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Thursday, August 6, 2009
John McKay Conference: USC rules

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

Call it the Pac-10. Call it the John McKay Conference. Call it late for dinner. No matter what we call it, the league still will be USC and the rest of them.

It has been that way in the Pac-10 for nearly this entire decade. It held true when McKay led the Trojans to four national championships and nine conference titles from 1960 to 1975. That's why the western end of the Gordon Gekko Subdivision is named for McKay, a West Virginia native whose wit and cool made him the darling of Los Angeles four decades ago, just as Pete Carroll holds the Southland in his thrall today.

Carroll is 88-15 in eight seasons at USC, and the Trojans have won or shared the Pac-10 title the past seven seasons. They go to the Rose Bowl so often that the players are bored with it. It appears they will dominate the McKay in the same fashion. Only two other teams in the McKay have won a national championship since the Associated Press poll began in 1936 (UCLA in 1954 and BYU in 1984).

Save for the Bruins (whose proud legacy is being dusted off by coach Rick Neuheisel after a decade of mediocrity) and maybe Cal (which is six decades removed from its heyday), the McKay is a blend of scrappiness and can-do. The other seven teams have climbed into the college football elite from humble origins. Oregon State, for instance, had 28 consecutive losing seasons from 1971 to 1998. In the 10 seasons since, the Beavers have gone 79-45 with one Pac-10 championship and five consecutive bowl victories.

John McKay
John McKay led USC to four national championships and nine league titles from 1960 to 1975.

Boise State is Example A of the need for relegation. The Broncos didn't move into Division I-A until 1996. They are 60-4 in the Western Athletic Conference since joining it in 2001. And, as everyone in Oklahoma knows, Boise State is 1-0 in the BCS.

That leaves Boise State a half-game behind Utah, which is 2-0 in the BCS. Under longtime coach Ron McBride, the Utes moved from good to mediocre and back. In the past six seasons under coaches Urban Meyer (2003-04) and Kyle Whittingham (2005-present), Utah has gone 60-16. Since joining the Mountain West a decade ago, the Utes are 8-0 in bowl games. Among their victims are Alabama, Pittsburgh and Carroll's Trojans (10-6 in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl).

Arizona State, BYU, Oregon: The roll call of the McKay is a history of social climbing, gridiron style.

The most intriguing member of the McKay is its eastern outpost. Texas Tech sacrificed its relationship with the other Big 12 teams selected for the Gekko. The Red Raiders have the blueprint for competing with USC. In 2008, their ninth season under Mike Leach, they forced their way into the Texas-Oklahoma partnership that has dominated the Big 12 South for a decade.

By the way, it's 1,719 miles from Lubbock, Texas, to Corvallis, Ore.

Reality check: Six Pac-10 schools made it into the Gekko. Mixing them with the other four schools in the McKay is a nod toward what fans of Pac-10 expansion have been advocating for years. Once again, the schools without pedigrees will have to prove themselves.

The rise of Oregon State and Oregon in the Pac-10 has coincided with the demise of Washington. If coach Steve Sarkisian succeeds in his rebuilding, the Huskies will move into the McKay at the expense of one of these rags-to-riches teams. Colorado, which could play in the McKay as easily as in the Bud Wilkinson Conference, is ready for the 2010 relegation draft as well.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com. His book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.