In a season that the Pac-12 had designs on challenging the SEC's college football supremacy, the conference's most comparable quality to that of the SEC ended its championship aspirations.
Popular sentiment among college football pundits and fans in recent years is the SEC's conference-wide strength, its greatest asset, would ultimately be its greatest detriment. While there has been some cannibalization in the SEC, there hasn't been enough to end its ongoing run of national championships.
The Pac-12 has not been so fortunate. Each of the last three seasons, a Pac-12 team ranked in the Top 5 of the BCS has lost in November. This season, it happened three times in three consecutive weeks.
Entering Week 13, the Pac-12's chances of winning a BCS Championship for the first time since 2004 were slim to none. Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey quickly ushered Slim out of the building in a 42-16 rout of Oregon. With the Ducks suffering ther second loss in three weeks, all 12 of the conference's members have multiple blemishes on their dockets, and the conference's run of seasons with two BCS participants is in serious jeopardy.
Obviously, that includes all five Pac-12 teams ranked in the BCS Top 25: No. 8 Stanford (9-2), No. 12 Arizona State (9-2), No. 13 Oregon (9-2), No. 22 UCLA (8-3) and No. 23 USC (9-3). That's 12 losses between the quintet, though only two are out of conference.
Between them, they have wins over the ACC, Big Ten and SEC. Stanford has an opportunity avenge the group's non-conference losses, both of which came against Notre Dame.
So at 10 Pac-12 losses, the safe assumption is the top teams are beating up on each other, and there is some of that. But it's not that simple. While all three of UCLA's losses are to other ranked Pac-12 teams, and Arizona State's one defeat is to Stanford, Oregon lost at Arizona, Stanford at Utah and USC against Washington State.
The SEC has seen a similar shakeup this season. LSU lost to Ole Miss, South Carolina to Tennessee, Missouri to South Carolina, Georgia to Vanderbilt—there's similar parity, and the motivating factor in both leagues is the improvement of lower tier teams.
In the SEC, perennial doormat Vanderbilt has become a threat under head coach James Franklin. Likewise, Washington State—which took the SEC's No. 4-ranked Auburn to the brink in Week 1—finds itself in position for a bowl bid for the first time in a decade. New coaches around the Pac-12, from Mike Leach at Washington State, to Todd Graham at Arizona State and Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, have raised the stakes on a weekly basis.
A division contender like South Carolina can fall to upstart Tennessee, much in the same fashion Stanford dropped a decision to Utah. That Cardinal loss has raised its share of eyebrows, but the Utes rank No. 2 in the nation in sacks, and were a much different offensive team before quarterback Travis Wilson struggled with injuries.
What the Pac-12 lacks, that the SEC has, is one dominant pace-setter. Alabama is on pace to play for its third straight national championship and fourth in the last five years. When USC won two titles and played for a third in the 2000s, the conference at large was mostly down—certainly not the gauntlet it is now.
It's going to take a truly special program to rise up in what is an increasingly deep league. Until that happens, the Pac-12 will continue to be its own worst enemy in pursuit of a national championship.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!