When it comes to pure quality of football, the brand employed by the current Pac-12 Conference could stand at the top of the heap. This doesn't mean that I consider them the top conference however (that distinction still falls in the lap of the SEC) but there can be little doubt that the Pac-12 is rising rather than falling of late, and the prognosis is positive.
Unlike the Big Twen and the B1G, the Pac-12 is mathematically sound. They also have two teams that I think might have legitimate shots at the National Championship this year. First things first, however, the eventual winner of this conference is going to have to run a gauntlet that is very intimidating.
In 2014 the Pac-12 will have 14 teams who are divided into both the North and South divisions. Unlike other conferences it's likely that the eventual champions of the each division might be the two best teams in the conference as both are strong. I also expect the year's Heisman Trophy winner to come out of this conference in the form of either Brett Hundley or Marcus Mariota.
1. Oregon - Even without Chip Kelly this Oregon team is still loaded with speed and talent. Mariota is the best QB to come through this program ever.
2. Stanford - They have the best coach in the league, and a ton of physical talent. Not as fast as Oregon but they out-muscle faster teams on a regular basis.
3. Washington - If there's a dark-horse candidate to win the division, it's the Huskies.
4. Oregon State - The Beavers are lacking talent in several key positions on both sides of the ball.
5. Washington State - Coach Leach will keep it interesting, but still needs to bring in his type of talent. Playing some defense would also help.
6. California - It's a school that cares more for it's liberal reputation than fielding a winning team. At the bottom is where they are going to reside for years to come given their lack of resources.
1. UCLA - Might be the best team in the Conference. At least, I think so.
2. USC - Recovering from the Layne Kiffin error. Still has a ton of tradition and talent to fall back on.
3. Arizona State - Yes, Coach Graham is a pompous jerk, but he can coach and they do have talent.
4. Arizona - Last year proved that Rich Rod can still coach, this year will be an even tougher challenge as he tries to find a QB and starting RB.
5. Utah - The Utes are struggling to find their role within the conference. One wonders if they are going to be able to seriously compete with the other teams at a recruiting level?
6. Colorado - The Buffalos are a mess. Contenders with Purdue, Virginia and Arkansas for worst team in major college football.
Conference Champion: UCLA (Receives invitation to College Football Playoff)
Besides determining the PAC-12 Champion I think the conference championship will go a long way to determining who wins the Heisman Trophy. IF, voters are smart and hold their ballots until the end of this game I think the winner is the QB who leads his team to victory. Although I think Mariota is the better talent (and NFL prospect) and think that Hundley has a better team around him.
Other thoughts: Unfortunately for the PAC-12, most of their games are played when the East Coast media talking-heads are tucked comfortably in their beds. This has caused them to fly a little bit under the national radar and has led almost everyone to be slow in realizing the conferences resurgence of late. I've been tooting the PAC-12 horn for about 5 years now. I subscribe to the PAC-12 Network so I can watch their games late Saturday night and they are among the most enjoyable of the day.
This conference is another one that I think will be key in the reorganization of college football. Currently at 12, I believe they eventually want to expand to 16 and will take those four teams from the current Big Twen. I've a feeling they would like to do this after the Longhorn Network deal runs out but their hand might be forced by either the SEC or ACC before that. It's known that they covet Oklahoma and are willing to accept OSU as part of the deal. They (and any conference really) would be silly to not want UT-Austin, especially now that DeLoss Dodds and his ego are out of the way.