Best case-worst case: Arizona State

This is the 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 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: Arizona State

Best case

Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton comes to a stop outside Sun Devil Stadium. It's 9 p.m. He realizes he left his playbook in the coaches' offices.

He re-enters the athletic building, but he hears music. It's coming from head coach Todd Graham's office.

Here we go yo, here we go yo

So what so what so what's the scenario?

"Coach Graham listens to A Tribe Called Quest?" Sutton wonders. "Now that is unexpected."

Sutton opens Graham's door. He sees Graham sitting at his desk. Another man is sprawled on the sofa laughing.

"Will," Graham says. "Have you met my friend Jay-Z?"

Later, Sutton tells quarterback Taylor Kelly about seeing Jay-Z in Graham's office.

"You didn't know that coach hangs with all those hip-hop guys?" Kelly replies. "I saw Lil Wayne in his office once. Coach was telling him how to make a court deposition hilarious. Yep, Coach been smooth since days of Underroos. Arizona [Kelly fake gags] is all about country western. We're urban up here."

Sutton almost notes that Kelly is from Eagle, Idaho, population 20,000, but says nothing.

After Arizona State whips Sacramento State 55-3 to open the season, Wisconsin comes to town. The Sun Devils hold the Badgers to just 197 total yards in a 21-3 victory.

Sutton and safety Alden Darby meet with reporters after the game. They are asked about how they could so thoroughly shut down a big physical team like Wisconsin.

Says Darby, "Ain't nothin' but a D thang, baaaaabay!"

Sutton gives him a fist bump, "Corona and Long Beach together, now you know you in trouble."

Stanford is also a big, physical team, but it surprises the Sun Devils by throwing the ball early and often. Kevin Hogan's three touchdown passes prove the difference in a 28-27 Cardinal victory.

"Guys," Graham says after the game. "That was a tough one. We've been hit with a few shells but we don't walk with a limp. We'll just get back to work."

The Sun Devils bounce back with a 30-21 win over USC. Running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster combine to rush for 260 yards and three scores.

Grice and Foster are asked after the game about sharing the ball and whether that's ever frustrating.

Says Grice, "It takes two to make a thing go right."

Adds Foster, "It takes two to make it outta sight."

The Sun Devils move up to No. 15 in the AP poll as they head to Texas to play Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium. Things go poorly in the first half as the Fighting Irish jump to a 17-0 lead and take a 24-3 advantage into the halftime locker room.

But the Sun Devils drive 80 yards for a touchdown on their first possession of the second half and the momentum shifts. Still, it's 31-27 Notre Dame when the Sun Devils get the ball back on their 35-yard line with 2:30 on the clock. They drive to the Irish's 22 with one minute left, but face a fourth-and-inches. They take their final time out.

Kelly returns to the huddle. He looks at receiver Jaelen Strong.

"You've been dogging that corner all night and he's nervous," Kelly said. "They'll be thinking run, so I'm going to play-action and you're going to do a hitch on the near side. Can you make a hitch work?"

Replies Strong, "I got 99 problems but a hitch ain't one. Hit me."

Kelly connects with Strong, who slips the corner in press coverage and sprints for the winning touchdown.

Reporter: That was quite a comeback. Do you think this marks a program, long called a sleeping giant, waking up?

Linebacker Carl Bradford seems mildly irritated by the question. He replies, "Don't call it a comeback. We've been here for years."

Reporter: I suppose you're going to tell us the plan is to put suckas in fear, makin' the tears rain down like a monsoon. And, you know, make the bass go boom?

Bradford: No. We're going to play one-game-at-a-time and give 110 percent.

Arizona State moves up to 12th in the national polls. It buries Colorado and slips Washington 24-20. It's greeted by a blizzard at Washington State, but Grice and Foster lead a rushing attack that gains 375 yards against the Cougars. Kelly throws just two passes.

Says Graham, "Today I didn't even have to use my T.K. I got to say it was a good day."

Arizona State rolls past Utah and nips Oregon State to win its seventh game in a row. Up next is a visit to No. 12 UCLA, which has only lost to Stanford and Oregon.

Kevin Gemmell: The winner in Pasadena will position itself to win the South Division and get a shot in the Pac-12 championship to make a date with the Granddaddy. The problem both defenses have is opposing quarterbacks who are at the top of their games.

Ted Miller: If there was a problem, Yo – I'll solve it! Check out the hook while DJ revolves it!

Gemmell: Please -- please! -- don't ever do that again.

Arizona State and UCLA are tied 24-24, but Brett Hundley drives the Bruins to the Sun Devils' 17 with three minutes left. He drops back, looking for Shaq Evans, but he's sacked from behind by Sutton. Darby picks up the loose ball and dashes for what proves to be the winning touchdown.

Sutton turns to Hundley, "You're just a butter knife, I'm a machete."

Hundley replies, "If I wasn't so angry, I would salute that old school reference."

At 10-1, Arizona State moves up to No. 5 in the nation. Rival Arizona comes to town limping at 5-6, needing a win to become bowl eligible. Arizona State runs onto the field with Kool Moe Dee's "Wild Wild West" blaring through the Sun Devil Stadium sound system. There is a suspicion on the opposite sideline that Graham is making fun of the Wildcats and coach Rich Rodriguez.

"He's making fun of us!" Rodriguez says to quarterback B.J. Denker.

Says Graham, "I'm making fun of them!"

Arizona State wins the toss. As the players shake hands, Kelly pulls Arizona linebacker Marquis Flowers close. He says, "You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge."

The Sun Devils roll 38-17. That earns them a spot opposite unbeaten and second-ranked Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

Graham gathers the Sun Devils in the locker room at Autzen Stadium.

"Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted -- one moment! -- would you capture it or just let it slip?" he says to his players. "Yo?"

The Sun Devils take a 33-30 lead in the second overtime. Ducks kicker Matt Wogan lines up for a 27 yard field goal to send it to a third overtime.

Announcer: Wide left! For the third time in three years, a missed field goal ruins Oregon's season.

Arizona State whips Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and finishes 13-1 and ranked third.

The athletic department receives an anonymous gift of $200 million to finance the $300 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium.

Explains Steve Patterson, ASU vice president for athletics: "Cash Rules Everything Around Me -- C.R.E.A.M. -- Get the money! Dollar, dollar bill y'all!"

Worst case

Arizona State bombs Sacramento State, but Wisconsin grinds down the smaller Sun Devils defense, and the Badgers mostly mute the Sun Devils running game. The passing game falters in the fourth quarter, with a Taylor Kelly interception killing a final drive in a 24-20 loss.

The Sun Devils' struggles are even more pronounced against Stanford, owners of one of the nation's best defenses. Not only do they go down 28-10, they lose their composure when frustration sets in during the fourth quarter, getting a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct flags.

"No, we're not reverting to former undisciplined ways," Graham tells reporters. "We've just got to keep our heads in the game. We knew our schedule was going to be tough. We just need to get back to our high-octane ways."

That doesn't happen against USC, which blisters the Sun Devils 30-13.

Kevin Gemmell: A 1-3 start is bad, but losing two conference games probably means the Sun Devils can't lose another Pac-12 game if they hope to win the Pac-12 South Division.

Ted Miller: They better start thinkin' of a master plan, 'Cuz ain't nuthin' but sweat inside their hands.'

Gemmell: Really? You need to learn to let a conceit go.

The Sun Devils fall 20-17 to Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium. The opposing defensive plan has been set: Gang up against Marion Grice and D.J. Foster and force the Sun Devils to throw the ball. As of yet none of the receivers, including touted recruit, Jaelen Strong, has been able to make the defense pay consistently. The defense has been solid, but it's not unreasonable to wonder if a guy like Will Sutton will start thinking about the NFL as the losses pile up.

"I'm not thinking about the NFL," Sutton says. "I'm thinking about Colo... oh ... is that a Bentley driving down Mill Avenue?"

The Sun Devils dump Colorado 30-20, upset Washington and even their record with a 28-24 win at Washington State. A late field goal gives Arizona State a 31-30 win at Utah.

"We need one more win to become bowl eligible," Graham says. "But we also think we can win out and get to a good bowl game."

Oregon State whips the Sun Devils 28-17, and UCLA scores 21 fourth-quarter points to win 35-31. That sets up a Territorial Cup with Arizona over big stakes. The Wildcats need to win to capture the South Division title, which will give them an opportunity to play in the program's first Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils need to win to become bowl eligible.

The Wildcats end all intrigue by halftime. Ka'Deem Carey rushes for 205 yards and QB B.J. Denker passes for 235 and three scores in a 44-17 victory.

The Sun Devils finish at 5-7, their fourth losing mark since 2008.

Carey wins the Heisman Trophy. Arizona upsets unbeaten Stanford for the Pac-12 title and then beats Ohio State in the Rose Bowl to finish 12-2 and ranked sixth.

The Wildcats also win national titles in basketball, baseball and softball.

Graham texts his players at 4 a.m. on Dec. 25 that he's leaving to become special teams coach at Arizona.

He calls it his dream job.

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts


Washington State





Oregon State