2014 PAC-12 CONFERENCE PREVIEW
For over a decade the SEC has been far and away the strongest conference in college football, winning 7 straight BCS championships from 2006-2012, including the ‘12 title that featured two SEC West teams facing off on the big stage. But the gap between the SEC and the rest is closing, thanks to the resurgence of the Pac-12. What used to be “USC and the Little 9,” the league now has multiple title contenders at the top, plus stronger teams from top to bottom. The influx of talented coaches and the raised cash flow from the television contracts has allowed the league to improve tremendously, enough to place it right behind the SEC in the race for conference supremacy.
A few seasons ago the league was going through a transition phase with a lot of staff turnover adding in icons Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Jim Mora, and David Shaw. Each has done an excellent job at rebuilding their respective programs, and in Shaw’s case, maintaining elite success. Those names, added to an already strong cast of program builders, plus former Boise State coach Chris Petersen heading to Seattle, gives the Pac-12 the best coaching fleet in America.
The 2014 season could be special for the league, with 2, 3, even 4 College Football Playoff contenders. Oregon and Stanford will battle again for the North Division, and after correctly picking Stanford last season, I am predicting that Oregon will break through and reclaim the conference. Washington could be a surprise team to watch for, given that Petersen has some top-notch talent to work with in his first season. Last year I was one of the few to pick Arizona State to win the division, giving me the most accurate Pac-12 South in the nation. This season, while everyone is picking UCLA, I am calling for the other Los Angeles team, Southern Cal, to win the South. USC’s two biggest flaws have been poor coaching and roster restrictions; now the roster is fixed, and with the return of Coach Steve Sarkisian (and DC Wilcox), the staff is much improved and familiar with the league.
What also makes the Pac-12 stand out is the strength of the bottom halves of the divisions. There are very few easy wins anymore, as Arizona and Utah from the South are trending upwards, and Leach has Washington State (North) ready to return to compete. I also don’t recall a league returning so many established stars at the quarterback position. There are several Heisman candidates, 4-year starters, potential 1st rounders, career passing leaders, and proven winners at QB - its unbelievable.
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