Best case: Cal vs. Oregon to crown the King in the Pac-12 North

California–Oregon football hasn't had stakes this high since the Tedford days

With the delay of Pac-12 Football in 2020, Write for California started the fall by covering a mock season. In place of our standard game previews, we will kick off our pregame “coverage” with fictitious contrasting best- and worst-case scenarios for each game (inspired by Ye Olde ESPN Pac-12 Blog) had COVID-19 never cursed us. The week might culminate in a video game simulation on Saturday (with commentary by Rob Hwang and Trace Travers) and maybe a game recap by Nick Kranz on Monday.

With the resumption of Fall Sports, I’ll be wrapping up this series soon. It’s not all too popular (can’t even get the staff here to read it) and the burnout is very real.

When my Cal fandom came alive in the Tedford era, it felt like California and Oregon would annually go to war, often entering the season as the two main candidates for the darkhorse that could at last upend Pete Carroll’s USC empire.

Our paths have—clearly—diverged since then. However, 2020 appears to be a return to form.

The Bears are 5–1 with a win over said Trojans and hanging around the outskirts of the Top 25. Meanwhile, the Ducks have shocked the nation, sitting 5–0 with an upset win over the Buckeyes and a very real chance at the College Football Playoff.

Taking a page from our 2006 game against Oregon—when we debuted our brilliant gold jerseys—California took the field with two special guests. Nobel Laureates Reinhard Genzel and Jennifer Doudna were named honorary captains and led the Bears onto the field.

Oregon is hampered by a young defense—but that feels like an afterthought with a defense as terrifying as theirs. Although the California offense has improved measurably under the tutelage of Oregonian Bill Musgrave, it just isn’t enough against one of the top units in all of college football. Cal’s offensive line is an experienced squad, but has struggled with pass protection since 2019—and provided little resistance against the prodiguous pass-rusher, Kayvon Thibodeaux. On the other end of the spectrum, the California cadre of receivers were blanketed all day by Oregon’s talented secondary. The Bears were able to inch up the field with a mix of runs and passes to slot receivers like Nikko Remigio to take advantage of mismatches against Duck linebackers, but yardage and points were hard to come by for the Bears.

Fortunately, the California defense was able to rise to the occassion. Oregon’s offense line is anchored by All–Milky Way Penei Sewell… but the rest of the line is woefully inexperienced and was thoroughly dominated by the California defensive line. This meant that equally inexperienced quarterback Tyler Shough was accosted all day and struggled to get into a rhythm while there was no running room for CJ Verdell.

For the second-straight game, it came down to the final drive. With time ticking away and California trailing 10–9, Christopher Brown Jr. willed the team downfield seemingly by the power of his two legs alone. Brown Jr. and the rest of the offense strived and fought to get the ball into the redzone and—for the fourth time that day—Dario Longhetto and the field goal unit took the field. The crowd was as quiet as my Tinder inbox with every fan holding their breath. Slater Zellers snapped the ball… the hold was good… Longhetto’s leg connected with the ball… and it sailed through the uprights!

Fans stormed the field, celebrating and cheering as the Bears upset a Playoff contender and shocked the Pac-12 North—and the world.

2020 Cal best-case season

UNLV: W 34–13
TCU: W 27–20
Cal Poly: W 45–17
Utah: W 27–17
Washington State: L 34–28
USC: W 21–17
Oregon: W 12–10
Oregon State:
Arizona State:
UC L.A.:

Win-loss: 6–1

This is a completely fictional account of the 2020 California football season had it transpired without COVID-19. All commentary, criticism, etc. of any player, coach, or figure is based on this total hypothetical and is not an analysis or indictment of the actual individual.