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Best case-worst case: USC

Ninth 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 season'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: USC

Best case

In the bowels of the Coliseum, USC gathers before taking the field against Minnesota.

"I want to read you something," coach Lane Kiffin says, flicking open a one-page letter

"President Nikias. I appreciate your grace last week when announcing that USC would not pursue any further redress against the NCAA. What I find unconscionable is where this leaves the NCAA. I have personally reviewed the facts of USC's case before the Committee on Infractions, and I can tell you that I am not the only one inside these walls who has long been troubled by the Committee's findings and the resulting severe sanctions against your football program. USC was wronged well before news broke of the massive scandal at Miami under former athletic director Paul Dee, who was not fit to sit judgment of USC as the Committee chair. The combination of a poorly reasoned and unjust ruling and Dee's hypocrisy simply cannot stand. That is why I am taking the unprecedented action of ruling sanctions against USC null-and-void. Sincerely, NCAA president Mark Emmert."

That was not good news for the Golden Gophers, who go down 52-3.

"I'll tell you what it means," says linebacker Chris Galippo. "It means that the rest of college football hears one thing echoing in its collective head right now, 'They're baaaaaaack!'"

A rumor starts to float that SEC commissioner Mike Slive was found locked in his office closet, repeatedly murmuring, "But I don't want USC to be eligible. It's not fair!"

Poll voters immediately promote USC to No. 10 in the polls.

The Trojans batter Utah in the first Pac-12 game, 41-17.

"I know it's the new Pac-12," says ESPN's Chris Fowler. "But it seems a lot like the old Pac-10, circa 2002-2008."

The Trojans bludgeon Syracuse, 60-6 and rise to No. 5.

"Arizona State is going to test USC," says ESPN's Kirk Herstreit. "The Sun Devils have already manhandled a two good teams in Missouri and Illinois."

USC rolls the Sun Devils 38-10, with quarterback Matt Barkley throwing his ninth and 10th TD passes on the year. He throws 11, 12 and 13 in a 41-17 victory over Arizona and two more in a 44-7 win at California and a 33-17 win over Notre Dame.

"Barkley has 17 touchdown passes in seven games; Stanford's Andrew Luck has 16," says Fowler. "Fair to say the winner Saturday becomes the Heisman Trophy frontrunner?'

Stanford nips the Trojans 30-27, with Luck scrambling for 20 yards on third and 8 to set up the game-winning field goal.

The Trojans bounce back with blowout wins over Colorado and Washington, setting up a showdown with top-ranked Oregon, which is coming off a 33-30 overtime win over Stanford.

LaMichael James rushes for 154 yards and two scores in a 33-24 Ducks victory.

The Trojans batter UCLA, 45-20, beating the Bruins for the 12th time in 13 years.

The No. 8 Trojans face the top-ranked Ducks (again!) for the inaugural Pac-12 crown.

They gather before running into Autzen Stadium. Kiffin begins: "What a ride. We've seen a lot of stuff together these two years, huh? Stuff that was out of our control. Stuff that didn't let the Trojans be what Trojans truly are: Champions. But we're in control again, aren't we? It's about us again. And we've got a chance tonight to reclaim what has been taken from us. What is ours. Understand: Our victory will be remembered. It will become an important part of Trojans history. No, we're not going to get an opportunity to play for the national title like a lot of 'SC teams, though I'd like our chances in a playoff. But USC fans and former Trojans are going to remember you as the team who took back our championship identity, which was stolen from us. They will say, 'That was the team that reestablished the tradition.' And they will remember your names. The rest of college football is watching tonight, rooting against us, worried about the return of USC. Well, let's go out there and show them that their worries are 100 percent justified."

James is stuffed by Galippo on a fourth-and-goal inside the USC 1-yard line with 45 seconds left. Three Barkley sneaks later, and USC is a 29-23 winner, headed back to the Rose Bowl as Pac-12 champions.

USC stuffs Wisconsin 35-17 in the Rose Bowl to finish 12-2 and ranked fourth.

"I'm coming back for my senior year," Barkley announces. "because I want to win a national championship before I leave."

The Trojans signed the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.

"I'd like to announce a home-and-home series with USC," says a grim-faced Alabama athletic director, Mal Moore.

"Mr. Moore, over here," shouts an uncommonly stylish reporter. "Is this a reaction to the rumored reality series for the Pac-12 network this fall, 'See what SEC athletic directors do when USC calls!'"

"Shutup Miller," a grim-faced Alabama athletic director says.

Worst case

Quarterback Matt Barkley throws three touchdown passes in a 30-23 season-opening win over Minnesota.

"Yeah, I think everyone is curious what Utah will bring to the table," says Barkley. "Our job is to give them a rude welcome."

The game is tied 28-28 late in the fourth quarter. On a third and 3 from its own 15, Utes QB Jordan Wynn finds DeVonte Christopher for an 85-yard, game-winning touchdown after USC cornerback Nickell Robey fell down.

The Trojans bounce back by whipping Syracuse 33-10, but Arizona State sacks Barkley four times in a 24-10 victory. USC improves to 3-2 with a home win over Arizona, but gets drubbed at California 35-20 and gives up a late TD in a 30-24 loss at Notre Dame after another coverage breakdown. Andrew Luck throws three TD passes in a 40-24 Stanford win over the Trojans.

USC shows some fight, winning at Colorado and at home over Washington, but it looks lethargic while taking a 48-20 whipping at Oregon.

"We play a faceless opponent every week," Ducks coach Chip Kelly says when asked if it still feels special to stomp USC, which Oregon has done three years in a row.

"Is it easier selling that to your players now than it was in 2008?" asks an uncommonly stylish reporter.

Kelly smiles, "Shutup, Miller."

"We still have plenty to play for," Kiffin says. "For one, we always want to beat UCLA. That can make a season. Finishing .500 is certainly better than the alternative. And we can stop the Bruins from winning the South Division."

UCLA defensive end Datone Jones sacks Barkley three times as the Bruins roll over the Trojans 33-17.

"Do I feel sorry for USC?" Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel says. "A little."

The Bruins lose to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game but they whip Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl and finished 10-4 and ranked 14th.

UCLA's 31-player class -- six elite prospects are brought in early to count against the 2011 class -- ranks sixth in the nation, two spots behind Notre Dame.

"It was great to cherry-pick Southern California recruiting," says Neuheisel. "So much talent. Glad we had a full allotment of scholarships."

USC's class of 15 ranks eighth in the Pac-12.

"Tough times don't last, tough people do," says Kiffin. "Wait... where did I hear that?"

Murmurs USC athletic director Pat Haden, "Not for long if they go 5-7 as USC's head coach."

Barkley, offensive tackle Matt Kalil, defensive end Nick Perry, defensive end Devon Kennard and safety T.J. McDonald each announced they are entering the NFL draft.

Ring! Ring!

"Pat, hiya! Mal Moore down here at the University of Alabama," says Mal Moore to Haden. "How you? Good, good. You want to bring your boys down here for a football game? We'd love to see 'ya!"

 

Read more at espn.go.com

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