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Best case-worst case: California

This is the third in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: California

Sonny Dykes shakes hands with California athletic director Sandy Barbour. It's Dec. 5, 2012.

"So do we have a deal?" Dykes asks.

"Close. But we have one more step. The most important step. Hold on," Barbour says.

Dykes' inquisitive look transforms to shock as Barbour's office begins to vibrate. Then... swoosh... thwwaaack! And Barbour's office returns to normal, only she and Dykes are gone.

Dykes opens his tightly clenched eyes. He's sitting in moodily lit but ornate room. In front of him is a large oak table, shaped like a crescent moon, at which sits a large group of distinguished looking men and women, though a couple of them are fronted by lava lamps. The air smells of fresh herbs.

Timothy Leary: Far out! Groovy! Look who turned on, tuned in and dropped in!

Philip K. Dick: I never get tired of that. Talk about passing through a scanner darkly.

John H. Schwartz: Hey, it's all superstring theory.

Saul Perimutter: Anyone getting tired of Schwartz and his 'Hey, it's all superstring theory'? Buy that guy a good meal at Chez Panisse and it's, 'Hey, it's all superstring theory.'

Dykes gives Barbour another, slightly more urgent inquisitive look.

"Sonny, I'd like you to meet Berkeley's 'Potentem Secretus Commissionibus'," Barbour says. "They have something they want to show you."

It's the movie "Citizen Kane." The first scene plays on a giant screen.

"Rosebud..." says a dying Charles Foster Kane. Then the movie clicks off.

"Great movie!" Dykes says.

A voice booms across the room, "But it's horse poop! He truly said 'Rose Bowl,' and I'm still mad at Orson Wells for messing up the most important moment in his life. Or, rather, his death."

"Sonny, this is William Randolph Hearst Jr.," Barbour says.

"Dad died in August of 1951," Hearst says. "He was a Harvard man. I went to Berkeley. But he loved the Bears just as I did. He saw Cal go to three consecutive Rose Bowls from 1949-51. Lost them all. All he wanted was just one Rose Bowl victory before he died."

"So you can imagine how we feel -- no Rose Bowl since 1959!" Jerry Mathers says. "Gee, it'a be swell to even just lose one if we could just go again in my lifetime."

"Leave it to the Beaver to cut to the chase," cackles Robert Penn Warren. "You see what I did there, right? Seriously now, Sonny, the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and..."

"If I have to hear about the spider web from you again," says Bill Bixby. "I'm going to get angry, and it will take more than 'All the King's Men,' to stop me from smashing you!"

"Look folks," Dykes interjects. "I get it. You want a Rose Bowl. I want a Rose Bowl. And I've got a plan. But it won't happen overnight. Just have faith."

A woman across the room lets out a deep breath.

"I've been waiting to exhale for a long time!" Terry McMillan says.

Cal beats Northwestern 30-28 when Vince D'Amato boots a 49-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining. It whips Portland State then bests No. 2 Ohio State 24-21.

"No, this doesn't surprise me," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer says. "They should have beaten us last year. We're pretty overrated."

The eighth-ranked Bears fall at No. 2 Oregon 42-24. Then they beat Washington State, lose at UCLA and beat Oregon State before falling at Washington. After a 35-30 win over Arizona, fifth-ranked and undefeated USC comes to Berkeley.

"Dude, I do not care that Southern Cal has beaten us nine consecutive times," quarterback Zach Kline says. "Are you the sort who goes to Vegas and plays roulette and bets black after nine red winners? Doesn't work like that. Each moment in time is its own distinct universe. The only way nine consecutive losses matters is if you allow it to matter."

Pac-12 blog: "And how do you approach the game so nine consecutive losses won't matter?"

Kline: "I'll tell you, football's not a sport, it's a way of life, it's no hobby. It's a way of looking at that field and saying, 'Hey bud, let's party!'"

Cal beats the Trojans 28-24. Kline throws a pair of TD passes and Brendan Bigelow rushes for 148 yards.

After coasting past Colorado, the 8-3 Bears head to No. 4 Stanford for the Big Game. The Cardinal previously beat Oregon but fell to USC, so all three have just a single defeat. The general feeling, with no unbeaten teams in the nation and the Pac-12 rated as the nation's best conference, is the conference champion will play for the national title against the SEC champion.

Dykes meets again with the Potentem Secretus Commissionibus.

Tom Anderson: Look Sonny! I've set up a Facebook page for this Big Game. I've made up a bunch of fake quotes from Stanford players to get your guys mad. Isn't that great?

Robbie Jones: You know there's not even one decent tree on Stanford's hill? Or do they even have a hill where one tree can grow?

Adam Duritz: Er, Mr. Jones, that observation isn't helping. Here, talk to this black-haired flamenco dancer.

Earl Warren: Sonny, did I tell you I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people's accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man's failures. But I'd really like to read about Stanford's failure on Saturday.

Pac-12 blog: So, Sonny, getting a feel for how unique it is coaching the Berkeley football team?

Kevin Hogan sneaks in from 1-yard out to give Stanford a 21-17 lead with 34 seconds left. The Cardinal kick off.

Bigelow catches the ball at the 1-yard line. He laterals it to Bryce Treggs, who laterals it to Kenny Lawler, who sends it back to Bigelow.

Who is tackled on the Cal 26.

Kline lines up in a shotgun. He takes the snap. He hands the ball to Bigelow. Who sprints right up the middle for a 74-yard touchdown. Cal wins.

"We'll," says the announcer. "That's another way to do it."

The loss knocks Stanford out of the Pac-12 title game. When Oregon beats USC by a late field goal in the conference championship, the Ducks go to the national title game and USC heads to the Rose Bowl.

Stanford loses to TCU in the Alamo Bowl. Coach David Shaw is hired by the Dallas Cowboys. He's replaced by John Mackovic.

Cal beats Texas 59-0 in the Holiday Bowl -- Dykes goes for two to hit 59 -- which inspires Longhorns coach Mack Brown to resign and finally offer an apology to Cal for, "Talking all sorts of stupid, ridiculous stuff in 2004 when the Bears were clearly better than us."

Worst case

While there's no shame in losing to a good Northwestern team, California's first performance of the Sonny Dykes era is lackluster, most noteworthy being a pair of interceptions from Kline and just 310 yards of total offense.

Bears fans, frustrated by years of sub-par QB play, were hoping for more.

After whipping Portland State, No. 2 Ohio State comes to town, a team Cal almost beat a year ago in Columbus. The good news is Bears fans get to see good QB play. The bad news is it's Braxton Miller making plays with his arm and legs as the Buckeyes roll 35-17.

Cal gets a week off, but it doesn't help at Oregon, which rolls 45-20. The Bears get a second win by beating Washington State, but they lose three in a row thereafter, falling to UCLA, Oregon State and Washington.

At this point, Dykes switches quarterbacks, going with true freshman Jared Goff. Kline had 10 touchdown passes but also 10 interceptions through eight games, and fans feel good that Dykes is willing to make a change, something that former coach Jeff Tedford seemed reluctant to do through the years.

Goff plays well in a win over Arizona, but USC sacks him six times in a 38-10 Trojans victory the next week. Dykes goes back to Kline.

The Bears slip Colorado 17-14, but Dykes switches back to Goff in the third quarter.

"Does it hurt our confidence and make us surly to go back and forth with the starting job?" Kline says. "Maybe. But I only talk about that in the locker room. Endlessly. Same with Jared. We want to make sure everyone knows how grumpy we are. I'm sure that's good for morale."

The season whimpers toward its finale: The Big Game against No. 1, unbeaten Stanford.

"We have to match their physicality," Dykes says.

Stanford outrushes Cal 287 yards to 13 in a 40-3 victory, its fourth Big Game victory in a row.

Beverly Cleary: I'm working on a new children's book: "Sonny Dykes and the Big Freaking Disappointment."

Joan Didion: So much for our year of magical thinking.

John H. Schwartz: Hey, it's all superstring theory. Except, as a Cal fan, the string is not so super.

The Cardinal beats Alabama 20-3 and win the national championship. Coach David Shaw wins the Nobel Prize for Awesomeness shortly after signing the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

Top Dog closes in Berkeley and relocates to Palo Alto.

Karl Rove becomes Cal's new president. He immediately renames "Strawberry Canyon," "Wal-Mart Hill."