Sep 14, 2013; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks fan before the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks Now Face Elevated Competiton In The Pac-12

National perception is talked about frequently in relation to the BCS. While many disagree with the morality in the premise that teams/conferences are judged from a human element, it is made abundantly clear each year the basis stems from reputation from pervious years. Just look at what the company line has been for the Southeastern Conference.

We are told every year the SEC is hands down the best conference in the FBS because the last seven BCS Champions hail from the “big boy” grouping. You would think it has been a different team every year that claims the Coaches Trophy, when it has been four teams (Alabama, Auburn, LSU & Florida).

What’s the point? The SEC is looked at as college football royalty and has remained unchallenged for the rights to the title because of their reputation. 2013, however, may be the year we see a shift in the perception.

The Oregon Ducks have been the mantle of the Pac-12 for the last five years (including 2013 thus far), and despite a late season loss to the Stanford Cardinal in 2012 have remained unscathed as the crown holders. 2013 is no different, although there has been certain pundits (myself included) who have predicted a Stanford national championship run, but which team does the road run though? The easy answer recently has been of course Oregon, but as the early season has unfolded, there appears to be a shift in the works within the conference.

Currently, there are five Pac-12 teams in the AP Top 25, which is second to the SEC with seven, and nationally the spotlight has been placed on the Pac-12. Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports wrote a great piece this week about the varied ways the conference is now challenging for the title of best conference.

One of the ways Dodd alludes to is how seven out of the 12 current coaches in the conference have been hired within the past two seasons. The fresh directions and facilities race have set Pac-12 teams up nicely for the future.

It truly has been the Ducks, then everyone else over the last four years. Four straight BCS bowl appearances has been accomplished by high-flying offensive numbers. But can the Ducks continue to smash opposing defenses in the conference?

So far, over half the conference is ranked within the top 30 nationally in total defense, with three of the seven teams placed in the top 15. Oregon will face three of those defenses (Colorado won’t stay there for long).

Sep 14, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly (10) reacts after beating the Wisconsin Badgers 32-30 at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 14, 2013; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) picks up wide receiver Josh Huff (1) while celebrating a touchdown in the second quarter against the Tennessee Volunteers at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Next up for UO is the California Golden Bears. The Cal defense shouldn’t prevent much, if any scoring, but now that freshman quarterback Jared Goff has emerged as the nation’s leading passer, Nick Aliotti has something to worry about. Colorado doesn’t pose a threat. Wide reciver Paul Richardson could prove to be a headache for the Duck defense, but the Buffs are outmatched in every aspect.

Here is where Oregon can run into problems. After CU, they go on the road to take on a Washington Huskie offense that has put together some outstanding offensive numbers on the backs of QB Keith Price and running back Bishop Sankey. Then it’s back to Eugene to take on the Washington State Cougars. Defensively the Cougars haven’t given up much through the air. WSU may not be the usual cake walk.

The next two games also have the potential to be troublesome for the quack-attack. UCLA has flourished under head coach Jim Mora. Heisman Trophy candidate QB Brett Hundley will prove to be another headache for Aliotti. The Bruins’ defense currently sits at 4th in yards allowed per play. Speaking of defense, the Ducks then have to go on the road to do battle with the 15th ranked defense in the nation, Stanford.

Defensively the Ducks will have their work cut out for them going up against the best quarterbacks the Pac-12 has to offer. They will not breeze through their conference schedule as they have in recent years. It isn’t just Stanford that poses a threat to their national championship hopes. What makes the SEC so tough in people’s eyes? How difficult it is to make it through the conference schedule.

The Pac-12 has shined in non-conference play, going 23-4. The level of talent across the whole conference has elevated, and there just may be a new king of the conference with four teams besides the Ducks with legit chances of a conference title.

Tags: Arizona State Sun Devils Brett Hundley California Golden Bears Football Jared Goff Oregon Ducks Stanford Cardinal UCLA Bruins Washington Huskies

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