Fans and pundits alike have gone back-and-forth on whether the SEC or Pac-12 is the superior conference this season. Reality is that the two premier leagues in college football have a lot in common.
The leaders of the SEC—Alabama, Georgia, LSU—garner the most attention. However, there are always surprises in what is widely regarded as college football's best conference.
Texas A&M emerged to win 10 regular-season games a season ago. This year, Missouri is 6-0 and Auburn 5-1.
Missouri typified one of the most repeated refrains about the SEC, that there are very few off weeks, when it upset Georgia on Saturday.
The Tigers are ranked No. 14 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 Poll, making them one of eight SEC representatives to be ranked.
No other conference can stake claim to such impressively deep representation in the rankings. The case for the Pac-12 is strengthening, though.
Half as many Pac-12 teams are ranked, but valid cases could be made for Arizona State, Oregon State and Utah, all of which received votes this week.
Oregon and Stanford earned plenty of national buzz before the season. But becoming readily apparent with each new week this season is just how deep the Pac-12 goes beyond the two preseason front-runners.
Oregon State and UCLA, both winners of nine games in 2012, went into Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium and barely escaped.
Defending Pac-12 champion Stanford wasn't so lucky. One week after surviving 31-28 against Washington, a nationally ranked team and contributor to the conference’s depth in its own right, the Cardinal slipped up.
Utah is coming off a disappointing 5-7 finish a season ago and was the media's choice to finish fifth in the conference's South division once again.
The Utes may very well still finish near the bottom. They are 1-2 in conference despite Saturday’s landmark win.
That’s no slight on Utah, which has proven it’s a threat to upper echelon Pac-12 teams. Ninth-ranked UCLA remains the division’s pacesetter. Arizona State is a challenger with its ability to create turnovers and capitalize via a quick-strike offense.
USC made an impressive turn in its first game with Ed Orgeron as head coach, beating Arizona—which mounted its own impressive comeback to nearly catch the Trojans.
Oregon State and Washington State met Saturday in Pullman, Wash., in what was an incredibly important game for both teams' bowl and divisional championship aspirations.
Yes, the Beavers and Cougars entered the season's midway point with a realistic shot in the divisional race.
Washington State's aspirations were erased, but Oregon State is now 3-0 and the winner of five straight. The Beavers get both Washington and Stanford at home, with payback for last season’s single-digit, road losses in mind.
Oregon State is also one of several Pac-12 teams with individual standouts leading the nation in their given trade.
College football’s top rusher (Bishop Sankey, Washington), kickoff returner (Ty Montgomery, Stanford), rushing touchdown scorer (Marion Grice, Arizona State), interceptor (Steven Nelson, Oregon State) passer (Sean Mannion, Oregon State) and receiver (Brandin Cooks, Oregon State) all come from the Pac-12.
That’s four teams representing six different statistical categories. And that doesn't even factor in arguably the best offensive and defensive players in the conference, if not the nation: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
Mariota is the early Heisman front-runner, per the ESPN.com Heisman Watch. NFL.com analyst and former professional scout Bucky Brooks said on his podcast that Barr is making the case to surpass South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney on draft boards.
Barr certainly has a fan in Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, who called the linebacker the best defender the Utes faced during last week's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
With such a bevy of talent, the mantra that there are no off weeks in the SEC can certainly be applied to the Pac-12, as well.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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