Day One of Pac 12 Media Days came as no shock with the Oregon Ducks picked to win the conference. The Ducks received 24 of 39 first place votes, UCLA received 13 first place votes, and USC and Stanford each received one votes.
Oregon and UCLA each received 37 to win their divisions, making them the overwhelming favorites to meet in the Pac 12 championship game.
Although the picks for each division were not a surprise, the margins were.
True, Oregon has a lot of returning talent, they return a potential Heisman candidate at quarterback in Marcus Mariota, and they are the sexy pick. But the team that won the division and the conference championship over them the past two years also returns a number of starters along with its quarterback. So I’m failing to see the wide divide here. To me, this is very clearly prisoner of the moment, where Stanford lost its bowl game (a very close one to Michigan State), and Oregon blew out a very overrated Texas team with a ton of distractions in its bowl game. This also could be because Pac 12 writers, given the conference they cover, are much more biased to high scoring, up-tempo, finesse teams than the power offense and solid defense of that run by Stanford. However, for the Cardinal not to even be close to the Ducks is a slap in the face to David Shaw, Kevin Hogan, and the rest of the team. About the only legitimate reason I could see is that the Ducks barely lost to the Cardinal on the road last year, and they get them at home this year.
On the other side of the conference, UCLA as the overwhelming favorite makes more sense. They return a ton of starters, just like USC, both return their quarterbacks, UCLA won by 3 touchdowns last year, and the Trojans are undergoing a coaching change.
I would bring up Arizona State, who beat UCLA in Pasadena last year, but losing so many starters on defense, it makes sense for them not to be in the picture.
Perhaps the most exciting portion of this scenario is that for the first time in a long time, the USC-UCLA is beginning to be a rivalry worth paying attention to. When USC dominated the Pac 12 during the mid-2000s, the only time the UCLA game mattered was when the Bruins played spoiler to the Trojans’ national championship hopes in 2006. However, there were no Pac 12 implications. Then, the last two years, the Bruins began to take off under Jim Mora, but the Trojans had drama of their own. However, both should be back this year, and if Mora can continue what he’s doing and Sarkisian can live up to his billing, or now overachieve with the scrutiny he’s already gotten, we could put this rivalry up there with the best of them. The pure hatred is already there, now let’s see some meaning for both teams in the game.
There are two major things we can point out about the conference as its media days begin. First, it’s more loaded this year than it might have ever been, with Oregon, USC, Stanford, and UCLA all thinking about a potential national championship. That’s on the SEC’s level, and the conference may only get better in the next few years with the great coaching it has.
Also, with good quarterback returning this year, we should see some great offensive performances that put up basketball scores, which is what we all love about the Pac 12. Especially in SEC, ACC, and Big Ten country. Everybody out here loves to stay up late on Saturdays, after their teams have played, to watch a 70-60 game. That should happen this year in the conference as much as ever.