First 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 first: Washington State
Idaho State isn't good; no one would say the Bengals should have been competitive with Washington State. But there was something about the way the Cougars marched over the Bengals like an army of steamrollers in a 62-3 victory that raised a few eyebrows in Pac-12 towns.
A 42-10 manhandling the following weekend over UNLV raised a few more. But it was a 38-17 victory at San Diego State that confirmed it: The Cougs will not be patsies in 2011.
"Making a statement? I don't know about that," said Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel after throwing three touchdown passes and outplaying touted Aztecs quarterback Ryan Lindley. "We're 3-0. That's good. We've got a bye coming up. That's good. Then we start the Pac-12 season at Colorado. That's probably where we try to make a meaningful statement."
For three quarters, the only statement from the Cougs is "almost." Colorado leads 24-10 with eight minutes left in the final frame and is driving. But on a third and 4 from the Cougs 18, Travis Long catches Buffaloes quarterback Tyler Hansen from behind and slaps the ball loose. Washington State recovers. Three completions from Tuel gets the Cougars to the Buffs 25. A draw play for Rickey Galvin gets the rest of it.
The defense stops the Buffs again, but the ensuing punt is downed on the Cougs 8-yard line with 2:15 left.
Tuel to Marquess Wilson converts a third and 8. Tuel to Kristoff Williams for 33 yards gets the Cougs into Colorado territory. A screen to Logwone Mitz reaches the 14. Tuel scrambles to the four, but takes a sack on second and goal. On fourth down, Tuel loops a throw to Wilson in the corner of the endzone with seven seconds left.
"I started thinking about our 2-point play when we got the ball on the eight," Washington State coach Paul Wulff said after his Cougars improved to 4-0 with a 25-24 win. "I thought, 'What kind of name is Gino Simone anyway?' Sounds like some sort of pretentious fashionista doesn't it? Like, 'The spring collection from Gino Simone features silk and ruffles and bright colors that will make you feel fabulous!' Thought the kid needed a football moment. And I thought he would be open. I was right, eh?"
The Cougs get votes in both the AP and Coaches polls.
But then the rebirth hits a wall. An overtime loss at UCLA, is followed by a blowout home defeat to Stanford. Oregon State gets revenge for a 2010 loss to the Cougs, and Oregon rolls at home. A four-game losing streak has fans once again questioning Wulff. Athletic director Bill Moos says he won't comment until after the season, which is read as a refusal to give a vote of confidence.
Washington State picks up win No. 5 at California, but falls back to .500 on a late field goal by No. 19 Arizona State. Utah comes to town with hopes of a South Division championships, but the Utes trudge out 27-24 losers. Tuel scrambles for the winning score with no time left, which rocks Martin Stadium like it's 2002, as though Drew Dunning is again sliding on his knees after USC is vanquished in overtime.
Washington State, after winning just five games the previous three years under Wulff, is bowl eligible.
"Bowl eligible? That's great," Wulff said. "But I hate purple and that's all I can see right now."
The Cougars rolls 35-24 over the faltering Huskies -- last place in the Pac-12 North -- at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Headline in the Sunday Seattle Times, "Sarkisian on the hot seat?"
Washington State whips Army in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to finish 8-5, winning four of its final five games.
Wulff signs a contract extension exactly one month before signing a recruiting class ESPN.com's Tom Luginbill calls, "Shockingly good."
It was a 2-0 start, but the 24-21 victory against Mountain West bottom-feeder UNLV didn't inspire many folks in Pullman.
The 35-30 loss at San Diego State felt revealing. Sure, quarterback Jeff Tuel can throw the football -- see three TD passes -- but giving up four sacks and rushing for just 96 yards isn't going to get it done. Nor is the defense yielding 487 yards.
The Cougars lose at Colorado but come back to surprise UCLA. That inspires hope: They are just three wins from bowl eligibility.
But no more wins come. Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State deliver beatdowns. Competitive games with Oregon State, California and Utah still include unhappy endings.
Wulff announces his resignation before the Apple Cup.
"While the program is better off today than when I took it over in 2008, my chief regret is that we just didn't get it done," he says. "I am and will forever be a Cougar. I only wish great things for this program in the future."
No. 15 Washington trounces Washington State 41-17. The Huskies head to the Alamo Bowl, where they bludgeon Texas A&M 35-10. ESPN.com shortly dubs them "darkhorse national title contenders in 2012."
The Cougars hire Tyrone Willingham to replace Wulff.