Pac-10 Football: Conference of (Underrated) Champions

Delete AccountCorrespondent ISeptember 29, 2009

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Kevin Riley #13 of the California Golden Bears passes against the Eastern Washington Eagles at Memorial Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Pop quiz: Two teams ranked in college football's Top-10. Team One comes up short against a program with 15 losses in its last 16 games. Team Two falls to one of the preseason's Top 20.

Who drops further in the rankings?

A week after USC fell from No. 3 to No. 12 following a 16-13 loss to Washington, the Cal football team slipped twice as far—No. 6 to No. 24—after a 42-3 drubbing in Eugene.

Sure, the Bears looked bad. And yes, Kevin Riley deserved to be benched—along with the offensive line and Cal defense.

But...

The Ducks went 10-3 in 2008. After their season-opening loss on the road to undefeated Boise State (4-0), now the fifth-ranked team in the country, they've since beaten No. 18 Utah, snapping the nation's longest winning streak (16), and the then-No. 6 Bears. They're better than we thought they were after Week 1.

The Huskies, meanwhile, went 0-12 in 2008. They lost to Stanford by 20 the week after beating the Trojans and haven't won consecutive Pac-10 games since 2006. They're still very, very bad.

Somehow, a 39-point loss to the former doesn't seem twice as bad as a 3-point loss to the latter.

Either way, Cal's 18-spot submarine is more indicative of the Pac-10's perception than the Bears—the conference is still very much seen as USC and everyone else. The conventional wisdom from pundits is that someone in the Pac-10 needs to beat the Trojans to trash the type-casting.

Washington, Oregon State and Stanford have all done so in consecutive seasons, but where has it gotten them? A .500 record, a Sun Bowl and an early winter vacation.

Meanwhile, an Alabama loss to Florida in 2008 took them to the Sugar Bowl. A Michigan loss to Ohio State in 2006 left them at No. 3 in the country and in the Rose Bowl. A 2004 stumble for Texas against Oklahoma earned them a trip to Pasadena.

Then again, who's to say all three didn't belong there? If he was smart, Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott.

Against the six BCS conferences, the Pac-10 is 75-58 (.564) this decade. The SEC is 89-82 (.520). No other conference is above .500. The Pac-10 has a better record against BCS teams in bowl games, not to mention a better record against BCS teams with 10 or more wins.

As for the USC-does-all-the-heavy-lifting argument: minus the Trojans, the Pac-10 would still have more BCS wins than the ACC and as many as the Big East. And then there's 2008. The Pac-10 went 5-0 in postseason affairs last season with wins over Penn State, Miami, BYU, Oklahoma State and Pitt.

And this should come as no surprise: four of those five teams have as many losses as the Bears this season and are ranked higher.

Figures.

Follow Grant Marek on Twitter: @Grant_Marek

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