Final AP Rankings Suggest Pac-12 Is Closing in on SEC

Kyle Kensing@kensing45Contributor IJanuary 7, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  Linebacker Rodney Hardrick #48 of the Oregon Ducks celebrates on the field after defeating the Texas Longhorns 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome on December 30, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Pac-12 was on the SEC's heels throughout the 2013 season in the race to be considered the nation's best football conference, and the final Associated Press Top 25  promises to extend that debate into 2014.

With a combined 13 teams represented in the final AP poll, the Pac-12 and SEC comprise more than half the rankings. Half of each conference's total membership is represented, with additional teams from each receiving votes. 

Pac-12 Teams in Associated Press Top 25
9. Oregon11-2974
11. Stanford11-3936
16. UCLA10-3632
19. USC10-4299
20. Arizona State10-4258
25. Washington9-4109
RV. Arizona8-55

The conferences' similar finishes in the poll is a fitting conclusion to a season in which their achievements were oh so close. The SEC finished with the best bowl record, 7-3. Right behind was the Pac-12 at 6-3. Even in failure, the two leagues were comparable, going a combined 0-3 in BCS bowls.  

But that more dubious of records should not obscure that these were the nation's best conferences from top to bottom throughout the season. And pollsters recognized their respective prowess. 

All six Pac-12 teams in the Top 25 to end the campaign also were ranked at some point n the regular season. A seventh, Oregon State, broke into the poll twice. Nine SEC teams were ranked at various points throughout 2013.  

This is nothing new for the SEC, which landed seven of its members in the final AP poll of 2012. But the Pac-12 is in uncharted territory. Its previous best seasons, 2005 and 2008, culminated with the then 10-member conference having four ranked teams. 

Bad news for the Pac-12: It could have been better. Oregon's stumble at Arizona late in the season bolstered the Wildcats' resume, but ended the conference's run of consecutive seasons with two BCS bowl participants at three.

Pac-12 teams were also favored in all nine bowl games, yet suffered two of the more confounding losses of the postseason: Washington State's blown 15-point lead against Colorado State and Arizona State's lifeless loss to two-touchdown underdog Texas Tech. 

Good news: The conference looks to be loaded for an even stronger 2014 and just might catch the SEC both in prestige and on-field performance. Plenty can change in the nearly eight months between now and the start of next season, but early projections are favorable. 

Initial USA Today 2014 rankings tab five Pac-12 teams, just behind the SEC with six. Three of those Pac-12 teams are projected in the Top 10, the same as the SEC. The two conferences also have the No. 12 and No. 13 preseason teams, per USA Today. 

The SEC remains the sport's pacesetter, but this offseason should have it hearing the Pac-12's footsteps.