There's nothing sports love to do more than think about what if? Especially fanbases of struggling programs.
With that in mind, I tried to think of some of the most-interesting and important "What ifs?" floating around the entire Pac-12 conference in recent history.
What if Washington fired Tyrone Willingham in 2007 and hired Jim Mora?
The Huskies foolishly gave Willingham another year, and he led them to an 0-12 campaign, but many believe that Mora, then an assistant with the Seahawks would have jumped on the job if offered in late 07. One thing is probably for sure, if Washington could have pulled this off - Mora probably wouldn't be coaching at UCLA right now. Aside from that, I think Washington under Mora would have won some games in 2008 and then done just a little bit better than they did every season under Steve Sarkisian, but nothing too spectacular with Oregon and Stanford holding down the North.
What if Washington wasn't sanctioned in 1992 and Don James stayed?
Let's say Washington never get's investigated, or punished for the vague discrepancies levied at them in the early-90s and Don James doesn't retire going into 1993. If this doesn't happen, with James sitting at age 60, they get him for a little less than 10 more years. With James still around, I think the Huskies have a little bit more bite than they did under Jim Lambright and win at least a couple more Pac-10 championships while also avoiding falling apart in the long run like they did in the mid-2000s.
What if Dennis Erickson didn't leave Washington State in 1988, Oregon State in 2002?
Erickson was the perfect kind of guy for the Cougars as a terrific eye for under-the-radar talent and manage players who have some edge. Even with how well Erickson is with that formula, Pullman is still a difficult place to have consistent success in, but I think he would have been able to keep the Cougars out of the bottom of the conference in the early-90s and maybe even stole a Pac-12 title with Drew Bledsoe.
I think the Beavers would have been worse off had Erickson not headed to the 49ers are 02 as it appeared that the game passed him by late in his career and his programs seemed to slip into disorganization after a few years. Erickson probably could have led the Beavers to another bowl or two, but I think ultimately would have flamed out and would have had to get fired in the mid-2000s.
What if Chip Kelly never comes to Oregon?
Supposedly Kelly turned down assistant NFL positions before heading to Oregon as a coordinator, so it's a bit of a miracle that Oregon was able to (and savvy enough) to get him out to Eugene. If the Ducks can't get Kelly, unless they had some other completely under-the-radar ace up their sleeve, I think they are forced to hang onto Gary Crowton at offensive coordinator and don't have the resurgence under Mike Bellotti in 07 and 08 that they did with Kelly. If this is the case, I think the Ducks continue to succeed under Bellotti, but not to the level that Kelly did and are forced to move him into retirement and fire a completely new coach, though not as quickly as they did with Kelly in the fold.
What if Dennis Dixon stays healthy in 2007?
Had Dixon not gone done in Tucson, I think the Ducks sweep the rest of their regular season games and end up taking on Ohio State in the BCS Championship game with just one loss. I don't like the Kelly era Ducks against elite power teams, even with a healthy Dixon so I think they would have lost a close, low-scoring affair with the Buckeyes as Vernon Gholston, James Laurinaitis, Cameron Heyward and Malcolm Jenkins would give them serious trouble.
What if Mike Riley never left Oregon State, or never came back?
I think it is a win/lose for the Beavers if Riley never leaves Corvallis for the NFL for four years. One the down side, I don't think Riley is able to insert the JC talent like Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh that took the Beavers to the best season ever in 2000, but I do think he would have led the Beavers to good seasons and avoided the downfall that Erickson experienced in 2001.
What if Oregon State beat Washington in 2000?
If the Beavers hit a field goal and win in Seattle in overtime, they finish the regularly season undefeated and get Oklahoma in the BCS Championship game unless the BCS utterly screws them. Led by Jonathan Smith, Ken Simonton, DeLawrence Grant, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, the Beavers and their fast defense would have prevailed and amazingly brought home a national championship to Corvallis.
What if there had been a playoff in the 2000s?
When they started the BCS, I'm kind of surprised they didn't just start with at least a four-team playoff right off the bat. If it had been instituted in 1998, I think the Pac-12 would have taken home at least one more national championship than just the two won by USC in 03 and 04. If they had the four-team system, here is how I think it would have played out when Pac-10/12 teams were involved.
2000: Semis - 4. Washington over 1. Oklahoma 3. Miami over 2. Florida State Final - Miami over Washington
2001: Semis - 1. Miami over 4. Oregon 2. Nebraska over 3. Colorado Final - Miami over Nebraska
2002: Semis - 4. USC over 1. Miami 2. Ohio State over 3. Georgia Final - USC over Ohio State
2003: Semis - 1. Oklahoma over 4. Michigan 3. USC over 2. LSU Final - USC over Oklahoma
2004: Semis - 1. USC over 4. Texas 3. Auburn over 2. Oklahoma Final - USC over Auburn
2005: Semis - 1. USC over 4 Ohio State 2. Texas over 3. Penn State Final - Texas over USC
2010: Semis - 1. Auburn over 4. Stanford 2. Oregon over 3. TCU Final - Auburn over Oregon
2011: Semis - 1. LSU over 4. Stanford 2. Alabama over 3. Oklahoma State Final - Alabama over LSU
2012: Semis - 4. Oregon over 1. Notre Dame 2. Alabama over 3. Florida Final - Alabama over Oregon
What if Jeff Tedford left Cal in the mid-2000s?
Tedford was being courted by a number of teams in the mid-2000s and now in hindsight, it might have been best for him and Cal if he would have just taken one. If Tedford took off around then the Bears would have gotten the best years out of him and then likely would have replaced him with an up-and-coming coach that could have kept the program from stagnating down the road. How about this? Maybe they grab Jim Harbaugh in 2006 or 2007?
What if Andrew Luck came back for his senior season?
It seems ridiculous to think that Luck would have came back for a fourth season, but then again, he didn't really even need to come back for his third, but did. If he had amazingly come back for one more year, it's almost impossible to doubt that the Cardinal would have played for the national championship against Alabama, and with Luck at the helm, they would have had a very good chance at winning it.
What if the Pac-10/Big 12 mega conference happened?
For a moment, it looked as if the Pac-10 and Big 12 were going to merge to form a super conference that could put the SEC in the passenger's seat, but in the end, the Pac-12 ended up only adding two teams. I don't know how different the conference would have played out had the monster merger happened though, as, if I remember correctly, the Big 12 and Pac-10 teams weren't slated to play each other much during the regular season. However, I definitely think that we would have had some very interesting conference championship games between Oregon/Stanford and the powers of the Big 12.
What if USC wasn't sanctioned in the late 2000s?
I have a feeling that USC might go down as the last team (at least in the Pac-12) to be severely punished by the NCAA, but what if the NCAA had gone lighter on them? The funny thing is though, that I don't think things would have been much different for the Trojans even if they weren't punished, except that they would have gone to the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2011 and probably failed to win a second game in three weeks in Eugene. I think Pete Carroll had peaked at USC and was on his way out after 2009 regardless with the perfect offer coming from the Seahawks. Judging by the fact that they hired another Carroll disciple in 2013, I think even without sanctions, the Trojans still would have hired Lane Kiffin and his tenure would have been much the same with, or without sanctions.
What if Colorado stayed in the Big 12?
A fresh start seemed like a good move for the struggling Buffaloes back during realignment, but now they have failed to ever get out of the cellar of the Pac-12 South, so maybe it wasn't. However, I don't think the Buffaloes would be faring much better in the Big 12, with the only program that they could really finish ahead of the past few years being Kansas.
What if Utah stayed in the Mountain West?
The Utes took a much bigger risk than the Buffaloes by jumping up the Pac-12 and it hasn't gone very well thus far. If the Utes had stayed in the Mountain West I think they would have competed for the conference title every single year and maybe even won it at least once.
What if Utah got to play for a national championship in 2004 or 2008?
The Utes don't have too much of a gripe in 2004 as Auburn was also undefeated and didn't get to play, but it wouldn't have mattered much anyway, because if they got USC in the BCS Championship Game I'm sure that the Utes would have lost by 40 plus. 2008 would be a bit more interesting. The Utes would have either gotten Oklahoma or Florida. I wouldn't bet that the Utes would have beaten either of those teams, but I would have said the same thing going into their Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, so you never know.
What if Manti Te'o went to USC?
This is more just a purely for fun one. If Te'o had gone to USC, as many thought he would, he might have met Lenay Kekua much earlier and not had to maintain a long-distance relationship.
What if Reggie Bush went to Washington?
Bush was a key component to USC taking it to the next level (and their eventual collapse), but for much of his recruitment, it appeared that Rick Neuheisel and Washington had an excellent chance at landing him. Had Bush stuck with his initial leader and gone to Washington, it likely would have mean that the Huskies wouldn't have been quite as bad as they were from 2003 to 2005 (They won just five Pac-10 games in those five years), but it would have affected the Trojans much more.
What if De'Anthony Thomas went to USC?
I don't know if we will ever know the true story of why Thomas went to Oregon instead of USC, but if he had gone to USC I think he would have ended up primarily being a cornerback who also was a special teams weapon and occasionally offensive threat. Obviously he wouldn't have had as much team success as he did as a Duck, but USC would have won some more games with him in their arsenal, and his NFL Draft stock may have been higher if he primarily played cornerback in college.