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Pac-12 football improved but has not yet caught SEC

The Pac-12 Conference was much ballyhooed coming into the 2013 football season and for good reason. They had several schools capable of being in the Top 25 and some of those teams were national title contenders. However, after examination following the bowl season, it’s obvious that although the Pac-12 can probably consider themselves the best of the rest, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) still reigns on top even if they didn't win the BCS championship for the first time in eight seasons - see video above.

The Oregon Ducks goal of being #1 this season fizzled with Pac-12 Conference road losses to Stanford and Arizona
Stephen Dunn - 2013 Getty Images

That’s not to say the SEC was or is all-powerful as they have dipped from their supreme stranglehold as the best league in the country. However, conferences such as the Pac-12, Big-12, Big Ten and the ACC still haven’t assumed control as the preeminent conference in the land.

Missed opportunities

The Pac-12 had an opportunity to supplant or at least catch the SEC with a sweep of their nine bowls, which was possible as they were favorites in each of the postseason games. Nevertheless, one of the first bowl contests of 2013 was a collapse to Colorado State 48-45 in the New Mexico Bowl by the Washington State Cougars after having the game seemingly won, ruining the Pac-12’s chance at the sweep.

Still, the rest of the schedule looked promising and included the USC Trojans crushing BCS-buster hopeful Fresno State 45-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl. Then on Christmas Eve in the Hawaii Bowl, the Oregon State Beavers easily handled Boise State 38-23. In the Fight Hunger Bowl, the Washington Huskies overpowered BYU 31-16 to give the Pac-12 Conference a 3-1 mark at that juncture.

On December 30th, a highly publicized gridiron battle in the Alamo Bowl between the Oregon Ducks and Texas saw head coach Mack Brown’s finale fizzle as the speed of Oregon was too much for the Longhorns to handle. However, later that night in the Holiday Bowl, Texas Tech looked faster than the Arizona State Sun Devils giving the Pac-12 a second loss 37-23.

On New Year’s Eve at the Independence Bowl, the Arizona Wildcats ran roughshod over Boston College for an easy 42-19 victory. That was followed later in the Sun Bowl by the UCLA Bruins who pulled away for a big 42-12 win over Virginia Tech.

At 6-2 and one contest left with the Rose Bowl, it appeared the Pac-12 would have an excellent bowl season to feed off of heading into 2014. However, Michigan State had something to say about that; and in a game that was a back-and-forth defensive struggle, the Stanford Cardinal came out on the losing end 24-20.

Overall depth is there, but ...

An overview of the games points up the potential dominance the conference can have but also, the improvement still needed to be the best. The Cougars' loss can be attributed to a team that is learning to win after going 10 years without a bowl appearance. The victory by USC over a Fresno State team that was highly advertised by many talking heads as a program on the rise proved how deep the Pac-12 is considering USC was only a third place in the South Division. The same can be said for a 7-6 Oregon State club that easily defeated a once vaunted Boise State squad. Washington’s win over BYU was solid as was Oregon’s easy win over a proud, big-time program like Texas.

Aside from both Arizona and UCLA’s easy wins, the problem with the Pac-12’s potential is seen in the Arizona State and Stanford losses. These were prime-time contests to prove to everyone in the country that one, the Sun Devils were a legitimate Top 10 contender and two, Stanford should be considered a national championship quality team – but that didn’t happen. The ability to win constantly outside the conference especially when you're the favorite is something these schools still need to learn.

Unquestionably, the Pac-12 Conference is one of the best leagues in the nation. The quality of competition in the league is obvious. Still, the Pac-12 was stiffed this year when none of the BCS bowls (sans the Rose Bowl) chose Top 10 Oregon. If they want to move to the top of the heap and gain more respect nationally, the conferences schools will have to start winning regularly during bowl season, including high profile contests.

So the chant from the Pac-12 Conference is ‘we’re number two’ … for now.

Source: Pac-12 Conference

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