Best and Worst Case 2014 Scenarios for Every Pac-12 Football Team
The time has come to enter the world of Pac-12 projections, where the optimist is thinking playoff and the pessimist is just hoping for a first possession that doesn't result in a turnover.
We're going big this time and taking a look at the various possibilities for each team's season, but realism has little weight here. What is the absolute best outcome for every Pac-12 school? The worst outcome?
While we want to at least paint a picture of possible scenarios (13-0 is not always best case and 0-12 is not always the worst case, either) this is meant to be a fun look at both the dream seasons and doom-and-gloom, end-of-the-world campaigns.
Take a look now at the best- and worst-case scenarios for every team in the Pac-12.
All stats via ESPN.com. Unless otherwise noted all quotes obtained first hand. Serious injuries to key players are obviously a possibility, but entertaining the idea of certain guys getting injured is not something we'll include in our hypothetical scenarios.
With UNLV, UTSA, Nevada and Cal as the first four opponents, Arizona will start the season 4-0.
You can book it. But even with things falling into place here, the Wildcats fall at Oregon in a 42-38 thriller. The fans are encouraged, however, and a win over USC at home the following week keeps spirits high.
Another victory on the road over Washington State pushes the Wildcats' record to 6-1, and Jesse Scroggins has entered the conversation as a potential darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate. But the next three weeks see losses at UCLA and to Washington at home with a victory over the Buffaloes sandwiched in between.
After a hard-fought victory over Utah, the Wildcats get payback against Arizona State and trounce the Sun Devils, 45-22, in Tuscon, giving them a 9-3 record on the year. They square off against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl and get the ever-elusive 10th victory in a 49-45 barnburner. Rich Rodriguez gets a contract extension, and the Wildcats finish 10-3.
A 4-0 start to the season has fans dreaming of a potential conference-title run, but four straight losses to Oregon, USC, Washington State and UCLA turn things sour rather quickly.
With a tumultuous situation at quarterback, no one knows where Rich Rodriguez will turn. But the always-innovative Rodriguez turns to Jerrard Randall to jump-start things, and though his athletic ability opens eyes, he's unable to utilize the talents of receivers like Austin Hill.
The move leads to a pair of wins over Colorado and Washington, but losses to Utah and Arizona State round out the year. None of the quarterbacks show any real signs of future greatness, and nobody is happy with 6-6.
To make matters worse, the team is inexplicably excluded from bowl season.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State opens the season 3-0 with wins over Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado, and the team looks impressive in all three. Still, national media wants to see if that continues against UCLA. The Sun Devils then proceed to sack Brett Hundley five times and pull away from the Bruins in a 41-27 victory.
The defense that everyone had been questioning in the offseason looks nastier than ever, but Graham's squad comes back to earth a bit the following week in a loss at USC. Another nail-biting defeat to Stanford takes away all the hope and promise of the 4-0 start, but quarterback Taylor Kelly calls a players-only meeting and demands that the nation see what the 2014 Sun Devils are made of.
Wins against Washington, Utah and Notre Dame move the record to 7-2, and a November loss at Oregon State still leaves the team with plenty to play for. The young defense then has its best two-week stretch of the season in wins over Washington State and Arizona, and the team wins its bowl game to finish 10-3.
The defense is as advertised, and in Arizona State's case that's not a good thing. The loss of key players like Will Sutton and Carl Bradford takes its toll, and despite beginning the year 3-0, a 28-24 win over Colorado does not inspire confidence.
Against UCLA, the impending storm hits land, and the Bruins send the Sun Devils back a year or two with a 45-17 thrashing. Two more losses to USC and Stanford gives Graham's squad a 3-3 record, and there's some chatter about his job security. Taylor Kelly steps up and helps the offense outlast both Washington and Utah, but the team loses to Notre Dame, Oregon State and Arizona in the second half of the season.
After a 2013 campaign that saw the team reach the conference title game, the offense underperforms and the defense cannot overcome its youth. The final record shows 6-6, and a bowl loss to Nevada has Graham heading into the offseason with some explaining to do.
California Golden Bears
After just one victory in 2013, expectations for Cal football are at an all-time low. But Jared Goff brings a level of excitement to the quarterback position not seen since Nate Longshore, who had 3,000 yards passing and 24 touchdowns in his first season. In the dream scenario, Goff leads the Bears to an upset win over Northwestern which is followed by a thumping of Sacramento State.
A loss to Arizona is encouraging because Dykes' offense keeps it close the whole game, and two more wins are added on against Colorado and Washington State. However, the party doesn't last forever, and the Bears fall to Washington, UCLA and Oregon before a surprise victory at Oregon State.
The only positives after that are hanging close against USC and Stanford, but BYU ends any dreams of getting to a bowl game. Still, five wins means Cal is on the way up, and it's five times as many as it captured a year ago.
How much worse can it get than winning just one game? If you're Cal, the answer is zero games, and despite a seemingly guaranteed victory against Sacramento State, the Hornets have beaten both Colorado and Oregon State in recent years.
After an ugly loss to Northwestern, Sacramento State heads into Berkeley and walks out with a victory, leaving the Cal program in shambles. After four more losses and 13 interceptions from Goff, Dykes is fired midseason and the team essentially gives up.
None of the remaining six games are competitive, and the answer to the question "is this rock bottom" is finally answered, only it's a year later than Cal fans had hoped it would be.
Colorado's schedule in 2014 is set up so that the Buffaloes should capture plenty of wins in the first half of the season before the difficult stretch comes in late October and November.
In our best-case scenario, that's exactly what happens.
Wins over Colorado State and UMass to start the season are followed up a nail-biting loss to Arizona and then wins over California and Hawaii. Oregon State then comes to town with a national ranking and Sean Mannion having fully entered the Heisman race. He's intercepted twice by linebacker Addison Gillam in the Buffaloes' 35-24 victory and the team reaches five wins.
However, five straight losses to USC, UCLA, Washington, Arizona and Oregon have folks questioning if five wins can be considered successful should the team end the year with six straight defeats. But those questions are for naught as Colorado beats Utah to finish 6-6. A bowl victory follows, of course, and Colorado officially exits the conference cellar.
Any sort of step back this season would be awful for coach Mike MacIntyre and his program. After several years of being the league doormat, Colorado must be competitive on a regular basis and notch at least four or five wins.
In the worst-case scenario, however, that doesn't happen. Wins over UMass and Hawaii help the team out to a 2-2 start, but it's all downhill from there. The low point comes during a 66-0 drubbing at the hands of Oregon, in which the Ducks jump out to a 59-0 halftime lead to mirror their 2012 effort against Colorado.
MacIntyre is spared his job even after a season-ending 31-10 loss to Utah, but two wins puts any sort of optimism about the future on the back burner entirely.
The Ducks have the talent to win a national championship, as has been the case for several years now. But the real reason folks are so high on Oregon is because of quarterback Marcus Mariota, the dual-threat dynamo with blinding speed and an exceptional throwing arm.
A 42-20 victory over Michigan State in Week 2 signals to the rest of the nation that the Ducks are real contenders, and nothing leading up to the showdown with UCLA changes that. As the two undefeated teams enter the Rose Bowl, the college football world looks on to see which program will emerge as the Pac-12's leading title contender.
The Ducks win, 42-14, for a second straight year, and despite having to skate by both Stanford and Oregon State, Oregon reaches its second conference title game and beats UCLA again to land the No. 1 seed in the college football playoff. Two impressive wins later and the Ducks finally claim a national championship in football.
Marcus Mariota inexplicably returns for 2015, citing "additional degrees" as the chief reason.
Seeing an injury happen to Mariota would undoubtedly bring about the worst-case scenario for Oregon, but there a lot of teams with indispensable players. However, even with a healthy Mariota, the Ducks cannot break through the Michigan State defense in Week 2 and suffer an embarrassing 24-10 defeat at home.
After beating Wyoming, the Ducks are stunned at Washington State. Several weeks later, Helfrich is unable to motivate Mariota and company prior to facing UCLA and the Ducks suffer a third loss, bringing their record to 3-3.
But the offense begins to rev up and the Ducks win a couple games before yet another disheartening loss to Stanford. Oregon State deals the final blow to end the season, and Oregon is knocked out of the Top 25 for the first time in years, finishing with a 7-6 mark after a dispirited bowl loss.
Oregon State Beavers
Despite losing wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the NFL, Oregon State's offense looks like a well-oiled machine to begin the year, and this results in a 3-0 start. A close loss at USC does little to erase the mojo as Mannion steps his game up even further in wins over Colorado and Utah.
But his Heisman hopes are dealt a major blow at Stanford, as he throws four picks in a 38-19 loss. Still, Riley's team rebounds with victories over Cal, Washington State and Arizona State. With a chance to win the Pac-12 North division, the Beavers drop a heartbreaker at Washington, 41-40.
Now, Mannion and company can still finish the year off with a ninth victory and the first over Oregon since 2007. Mannion plays a terrible game, but the defense finally finds an answer to Mariota and the Beavers send the Ducks packing, 31-27. A bowl victory gives Oregon State a 10-3 record and some serious in-state bragging rights.
Haunting memories of losing to FCS schools are revisited when the Beavers are tied with Portland State in the fourth quarter in the opening game, but Mannion leads a clutch drive to pull out the narrow win. Victories over Hawaii and San Diego State seem to set the sails in the right direction, but a brutal loss to USC raises doubt.
A surprising loss to Colorado in which Mannion plays like a freshman leaves many wondering about the direction of the program, and despite squeaking past Utah and Cal, the Beavers finish the year with just five wins and a bad loss in the Civil War.
For the first time as the head coach of the Beavers, Riley has to answer questions about whether he feels his job is safe, and the 5-7 mark amplifies the negative noise heading into the offseason.
Stanford finds its run game right off the bat and quarterback Kevin Hogan is unleashed in the Cardinal's best-case scenario, which sees the team winning eight straight games to start the season. The defense holds USC, Washington and Notre Dame to a combined 27 points, and the offense looks more like the 49ers of the '80s than the Cardinal unit from last season.
With Hogan slinging it around and the run game in full swing, the team is full of confidence heading into a matchup at Oregon. But the Ducks are out for revenge after seeing their season ruined by the Cardinal two years in a row. It doesn't matter. Hogan passes for 300 yards, and the defense does its job once again in the 31-18 win at Autzen.
The only blemish comes at UCLA in the regular-season finale, but the Cardinal get payback a week later and follow it up with two victories in the college football playoff to capture a national title. Shaw gets a lifetime extension.
Losing players on defense hurts, but losing most of the offensive line plus Tyler Gaffney hurts even more. When Hogan is asked to air it out a bit more, his inexperience in the passing game is on full display, and the Cardinal start out just 4-3 with losses to USC, Washington and Arizona State.
After beating Oregon State, the team heads up to Eugene where it gets dealt two years of revenge by the Oregon Ducks in a 45-17 defeat. A win over rival Cal means little after a loss to UCLA to end the season, and the 7-5 mark is a disappointing one.
To make matters worse, Stanford is paired with Texas Tech for its bowl game and for the first time since the pre-Harbaugh era, the team has no heart. The Red Raiders win 31-3, and David Shaw's motivational tactics are ineffective. The questions about whether Stanford can sustain its pro-style system are loud and fired in from all angles during the offseason.
UCLA has championship potential if the pieces all come together, and the Bruins play like it to open the season. It becomes very apparent that quarterback Brett Hundley has turned a corner in a dominating 42-20 win over Texas.
Wins over Arizona State and Utah equal a 5-0 start, but then something puzzling happens. Oregon comes to town and wins 28-17 in a rather boring game given the hype leading up to it. Hundley doesn't look quite right, but the ultimate key is that the defense seems to have figured things out.
The Bruins then reel off six straight wins to end the season, stomp on the Ducks in a rematch in the Pac-12 title game, and beat Oklahoma and Alabama in overtime to win the national championship.
In what is supposed to be a year where the Bruins knock on the door of the elite, the team knocks the door in completely and sticks the UCLA flag on top of the mountain.
The Brett Hundley hype exceeds the signal-caller's actual abilities and two interceptions in a loss to Texas not only hurts his draft stock but knocks the Bruins out of the Top 20 in the AP poll. A pair of wins are followed by an underwhelming effort against Oregon in which Jim Mora loses his temper multiple times.
An upset loss at Colorado two weeks later brings out the word "unraveling" when national media is asked to describe UCLA's season, and two home losses to USC and Stanford to end the season puts Westwood in a state of misery.
Hundley declares for the draft after the bowl loss and publicly opines that the team didn't play with any heart in the second half of the season. It hurts the Bruins' recruiting and, coupled with a USC conference title, the doom scenario finishes playing itself out.
There are so many questions surrounding USC that we can't wait to see finally answered. What kind of impact will Steve Sarkisian have? Is Cody Kessler ready to be an elite quarterback? Has the young secondary matured enough to be one of the league's best?
In a best-case scenario, those questions all have positive answers for the Trojans and Sark's men get eight straight wins to start the season. Most impressive among them is a 38-24 victory at Stanford in which the offense plays better than it has since the middle of the Matt Barkley era.
A stunning loss at Washington State brushes aside dreams of a perfect season, but wins over UCLA and Notre Dame to end the season put USC squarely in the playoff hunt. A Pac-12 championship game win over Oregon is enough to ink the Trojans into one of the four playoff spots, but Kessler is unable to best Jameis Winston and Florida State in a semifinal for the ages.
One thing is clear after the dust settles: USC is back.
It becomes apparent right away that USC did not get the right coach. While Chris Petersen dazzles up at Washington, Sarkisian tries too hard to be like Pete Carroll, and the results are disastrous. The Trojans play too loose and end up turning the ball over six times in a loss to Stanford.
Two games later, Oregon State gets a road win at the Coliseum, and Arizona State follows suit. Some are even beginning to wonder if Sark will last the season. Five straight wins seem to quell the noise, but with two rivals on the docket to close out the 2014 campaign, Sarkisian knows he needs a win to gain momentum heading into the offseason.
Instead, his team manages a combined 30 points in a pair of defeats, and the Trojans finish 7-6, taking a giant step back.
It's tough to gauge just how good this Utah team can be after quarterback Travis Wilson dealt with injuries during the second half of the 2013 season. His 10 touchdowns without an interception to start the 2014 campaign makes the crystal ball much easier to read, however.
Wilson's strong play gives the Utes four straight wins to open up the season, which includes a 31-30 upset at the Big House against host Michigan. Losses on the road to UCLA and Oregon State are frustrating, but they're followed up by wins against USC and Arizona State.
Whittingham's defense does its part against both Oregon and Stanford, but the Ducks and Cardinal prove to be too much in giving the Utes two more losses. At 6-4, the Utes can either finish with a bang or a whimper, and the former option is just too enticing. Wilson leads the offense in victories over Arizona and Colorado and a bowl victory against Wisconsin is icing on the cake.
Everything Utes' fans are afraid of at the beginning of the 2014 season comes true, starting with Travis Wilson being reckless with the football. His interceptions are the main culprit in the team's 2-4 start, and the defense gets little from leaders like defensive end Nate Orchard.
The slippery slope turns into ice as the Utes fall to UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford. A gutty effort against Arizona is nice, but a season-ending loss at Colorado in which Wilson is benched brings upon a grim-looking offseason.
The win count is exactly three, and Whittingham himself isn't sure whether he'll keep his job. With Colorado and Cal both taking a step forward, Utah takes the lonely walk down to the cellar, locks the door and cries.
The Chris Petersen magic is real, folks. Despite heading up a team that lost its three best weapons from 2013, coach Petersen has his guys playing with a chip on their shoulders to start the year. It equals six straight wins and a payback victory over Stanford in which quarterback Cyler Miles looks light-years ahead of his Cardinal counterpart, the more-experienced Kevin Hogan.
Then comes the big one: a trip to Autzen and a chance to end a decade of futility against the Ducks. With Oregon down by four and just a minute to go, the Huskies are backed up into their own end zone. As Mariota goes back to pass, he looks left and spots Keanon Lowe. His pass is on target and just past the outstretched fingertips of the defender, and the Ducks win.
But Washington bounces back to win four out of its final six games and finish with a 9-3 record. A bowl win gives the program a double-digit number to actually brag about, and Petersen cleans up in recruiting.
Without Bishop Sankey, the running game is nonexistent. Though Cyler Miles shows flair, he isn't experienced enough to make the big plays when it counts. All of this still leads to a 4-2 start, but the most difficult part of the schedule comes at the end.
Losses to Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona leave the Huskies at 6-5 with just Washington State remaining. The temperature is five degrees at kickoff and quarterback Connor Halliday plays like he's in a dome, throwing for 450 yards and five scores. Miles rushes for 165 yards on the ground, but the Huskies can't keep up with their rivals in a 45-34 loss.
The team finishes 6-6 and to make matters worse, Petersen flirts with several programs in the offseason. He eventually stays, but his version of the two-step doesn't sit well with recruits, and the Huskies lose ground in the Pac-12 North.
Washington State Cougars
Three wins to open the season brings new life to the Palouse, but those close to the program expected the strong start. The real challenge comes when the Ducks, fresh off a 3-0 start of their own, head to Pullman with a No. 1 ranking in tow.
Spoiler alert: they don't leave with it.
That's actually false, because the new rankings aren't released for a few days, but the Cougars' big day puts Washington State in the Top 20 and sends a ripple of fear throughout the north division. Big dreams are interrupted after a loss at Stanford, but Leach's offense holds firm and still outlasts Arizona and Oregon State down the stretch.
With the rival-Huskies coming to town to round out the regular season, quarterback Connor Halliday feels the pressure. But he happens to love pressure, and Washington State finishes the season with nine wins following a tough bowl loss to Baylor.
With the kind of momentum that only a Mike Leach-coached team can have, the Cougars look like a team ready to score a few upsets in 2014. The problem is, they don't play like it.
Losses to Oregon, Utah and Stanford still equal a 4-3 start, but that's it. Arizona, USC, Oregon State, Arizona State and Washington all enjoy what Halliday serves up to the secondary, and the defense regresses without Deone Bucannon roaming the secondary.
With Halliday and several top receivers graduating in 2015, the four-win campaign causes a great amount of dread among the Washington State fanbase.