The attention of the college football world has centered on the southeast part of the country for the better part of a decade. Come 2014, there's one conference that could be poised to take some of that attention away—the Pac-12.
With the start of the College Football Playoff era, changes are afoot, so why not change the balance of power along with it? After all, everything is cyclical in the world of college football.
No one stays on top forever, and that's where the Pac-12 is poised to take advantage.
The conference has been building its credibility back up over the past few years, and when it comes time to announce the four teams meeting in the inaugural College Football Playoff, it could be in a very strong position.
So strong that the Pac-12 could make up half of the teams announced at the end of the conference championship games.
It may be a bold statement, but there are some things that work in favor of the Pac-12 getting two teams into the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Bye-Bye, East Coast Bias
A Top 25 ranking won't mean as much as it used to in the BCS system. Since the College Football Playoff will have its own Top 16 going on periodically throughout the year, the old polls will have little to no importance other than for argument's sake.
The fact is, college football fans and Americans in general like to rank things. It's what we know and love, and in college football, the higher the ranking to start the season, the better visibility you receive in the press.
In this new era, having early visibility will help, but it will be the opinions of the 13 members of the selection committee that matter most. The challenge facing those 13 committee members may be to tune all the chatter out and focus on what they see in front of them.
That's where the Pac-12 has an advantage—it could get the best of both scenarios.
On the one hand, schools like Oregon, Stanford and UCLA are likely to be pretty high in the Top 25 polls, giving the early visibility needed.
On the other hand, the Pac-12 won't have to worry about pollsters having to submit ballots quickly after games are completed on a weekly basis. Instead, the committee will get to see as much football as they can handle before coming out with their own periodic polls.
The so-called "East Coast bias" of poll voters is all but guaranteed to be gone thanks to those two factors, and that's to the Pac-12's advantage.
Teams With a BCS History
Yes, technically there has never been a BCS National champion from the Pac-12 (USC was forced to vacate the 2004 title), but it doesn't mean the conference hasn't had a lot of history in the old system.
While the new system has a different name and format, the people running the show are exactly the same. Getting multiple teams into the BCS on a pretty regular basis makes the Pac-12 a pretty familiar place for the College Football Playoff selection committee to go to.
Two Pac-12 teams made BCS bowl game appearances in three of the past five years, but they were the same two teams—Oregon and Stanford.
The good news there is that both of them stand poised to be at the top of the Pac-12 North once again this season.
On the other side of things, UCLA continued its rise toward prominence in 2013, and USC is coming off probation. All four of those teams have BCS bowl game history behind them, and that lends to credibility.
The only issue is a 4-4 record by the Pac-12 in the last five years. Yet on the whole, the Pac-12 was 13-8 overall in the BCS era—which was second best of any power conference during that time.
It's those kind of results that will help show the Pac-12 can be a real threat to dominate the College Football Playoff.
Quarterbacks Win Championships
How do teams win a national title? Usually, it's good defense combined with a breakout quarterback performance. Whether it was Tim Tebow at Florida, Cam Netwon at Auburn or Jameis Winston at Florida State, they all were major reasons in helping their respective teams hoist the crystal ball trophy as champions.
This season, there's no conference more loaded at the quarterback position than the Pac-12. A look at the returning quarterbacks reads like a who's who of the position nationally.
Taylor Kelly (Arizona State), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Sean Mannion (Oregon State), Kevin Hogan (Stanford) and Brett Hundley (UCLA) are all well-known names in college football.
All of them also happen to be Heisman Trophy hopefuls, and that's not to mention names like Jared Goff (Cal) and Connor Halliday (Washington), both of whom play in offenses that are designed to make a quarterback shine.
No matter who wins the Pac-12 title, there will be a nationally recognized name at the helm of that team's offense.
As for getting the second team in to the College Football Playoff, it won't hurt to know that there will be a very capable quarterback leading any one of the contenders in the conference.
All About the Schedules
While there are marquee matchups across the country, there isn't a conference with a tougher set of tests for its teams than the Pac-12.
Even if you take the annual contests between Notre Dame and USC and Stanford out of the equation, there is plenty to like about the 2014 schedule in the Pac-12.
Arizona State faces Notre Dame in Tempe, Oregon hosts Michigan State, USC hosts Fresno State and pays a visit to Boston College and UCLA has to visit Virginia and host Texas.
In conference play, there are cross-divisional matchups like UCLA vs. Oregon, USC vs. Oregon State, Arizona State vs. Stanford and Oregon vs. Arizona.
By the time everything is settled in the Pac-12 title race, there will be a pretty clear picture of where everyone stands—not just in the conference, but nationally as well.
Should the Pac-12 get a second team into the College Football Playoff, it will have had a lot to do with the strength of the schedules of its two contenders. Few other conferences can boast the schedules these teams will play, and that will make a huge difference down the stretch.
All of these factors add up to a conference with a very good chance to put two teams in to the inaugural College Football Playoff. Now it's on the teams to navigate the season, with a few teams rising to the top to make it a reality.
Andy Coppens is a national college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @ AndyOnCFB.
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