The SEC is often referred to these days as a "two-team league."
Those two teams being, of course, mighty Alabama and mighty LSU.
But here's a question: What about the PAC-12?
Even despite its recent expansion, the West Coast's power conference is suddenly looking very much like a two-horse race in its own right. Up in the Northwest, you've got the Oregon Ducks--they of the ridiculous uniforms and equally ridiculous speed. And then down in Los Angeles you've got the USC Trojans, resurgent and undeniably hungry as they emerge from NCAA probation.
Most everyone believes that if the Trojans don't win the league, the Ducks will--and vice-versa.
But who actually will win the league?
Well, find out here, as we continue our Three Questions series with Three Questions: The Pac-12 Edition.
So, let's get this out of the way right off the bat--who's going to win it: USC, or Oregon?
The smart money is on USC, and I've got a few good reasons why. First, let us start with the obvious: USC is one ticked off football team. For the past two years, the Trojans have found themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the big picture in college football. Though the Trojans were allowed to, you know, play their games, they weren't allowed to actually win anything. Which, considering their obvious talent, was probably more than a tad frustration. And now here they are, on the cusp of a season in which they will once again be allowed to play for something--and as luck would have it, they are absolutely loaded with talent. Matt Barkley returns at quarterback and will likely find himself in New York for the Heisman presentation in December. Star tailback Curtis McNeal is back, too, and he's going to be joined by none of than Penn State transfer Silas Redd--a guy who burst onto the national scene last season with a 1,200-plus-yard performance. The Trojans also boast talent at wideout, and linebacker, and the defensive backfield. There are probably legitimate questions to be asked about the team's depth (those NCAA sanctions were real, and they were punitive), but you can make a pretty good case that USC will field the most talented starting 22 in the nation this year. Throw in the "us against the world" mentality and a ruthless head coach (Lane Kiffin, who is working wonders out there; really, he is) and it makes for a pretty potent combination. The Trojans are back, folks. They are back in a big way.
What about the Ducks?
Well, they'll be fine, too. It is certainly possible that Chip Kelly and the boys can win the league again this year. Because, as they seemingly always are under Kelly, the Ducks are just flat-out loaded. Kenjon Barner and D'Anthony Thomas will pace what figures to be another ridiculously potent offense, and the defense might take a big step forward, too. Which, obviously, is fairly important. See, if the Ducks have had any shortcoming during their recent glory years, it's been physicality--the ability to line up and go toe-to-toe with the big boys of college football. We saw them struggle against Ohio State a couple years back and we saw them struggle against LSU last year, too. It's not that the Ducks have been fast enough, or athletic enough. It's that they just haven't been big enough, or strong enough, or, again, physical enough. Have they cleared that hurdle? Well, I'm not sure. But I'm guessing we'll find out Nov. 2--the day they hit the road to take on the Trojans. USC may not quite at LSU or Alabama's level just yet, but they're pretty close.
How will Mike Leach do at Washington State?
Call me crazy, but this might be the biggest storyline of the year in Pac-12 country. Say what you will about the guy, but there's no denying this: Mike Leach can coach. He proved that at Texas Tech, where he turned a middling program into a national title contender. Sure, he ticked off his bosses. And sure, she said a few things he probably shouldn't have. But he was unfairly forced out and, perhaps just as unfairly, saw his reputation so completely ruined that it took him forever to find another job. When an offer finally came, it came from the desperate folks up in Pullman, who have seen their once proud football program plunge into absolutely misery in recent years. Make no mistake: Leach faces a massive rebuilding job up there. He's short on talent and even shorter on depth. The gap between Washington State and the USCs and Oregons of the world is massive. And yet ... well, I have faith in this guy. Cougars fans should, too. Leach may not win a lot of games this year, but he'll entertain the fans, and starting next year, my guess it that you'll start to see real progress up in Pullman.