Johnson Thought: The Pac-12 Breaks Through
Posted Sep 10, 2012

Week 2 Thoughts: Johnson on the Pac-12's big weekend

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- Cirminiello: The Magic Of Bill Snyder
- Harrison Thought: The Big Ten's Bad Weekend
- Zemek Thought: The Teams That Quickly Changed

By Terry Johnson
Follow me @TPJCollFootball

After this weekend's games, the Pac 12 has put itself in position to break the SEC's stranglehold on the AFCA Trophy.
It didn't start out that way. The league suffered two embarrassing losses right off the bat, as Utah lost to in-state rival Utah State on Friday, and Colorado lost to Sacramento State. In addition, Washington State and California struggled in victories against FCS opponents that they should have beaten convincingly. 

However, as the day progressed, the league earned three unexpected victories. Oregon State, picked to finish dead last in North in the preseason Pac 12 media poll, beat two-time defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin, holding Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball to one of the worst performances of his career. Arizona and Arizona State, picked to finish fourth and fifth in South, followed suit with blowout wins over Oklahoma State and Illinois.

Not a bad performance for teams that no one expected much from this year.

In addition, a surprise contender for the conference title emerged. Just one week removed from a less-than-impressive victory over Rice, UCLA's offense erupted for 653 yards against a stingy Nebraska defense. Even if a win over the Cornhuskers doesn't mean what it once used to, QB Brett Hundley's explosiveness will keep the Bruins in the thick of the division race.
These four wins provided the Pac 12 with the type of boost that it needed to get into the national championship race. Over the past few seasons, the pollsters basically considered the conference to be Oregon, Stanford, USC, and the seven (or nine) dwarfs. Now that the league has a handful of wins against the Big Ten and Big 12, people will see the Pac 12 for what it really is -- one of the deepest conferences in the land.

Depth in the conference is the key to competing for a national championship. The reason that the SEC has played for the title so often is because they have so many ranked teams. If a lower ranked team defeats a higher ranked team, that team usually ascends upward quicker than it would with a victory over an unranked team. By the same token, the team that loses doesn't fall as far, because it lost against quality competition.

That's why the Pac 12's big weekend will pay dividends when the postseason rolls around. Thanks to the marquee wins, the league has five teams in the top 25, and a sixth team (Arizona State) knocking at the door. With almost half the teams in the conference ranked, any team that keeps on winning will have no trouble moving up in the polls thanks to the quality of the W's. More importantly, a single conference loss would not derail a team's national championship hopes like it did for Stanford last year.

Given the conference's current profile, the only way that the Pac 12 champion would miss the national championship game is if the teams beat up on each other, and/or the league champ finishes with two losses.

Don't expect for that to happen. Even though the league is as deep as it's ever been, Oregon and USC are clearly playing at a different level right now.

Sound familiar?