Take 2: Pac-12 North or South stronger?

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
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Stanford's victory over USC changed the complexion of the Pac-12 pecking order. But what have the first three games of the season done to our preseason conceptions about which conference division is stronger?

So is the North or South the stronger division?

Kevin Gemmell: Since I'm going first this week, I feel like I have the slightly easier argument in proclaiming the North is the stronger of the two divisions. For starters, the North has Oregon -- the No. 3-ranked team in the nation (No. 2 if you go by my top 25, but that's just me). And the North has Stanford, the No. 9 team in the nation.

And in case you missed it, Stanford -- the team perceived to be No. 2 in the North -- bested USC , perceived to be the top team in the South.

That alone should be case closed. Two top-10 teams vs. zero top-10 teams seems fairly compelling. Ah, but then we have the depth question. True, the South has three teams ranked in the top 25. But I think the majority of the world believes that number will probably be two after Oregon and Arizona square off.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Kyle Terada/US PresswireStanford's win over USC propelled it into the AP top 10, but does it mean the Pac-12 North is stronger than the Pac-12 South?
UCLA and Oregon State might be the most interesting matchup of the week because you have two teams not used to much nationally publicity suddenly rubbing elbows with the nation's elite. Oregon State is on the verge of being ranked and UCLA comes in at No. 19. These are two teams looking to make some noise in their respective divisions. And they could start by knocking off a similar team from an opposing division. An Oregon State win puts them in the top 25 and knocks the Bruins out of the rankings. A UCLA win inches them closer to the top 15.

Through the first three weeks, the North is 12-4, while the South is 12-6. And I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that OSU would have picked up a home win against Nicholls State.

When you look at the Pac-12 standings, the last place team in the North is 1-2 Cal. In the South, it's 0-3 Colorado. If you had to pick one of those teams on any given week to pull off a victory, you all would say Cal (even this week with Cal at USC and Colorado at Wazzu). That doesn't mean they both will win or lose, but I think most folks generally would accept Cal as a stronger team than Colorado.

The North is stronger at the top. The North is stronger at the bottom. And in the middle it's pretty much a push. That could all change with some separation games on the docket this week (four of the five are North-South contests). But for now, the North appears to have the heavier hitters.

Ted Miller: The South shall rise again!, says the Atlanta native.

OK, had to get that out. Kevin is correct. His pitch, particularly after last weekend, is easier. But I think things aren't so clear if you go big picture.

Yes, Stanford beat the South's apparent No. 1 team, USC. And Oregon gives the North the top-two teams in our Pac-12 power rankings.

But look at things thereafter. The Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 teams are in the South. After Oregon and Stanford, the North goes 6, 9, 10 and 11. If we could pretend Colorado wasn't there wasn't there with its Joe Btfsplk rain cloud overhead, the South would look pretty salty.

In the North, after Oregon and Stanford, you have ... what? Are you ready to go all-in with Oregon State? The Beavers have a UCLA problem this weekend. Washington lost 41-3 at LSU, and it wasn't even that close. California opened with a home loss to Nevada.

In the South, you have a UCLA team that beat Nebraska. An Arizona team that beat Oklahoma State. A Utah team that beat BYU, which whipped Washington State of the North. And an Arizona State team that beat Illinois. Three of those teams have been ranked this year.

The Beavers beat Wisconsin, which was nice. And Stanford beat USC. What else? Cal's close call at Ohio State?

In other words, it's possible that when the smoke clears on the season, Oregon and Stanford will be elite and the rest of the North will be poor to middling. In the South, we all know that USC is going to climb back into the top-10, and UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah all look like bowl teams.

Not sure we want to write off the Trojans just yet as eventual conference champions, either.

The North is strong at the top, no doubt. But the South is deeper. And let's see what actually happens when we get to Nov. 30 and play the Pac-12 title game.

Ted Miller | email

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