Is the Pac-10 Really So Bad?

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Is the Pac-10 Really So Bad?
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The Pac-10 is routinely bashed by many college football fans as a weak conference and is often derisively called the "Pac-1", referring to USC, which supposedly feasts on a schedule full of soft teams on the West Coast.  

Many poll voters and sportswriters look at a few results and immediately write off the conference as weak without actually watching games (you know, because West Coast games are too late for people on the East). 

However, I am going to attempt to prove that the Pac-10 is not as weak as many perceive it to be; if you are a rabid SEC fan, I have no hope of convincing you, but I am writing this for more moderate people. 

In other words, I don't really need a comment saying "Pac-1 sucks!  USC is the only team there and they can't even beat Stanford!  S-E-C! S-E-C!"

I'm going to discuss the 2008 season, where the Pac-10 was written off by Week Three, and considered a joke of a conference for the rest of the season. 

On opening weekend, the Pac-10 started off strong against non-conference opposition; Cal beat a strong Michigan State team, USC routed Virginia, and UCLA beat Tennessee (keep in mind, this was before we knew both UCLA and UT would suck this year). 

However, some in-conference games took place on opening weekend, meaning that some Pac-10 teams were guaranteed a loss while the rest of the nation was feasting on the likes of Coastal Carolina, Appalachian State, Gardner-Webb, and other FCS garbage; most notably, Oregon State suffered its first loss in an intra-conference game against Stanford.

However, by the end of most teams' non-conference schedules, around Week Three and Week Four, all Pac-10 teams except for USC had lost at least once. 

California had fallen in an upset to a Maryland team which would over the course of the season, prove itself to be astoundingly inconsistent, beating ranked team after ranked team and losing to weak teams, like Sun Belt team Middle Tennessee State (edit: I wrote this was an FCS team before; that got a lot of comments from people, because clearly MTSU's FBS or FCS designation is the entire focus of this article).

Injury-riddled Oregon had suffered a loss to Boise State, a constantly underrated team.  Oregon State had been absolutely murdered by Penn State, Arizona State had been exposed as overrated by UNLV, UCLA had been embarassed 59-0 by BYU, and as such USC's challengers looked to be a very weak bunch. 

Furthering this perception was the Pac-10's dismal 1-5 record against the mid-major Mountain West Conference, which did not bode well for Pac-10 teams trying to find their way into the top 25 polls.  Later in the season, Oregon State would lose to Utah, lowering the Pac-10's mark against the MWC to 1-6.

But take a closer look at the losses to the MWC.

Washington vs. BYU: BYU, the third best MWC team scraped out a one-point victory, courtesy of an unbelievably stupid excessive celebration penalty against Jake Locker, whose Huskies would finish the season with a grand total of...zero wins. 

UCLA vs. BYU: BYU destroyed UCLA, which at the time looked good, having come off a nice victory over a Tennessee team that people thought would be good.  However, UCLA turned out to be one of the worst Pac-10 teams in 2008, led by a QB who had an uncanny ability to find open defenders and completed 20 beautiful passes to them.

Stanford vs. TCU: Stanford, though it didn't get to a bowl game, is a rapidly improving team.  However, it is still Stanford and was still an ultra-mediocre team, not even among the top six Pac-10 teams.  TCU was the MWC's second best team, which had a very close loss to Utah (a game where TCU missed any number of kicks that could have led them to victory).

Arizona State vs. UNLV: ASU was considered a top-15 outfit going into this game, but lost in overtime to a middling MWC program.  However, ASU would go on to win only five games on the season en route to being one of the biggest disappointments, with a three of those wins coming against the pathetic trio of Northern Arizona (FCS), Washington, and Washington State.

Arizona vs. New Mexico: Two middling teams, a win for the MWC.  At least that's what it looked like at first.  Arizona became a much better team as the season went on, eventually putting together an eight-win season, highlighted by a Las Vegas Bowl victory over BYU of the MWC.  So chalk this up as a good win for the MWC.

Utah vs. Oregon State: This is a good win for the MWC.  Utah, the team that went undefeated and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, took down an Oregon State team (albeit very narrowly) that was one game away from playing in the Rose Bowl. 

The first three games listed here feature two of the top three MWC teams beating some of the worst Pac-10 teams, who combined for a total of 10 wins on the season.  UNLV beating ASU was a middling MWC team beating a horrible Pac-10 team, but I guess I'll count that as a good win for the MWC.  

Combine Arizona's Las Vegas Bowl victory over BYU and you see that the MWC has a 3-2 mark against the Pac-10 without actually having faced the Pac-10's two best teams, Oregon and USC. 

Aside from the well publicized mark the Pac-10 had against the MWC is the fact that the Pac-10 only had five teams with winning records, and as such, only sent five teams to bowls.  But this can be attributed to a simple fact; the Pac-10 plays nine conference games, a true round-robin setup, which leads to more losses for Pac-10 teams. 

If, like the rest of the BCS conferences, the Pac-10 played only eight conference games and set up a date with an FCS cupcake instead of the intra-conference game, is there any doubt in anyone's mind that more Pac-10 teams would become bowl eligible and have winning records? 

Hell, even Washington State was able to kill an FCS team (Portland State).

Unfortunately for the Pac-10's record, it sticks to a philosophy of scheduling quality out-of-conference opponents where most of the SEC, Big 12, and Big 10 schedule FCS teams, and has a ninth conference game instead of a "gimme" game to become bowl eligible. 

As a result, when conference play begins, teams like Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Missouri, Kansas, and Texas (yes I'm targeting Big 12 teams because they were the ugliest offenders last year, but there were others from other leagues) roll in with undefeated records and nice rankings after putting up 50 and 60 on the likes of Southeast Missouri State and Wyoming.  

Meanwhile, Pac-10 teams have losses to higher-caliber opponents, and pollsters hate losses.  As a result, when USC went to Corvallis and lost to an Oregon State fresh off losses to Stanford and Penn State, no one knew that this Oregon State team would actually be good. 

USC, the flagbearer for the Pac-10 went down and people decided the conference was nationally irrelevant. 

Fast forward to the end of bowl season.  The Big 12 South, considered the strongest division in college football, posted a 1-3 record (with the victory being Texas' 3-point squeaker against Ohio State, that team which saves its best performances for the big stage). 

Utah, who handed Oregon State a loss that looked ugly on their record had thrashed SEC runner-up Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. 

The Pac-10 itself had gone 5-0 in bowls, with Oregon, Oregon State, and Arizona beating teams more highly ranked than themselves, and USC murdering a Penn State team that was one point away from being in the national championship game. 

Is the Pac-10 really as weak as many fans say it is, or is there that possibility that maybe, just maybe it may actually be good?  I didn't write down a full argument here, but that's because I'm feeling lazy and this article is long enough already.  If you feel there are some points I failed to address, feel free to comment and I will be happy to respond.

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