With the addition of Utah the next questions for Pac-10 fans are: what are the divisions going to be, and when are those two teams going to actually start competition?
There seems to be merit to both the ideas of an east-west split and a north-south split. For the sake of argument we are going to go with the North-South alignment, and that both teams will start competition in 2011, and there will be a conference championship game. Also, since this is just for fun, we are also to assume it will be called the "Pacific 12 Conference."
So, with the hypothetical Pac-12 starting play in 2011, who would be the favorites to win the North and South Divisions?
It is obviously impossible to predict how things will look in 2011 considering it’s before the 2010 season, but given the direction the programs appear to be headed, who would be the favorites?
Washington: Washington will be breaking in a new quarterback, but it will also be the third season under coach Sarkisian. This program looks to be heading in the right direction, but may not be the favorite to win the North. Similiar to UCLA, I think this is a program to watch in the future, but probably not in 2011.
Washington State: The big question will be if Coach Paul Wulff will even be around in 2011. The Cougars need to show signs they are headed in the right direction to even be in the conversation. The gap between Washington State and the other North Division teams will be vast.
Oregon: They are a favorite to win the league in 2010, so they would likely be the favorite (along with California) to win the first North title.
Oregon State: A strong team that has quietly been this close to the Rose Bowl for the past few years. Oregon State should be a team in contention for the North Division championship.
Cal: Since the arrival of Jeff Tedford the Bears have been a winning program. They have yet to take the next step into the Pac-10 elite, namely with USC standing in their way. With no USC in the North, California would be a favorite for the first Pac-12 North Division title.
Stanford: Stanford had an excellent year in 2009, and 2010 will tell us a lot about just how far the Cardinal will rise in the Pac-10 after losing Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart. This would be much easier to pick after 2010, but Stanford should contend for the North Division in 2011.
For the North Division, my way-too-early prediction is:
- Oregon State
- Washington State
USC: Under Pete Carroll USC dominated the Pac-10 with seven straight years of at least a share of the Pac-10 title. The Trojans have found themselves in some hot water with the NCAA, receiving a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 scholarships. Lane Kiffin has a lot to prove at USC, but even with the sanctions it is hard to imagine USC not being the favorite for this division, even without bowl eligibility.
UCLA: The Bruins have had a rough decade, but Neuheisel knows how to win. By 2011, I would expect UCLA to be at least as competitive, if not more so, than in 2010. With USC facing probation, it is UCLA than stands to gain the most, in theory, as far as making strides towards dominating the coveted southern California recruits. Still it just doesn't seem like UCLA will make that leap by 2011.
Arizona: This is another school that, like Oregon State, has quietly been chugging along pretty well. While they haven’t been challenging for the top spot, they have been qualifying for bowls. Arizona is another team that would be competitive in this South Division.
Arizona State: Arizona State had one good season with 10 wins under Dennis Erickson, but they've still had their fair share of struggles. Still, Erickson is a coach that knows how to win at the College Level, and they should improve in 2010, and be right there with Arizona in 2011.
Utah: The newcomer. How is Utah going to fare against a full BCS conference schedule? They posted a winning record against the Pac-10 over the last 20 years, but it is hard to quantify that considering it is only a single game instead of a full conference slate. Still Utah has shown they can play with anyone. There are real concerns that facing that many BCS teams for the first time will cause a large drop off. There will be a drop off, but I believe in 2011, Utah can compete.
Colorado: Despite the fact they are coming from another power conference, the Buffaloes are only going to continue their struggles when they first jump into the Pac-12. Colorado is a proud program and will return to its winning ways, but it is going to take some rebuilding.
USC is clearly the favorite, but it is hard to say where that program will be after 2010. Since this is way too early of a prediction anyway, I will go with the newcomer: Utah.
That puts Utah against California in the very first Pac-12 title game. If all of that somehow does come together, I've got California getting revenge against Utah for their loss to the Utes in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl.
How strange would it be to see a conference championship game for the PAC that did not include USC? In this alignment, at least at this point in time, it looks like the North would be the more competetive division, with the South being more top heavy.
So now I ask you out there, what is your wild guess for the 2011 season, if the PAC-12 does come together by then? You saw mine, so leave your rankings in the comments!