going to spend a lot of time thinking about when they stand across the field from me."

Coach Dennis Erickson announces that cornerback Omar Bolden is "100 percent and ready to go."

Osweiler throws four touchdown passes in a 40-24 victory. Burfict terrorizes the Wildcats with 12 tackles, four coming for a loss, and Bolden picks off Nick Foles twice. A week later, the Sun Devils survive a flat performance against California, winning 20-17, thereby earning the South Division title and another shot at the Ducks.

"Hey guys," says Erickson in the pregame locker room at Autzen Stadium. "Vontaze wants to say something."

"I'm not much of a talker. Unless it's trash talking." The Sun Devils laugh. "But here's what I can say, and I hope you know it's from the heart. This is about us, not them. I love you guys and I'm going to give this team -- all of you -- everything I've got tonight. Everything. My plan is to to look them in the eye and let them know I am here to take this game from them and I will send that message every play. If we all do that, together, we are going to win this game. And, brothers, what we do in life... echoes in eternity."

A diving Burfict tips away a Darron Thomas pass intended for tight end David Paulson. The Ducks' 2-point conversion fails in the third overtime. The Sun Devils earn a berth in the Rose Bowl.

The Sun Devils beat Wisconsin 28-17 and finish 13-1 and ranked third.

Burfict announces he's returning for his senior season, "to complete the growing up process and get my degree. And to terrorize the Wildcats another season."

Andrus Peat, Davonte Neal, D.J. Foster and Reggie Daniels commit to Arizona State. That convinces quarterback Connor Brewer to decommit from Texas and sign with the Sun Devils, whose recruiting class ranks ninth in the country.

"I've got great news," says athletic director Lisa Love. "Now that the economy is rallying and local housing prices are soaring, we are pleased to announced a $100 million anonymous donation that will help finance a $200 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium."

Worst case

Missouri tight end Michael Egnew couldn't haul in the fourth-and-8 pass late at Arizona State, but he gets a second chance, and he's not the sort to waste one of those.

When a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Burfict gives the Tigers new life -- a first down on the ASU 14 with 25 seconds left -- James Franklin finds his All-American tight end in the corner of the end zone for the winning score in 31-28 victory.

The Sun Devils bounce back and win at Illinois, but a rejuvenated USC secondary picks off Osweiler three times in a 24-21 Trojans win in Tempe. The Sun Devils nip Oregon State, but fall at Utah in overtime. Things go haywire at Oregon in a 44-20 defeat, with Burfict getting benched after a late hit on Ducks quarterback Thomas.

"We were down 10 in the third quarter and we get a third-down stop," Erickson says. "That penalty killed us."

Headline in the Arizona Republic: "Are Erickson's days numbered?"

The Sun Devils even their record with a 27-24 win at Colorado, but fall at resurgent UCLA. A win at Washington State, however, leaves the Sun Devils just one win short of bowl eligibility.

Arizona comes to town needing a win to sew up the South Division title.

"Our first priority is beating Arizona," Erickson says. "Bowl eligibility, my future, that will take care of itself."

Late in the fourth quarter, with the score 21-21 and the Wildcats on their 33, Keola Antolin takes a handoff and sees no room on the right side. He reverses course, yields five yards in the Wildcats backfield and tries to sprint to the left sideline, hoping that he can out-run the over-pursuit. Burfict recovers quickly and takes a beeline for him.

Shhhhhmackkk!

That is until Arizona quarterback Nick Foles comes from nowhere to flatten Burfict.

Antolin goes the distance. The Wildcats win the Territorial Cup back. And they win the South. In the Pac-12 title game, Arizona shocks No. 1 Stanford and earns the program's first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl, where it beats No. 8 Nebraska, 33-28.

The Wildcats finish 11-3 and ranked sixth.

While most frustrated Sun Devils fans are done with their team, Sun Devil Jose demands a game with California. Cal wins 10-3.

The Sun Devils finish 5-7, their fourth consecutive losing season under Erickson.

Erickson resigns. "Hey, we gave it a run and it didn't work out," he says. "I'm headed up to Coeur d'Alene to play golf, go fishing and drink a few cold ones."

"I'm pleased to announce the coach who I feel strongly will take us to the next level," athletic director Lisa Love tells a gathered media throng.

"Ladies and gentlemen... John Mackovic!"

Andrus Peat, Davonte Neal, D.J. Foster and Reggie Daniels commit to Arizona. That convinces quarterback Connor Brewer to decommit from Texas and sign with the Wildcats, whose recruiting class ranks 12th in the country.

"I don't care about recruiting rankings!" Mackovic says of a class that ranked 10th in the Pac-12. "I know what I know and that is a lot."

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