Thursday, June 20, 2013
The Pac-12 this year, and beyond
By Kevin Gemmell
Today's assignment for the conference bloggers: Which teams in your conference are built to win this year -- and had better, because the future doesn't look too bright. One problem: It's just not that cut and dry with the Pac-12.
Oregon has proved to be virtually unmatched offensively the past few seasons, and this season they offer an outstanding secondary to boot. Stanford's defense and grind-'em-out West Coast offense has propelled it to three consecutive BCS bowl games.
Under coach Todd Graham, Arizona State could very well push its way into the Pac-12's top tier, where Oregon and Stanford are fixtures.
Arizona State has an ambitious 2013 schedule that -- if successfully navigated -- will land it in the national rankings and potentially the Pac-12 championship game. The same is true for UCLA -- which also has a tougher schedule than last season. And you can never count out USC because of the talent the Trojans bring in each year. The switch to the 3-4 is a good step defensively, and having the reigning Biletnikoff winner (receiver Marqise Lee) never hurts.
Washington -- with good quarterback play -- could reach double-digit wins. Oregon State, though there have been down years, is consistently a tough program, and last year Arizona showed offensively what it's capable of in Rich Rodriguez's system.
Now, the second part. This is where the assignment doesn't necessarily apply to the Pac-12 because, frankly, the future looks pretty bright for the bulk of the conference. Maybe I'm the eternal optimist with a backside full of sunshine and pocket full of miracles, but I don't see dynastic collapses in the future. Just the opposite: I'd put Arizona State and Oregon State in the future power rankings now. Maybe even Washington.
I see the rest of the conference getting better. Top to bottom, the coaching staffs are phenomenal. Stanford officially closed the gap on Oregon last year, and Washington and Oregon State are closing the gap in the North. Three years from now, Sonny Dykes and Mike Leach could have California and Washington State, respectively, in the hunt. The South is for sure a three-way battle this season among ASU, UCLA and USC, with Arizona nipping at their heels. Colorado is in rebuilding mode (again) and Utah is entering a very crucial year.
Potential future downfalls? I guess we could grasp at some straws. Oregon does still have some sanctions looming -- expected to be announced anytime between today and when Thomas Tyner graduates. Stanford has done a better job of recruiting speed the past few years, but it will always have to outwork others on the trail because of its admission standards. Washington could be on the verge of an uphill slingshot or downward spiral. Another seven-win season could put coach Steve Sarkisian in hot water. Same for USC; a division or conference title rights the ship, while another seven-win year likely costs Lane Kiffin his job.
Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State are in the toddler stage of new coaches and systems. And all three took significant steps forward last season.
Most will agree that the Pac-12's greatest strength -- its parity -- is also one of its biggest downfalls. The hotly debated nine-game schedule plays a huge factor. Tie-ins with Notre Dame and the annual weekenders with the California schools all but guarantee meat-grinding schedules each year.
Three years from now it's more likely that we'll be talking about how the rest of the league has narrowed the margin rather than which dynasty has crumbled.