This is the seventh in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.
We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).
Up next: Oregon State
Fade from black. A desperate man with a dark mustache and a bald head sits in a shadowy, wood paneled office.
He says, "I believe in the Pac-12 ... I rooted for my team in the Pac-12 fashion."
He tells a tale of woe, his team losing and his family being teased by other Pac-12 fans.
"I said to my wife," he concludes. "For justice, we must go to Don Mike Riley."
"Well, heck," Riley says. "Why didn't you come to me first? We've known each other many years, but this is the first time you came to me for counsel, for help. But, gosh, that's OK. Some day, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But, until that day, accept this stuffed Beaver as a gift on the first day of preseason camp. Now, I want to tell you about my team. I really like these guys!"
"Gosh, guys, I really like how both of you competed and did everything we asked you," Riley says. "But we have to make a decision. This is business not personal. Sean, you're going to start against Eastern Washington. Cody, I think we have the best backup quarterback in the Pac-12. I want you guys to handle this the right way. A hundred other guys will be watching what happens next."
Oregon State stomps Eastern Washington and Hawaii. Mannion throws five TD passes and sits out of the fourth quarter of each game. The Beavers are challenged during road trips to Utah and San Diego State, but they prevail with dominant fourth quarters on both sides of the ball.
They then blow out Colorado, win on a last-second field goal at Washington State and take down California 27-17. At 7-0, Oregon State is ranked 11th, but the toughest part of the schedule lies ahead as each of the final five foes are ranked, including No. 3 Stanford, which heads to Corvallis next.
Reporter: Mike, you're the don, er, dean of Pac-12 coaches, having led Oregon State for 12 years, 10 consecutively since you dabbled in the NFL. What's the secret to your longevity, considering just two other Pac-12 coaches have been at their schools for four or more seasons?
Riley: There are many things my father taught me growing up in Corvallis. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your good friends closer.
Riley gathers his team before they take the field opposite the unbeaten Cardinal.
"I was watching ESPN GameDay this morning and those guys were saying no one really knows what to make of the Beavers, no one knows who we are," Riley says. "Well, I think I know who we are. And I think you know who we are. Tonight we've got a great opportunity to show everyone else who we are. This sounds like a great opportunity to me. Let's show Stanford and everyone else who the Beavers are."
With 17 seconds left, the score is tied 20-20. Stanford has a first and 10 on the Beavers 40.
Announcer: Stanford probably needs about 10 yards to get into field goal range or we go to overtime.
Kaumatule lines up in the slot opposite linebacker Michael Doctor, who steps up in press coverage.
Kaumatule: What are you up to, Michael?
Doctor: Don't ask me about my business, K.
On the snap, Doctor cuts inside on a blitz. Kaumatule takes three steps, and Hogan turns with Doctor in his face. He throws toward his big tight end.
Announcer: Ryan Murphy! Murphy, the Beavers safety, cuts in front of Kaumatule and he's going back the other way for the touchdown! It looks like the unbeaten Beavers have announced themselves to the nation as Pac-12 and national title contenders!
But the Beavers go down to USC on a Friday night in Corvallis and, after an off week, lose in overtime at Arizona State.
The post game locker room in Tempe is silent. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker huddles with Riley.
"It's like, with good fortune and national attention, they didn't know what to do," he says.
Riley erupts, "They could act like men! What's the matter with you guys? Is this what you've become, wide-eyed when you get ranked in the top-10? What ... you think it gets easier? If you want to win a championship, you have to embrace the fact that every step forward is infinitely more difficult that the one that preceded it. You must think like that and you must prepare like that."
The Beavers clobber No. 15 Washington 40-17. That sets up a Civil War showdown with 10-1 Oregon, which lost only to Stanford. The winner goes to the Pac-12 title game because the Cardinal followed up their win over the Ducks with a defeat at USC.
The Beavers walk into their locker room before Tuesday's practice and there's a large stuffed Duck wearing an Oregon jersey laying on the floor. It's got a Copper River salmon sticking out of its mouth.
Storm Woods: Wait... I know this one.
Brandin Cooks: It's a Sicilian message. It means Oregon sleeps with the fishes.
Woods: Or will.
Center Isaac Seumalo pulls the fish out.
Seumalo: That's all great but Copper River king salmon is like $40 a pound, and this baby is pretty large. Let's grill this bad boy up!
Autzen Stadium is throbbing as the Beavers gather around Riley. After a long pause, he begins.
"Their time is done," he says. "It's over. This is our time. So go out there and take it."
Oregon takes a 28-24 lead on a 30-yard touchdown run from De'Anthony Thomas. The Beavers take over on their 20-yard line with 1:35 remaining. They drive to the Ducks 14-yard line, but face a fourth-and-3 with 14 seconds left.
After a timeout, Mannion eyeballs Cooks in the huddle.
"You'll be one-one-one with Ifo [Ekpre-Olomu] on the outside," Mannion says. "Go hard inside and sell a fake, then break to the flag. I'll be coming over your left shoulder. This is all or nothing. So sell that inside move hard!"
Says Cooks, "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."
Ekpre-Olomu bites on the fake; Mannion lobs to the flag; Cooks leaps. Touchdown. Autzen Stadium goes quiet, other than a pie slice of fans in orange and black, who go bonkers.
Oregon State beats USC 30-24 in the Pac-12 title game and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1964 season.
The Beavers whip No. 7 Michigan in Pasadena and finish 12-2 and ranked fourth.
Headline in the Portland Oregonian: "Oregon football facility found to cause hallucinations." The story then recounts that when you combine ostentation, Brazilian Ipe wood and extreme hubris, it forms a rare, airborne, psychotropic gas.
"Yes, it all must be torn down," says a smiling man with dark mustache and a bald head. "And a new building can't be constructed on the site for five years. But Ducks like to be outside in the rain, yes?"
Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion then walk into Riley's office.
"Gosh, guys, I really like how both of you competed and did everything we asked you," Riley says. "But we have to make a decision. Sean, you're going to start against Eastern Washington. Cody, I think we have the best backup quarterback in the Pac-12."
The Beavers whip Eastern Washington and Hawaii, but a late Mannion interception keys an upset loss at Utah.
"We're going to go with Cody Vaz against San Diego State," Riley tells reporters the following Monday.
The Beavers beat the Aztecs and Colorado and then slip Washington State in overtime. However, they are flat at California, perhaps looking ahead to Stanford, and lose 20-17.
Kevin Gemmell: As we noted in the preseason, the Beavers schedule ramps up from here. Their next five foes are all ranked.
Ted Miller: Is that what you said when they asked you to do SportsCenter!
Ted Miller: I'm your older blogger, Kevin, and I was stepped over!
Stanford whips the Beavers 30-10 as Vaz throws two picks and is sacked five times.
"We're going to go with Sean Mannion against USC," Riley tells reporters the following Monday.
USC rolls over Oregon State 40-10.
Opponents are exploiting the weakness of the Beavers interior defensive line -- see 175 yards rushing surrendered per game -- and both quarterbacks are inconsistent. Defenses are blanketing receiver Brandin Cooks with bracket coverages, and no No. 2 option is stepping forward. The offensive line, thought a strength in the preseason, has been underwhelming.
The Beavers go down at Arizona State with Vaz and lose at home to Washington with Mannion. They head to Autzen Stadium to take on No. 2 and unbeaten Oregon at 5-6, needing a win to earn bowl eligibility, not to mention to prevent the Ducks from playing Alabama for the national title.
Both QBs play. Oregon rolls 45-17.
Ducks first-year coach Mark Helfrich is carried off the field by his team, but he tells consigliere, er, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti to relay a message to Riley: "Tell Mike it was only business. I've always liked him."
The Ducks win the national title with a blowout win over the Crimson Tide. As a reward, Nike founder Phil Knight gives each Oregon player a brass bottle.
With a genie in it. And no limit on wishes. The NCAA deems the gift, "Really cool and fine with us."
Riley retires to his vacation him in Gruene, Texas along the Guadalupe River.
The Beavers hire Charlie Weis away from Kansas.
"Folks around here sometimes complained the Mike was too nice," athletic director Bob De Carolis says. "So we went another direction."
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