Over the past six seasons, one idea has been ingrained in many college football fans’ minds: the South Eastern Conference is far and away the best national conference. To be honest, if one were to take a cursory glance, it would not seem like much of a stretch. The past six national champions have all come from that league: LSU, Auburn, Florida (twice) and Alabama (twice).
Don’t look now though, SEC. Someone’s gaining on you. The West Coast powerhouses are quickly biting at your tail. It might be hard to believe, but the Pac-12 Conference is catching up to the SEC, and it might in fact supersede it by 2012. True, the last national champion from the conference was USC in 2004, but take a look at last year’s teams and compare them to the SEC’s. They are eerily similar.
At the top of the SEC, Alabama and LSU collided to provide perhaps the most boring national championship in the history of collegiate athletics. Behind them, Arkansas had a great season, finishing 11-2 and fifth in the Associated Press poll, followed by 11-2 South Carolina and 10-4 Georgia. In the final poll, the SEC had five teams in the top 25 — a solid showing, to say the least.
Not far behind, however, was the Pac-12. Oregon finished fourth, USC finished sixth and Stanford finished seventh, each team only losing two games. That is three teams in the top 10 — the same number as the SEC. True, the SEC had two more teams in the final poll later, but the SEC also had some bad teams at the bottom of the conference: Four teams in the conference finished under .500, including 2-10 Ole Miss. The Pac-12, meanwhile, had just five teams under .500, one being 6-8 UCLA, which played in the conference title game — albeit by default.
Perhaps you still aren’t convinced. Well, let’s take a look at next year’s projections.
USC, with the return of junior quarterback Matt Barkley and 17 of 22 starters, is thought by most pundits to be one of the top two teams in the country, with many placing them firmly as a preseason No. 1.
Oregon, despite losing its starting backfield, is still projected to be a top five team.
Stanford, despite losing star quarterback Andrew Luck, is still likely to be a preseason top 15 team, whether deservedly or not.
Washington has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and although they might not start in the top 25, it will likely make its way up the rankings, improving its 7-6 record.
Cal just had one of its most impressive recruiting classes, and although some of its players have slowly begun to decommit, the players who stay, as well as the returning starters, could have Cal winning eight games — possibly more.
In the SEC — outside LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina — no team is really expected to make much noise on the national stage. The SEC is supposedly heavier at the top, but the Pac-12 is right there. And from top to bottom? The Pac-12 is better.
Don’t forget the individual star power of the Pac-12, either. There’s Barkley, junior redshirt tailback Curtis McNeal, sophomore receiver Robert Woods, freshman receiver Marqise Lee, junior safety T.J. McDonald, sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey, and many others. That’s only USC.
Around the conference, Oregon backs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas are expected to have big seasons.
Quarterback Keith Price from Washington accounted for seven touchdowns in the team’s bowl game.
Arizona State runningback Cameron Marshall is back in Tempe, and he had 18 rushing touchdowns in 2011.
Keenan Allen from Cal returns and finished last season with the ninth most receiving yards in the country.
Receiver Marquess Wilson from Washington State is back as well. Defensively, eight non-USC players from the All-Conference team are playing in 2012, including defensive back John Boyett from Oregon and linebacker Chase Thomas from Stanford.
The SEC has ruled college football for a while now, but in terms of teams and players, the Pac-12 is as good, if not better. And by the time the 2012 season ends, mark my words: Pundits won’t be talking about the SEC anymore — all the chatter will be about the Pac-12.
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