Pac-10 football is hard to argue against | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Pac-10 football is hard to argue against

Jeremy Evans

Stateline resident Will Davenport is obsessed with Southeastern Conference football. His favorite team is Alabama. He has pictures of former Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and running back Shaun Alexander scattered throughout his Kingsbury condo.

During a recent visit, I had to remind Will that the Pac-10 is the best football conference in the nation. He laughed and told me “You have USC and that’s it.”

I told him that’s exactly what my Midwest college roommates said to me in 1998, except the team then was UCLA. The Bruins finished 10-2 that season and missed a shot at a split national title because of two late-season losses. UCLA finished No. 8 in the final AP poll, its second consecutive year in the top 10.

But then I told Will Arizona actually had a better year than UCLA in 1998, capping a 12-1 season with a win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl and finishing with a No. 4 ranking. Will didn’t seem to like that.

I also went on to tell him that college football fans from the Central and Eastern time zones rarely have nice things to say about Pac-10 football. It’s not because they are influenced by an East Coast bias but because they don’t pay attention to college football. Will really didn’t like my tone after that comment.

Maybe I’ll let the numbers do my talking from now. Since I want to this in modern times, I am using information from the last 14 years.

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Since 1991, the Pac-10 is the only conference that has had all of its teams ranked in the top 10 in the season’s final AP poll. The Big 10 has had seven different teams ranked. The SEC and Big 12, which includes the now defunct Big 8 and Southwest Conference, both have had six teams. The Big East has had four teams and the ACC three teams.

There have been 17 national titles awarded in the past 14 years, including three split titles. Washington and USC have combined to win three titles. The Pac-10 ranks behind the SEC and Big 12, each of which have four titles. Auburn has had two undefeated seasons in the last 14 years (1993, 2004), but the SEC school didn’t earn a split title in either year. The Tigers finished No. 2 in the final poll in 2004 and No. 4 in the final poll in 1994.

The Pac-10 still ranks ahead of the Big East (Miami), ACC (Florida State) and Big 10 (Michigan, Ohio State), all of which have won two titles. So what are some other popular reasons by the Pac-10 stinks? Oh yeah, it doesn’t play well out of conference.

In nonconference games this season, the Pac-10 (20-6, .770) ranks behind only the Big 12 (27-4, .870) and the Big 10 (27-5, .840) for the best records among the six major conferences. However, the Pac-10 and Big 12 have winning records in games against teams from other major conferences, while the Big 10 is 5-5 against Notre Dame and teams from other major conferences.

What’s another reason? Oh yeah, the Pac-10 isn’t strong top-to-bottom and doesn’t challenge its strongest teams with difficult conference road games. (Does that imply Baylor and Kansas (Big 12), Northwestern and Minnesota (Big 10), Vanderbilt and Mississippi State (SEC), Wake Forest or Duke (ACC), Rutgers and West Virginia (Big East) are tough games?)

Arizona is one of the Pac-10’s worst teams. Last Saturday, the Wildcats lost 31-24 to No. 10 Purdue, the same day UCLA won 41-24 in Los Angeles over then No. 21 Oklahoma – a team many thought would challenge for the Big 12 title.

Moreover, the great distances in the Pac-10 are unparalleled. When Arizona travels for games in Washington, Oregon, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, it will log more than 8,000 miles in four games. In the SEC, teams can drive to road games.

Now consider the weather. The Pac-10 has games in the Arizona heat, the 40-degree drizzle of the Pacific Northwest and balmy California. In November, Arizona State will practice in the desert, then prepare for a game in Pullman, Wash., where the forecast might call for snow.

Those scenarios simply don’t occur in the Midwest or the South or the East Coast, where teams practice and play in comparable climates. But for all those statistics, my No. 1 criteria still comes down to a conference’s torchbearer.

In the early 1990s, the Pac-10 had Washington. Now in the 21st century, it has USC, which has won the last two national titles and looks poised to win a third straight. And why would a college football fan question a conference because of the success of its most dominant program?

What would the Big 10 be without Ohio State or Michigan? Before the ACC and Big East restructured, what would’ve those conferences have been without Florida State and Miami (Fla.)? Marquee programs shape the conference’s reputation, not undermine it.

If college football fans think the Trojans’ recent success somehow weakens the Pac-10, they aren’t paying attention to college football. Of course, supporters of any conference could find numbers to prove their favorite conference is best. (Not only has the SEC won more national titles than any other conference in the last decade, it also has had the most players drafted by the NFL. That’s a good one.)

But if you’re going to discount the Pac-10, please come prepared with more ammunition than “You have USC and that’s it.”

Jeremy Evans is a Tahoe Daily Tribune sportswriter. He can be reached at (530) 542-8008 or by email at jevans@tahoedailytribune.com.