By Charles Renning
assistant sports editor
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 29, 2004
There is a reason the Pacific 10 Conference is called the Conference of Champions, and its not just because a few marketing people came up with the catchy slogan.
Last year, the Pac-10 won 11 team national championships, more than twice as many as the next closest conference.
In the last decade, the Pac-10 has won 336 national titles, an impressive 139 more than the next-closest conference during that time.
In the last 44 years, the Pac-10 has led the nation in national championships 39 times and finished second the other five years.
The stats go on and on.
Two of the top three teams in the National Association of Collegiate Director's of Athletics Cup were Stanford and UCLA.
A third of the schools in the top 21 are Pac-10 members.
It doesn't stop there.
Over the last 10 years, the conference has 84 team championships in 21 different men's and women's sports.
So with all the numbers - all the stats - why is Pac-10 football not seen as the Conference of Champions?
Year in and year out the Pac-10 is overlooked in football for conferences like the Big Ten, Big-12, SEC, and ACC.
Even Arizona head coach Mike Stoops admitted that before coming out West, he never really appreciated the football that was played on the left coast.
Following the Wildcats' 38-0 loss to California, Stoops said, " I think the Pac-10 has gotten drastically better."
As he was saying that, he must have been thinking, maybe this conference has always been this good. He followed it up by saying, "Maybe it's because I'm here."
In no way did the coach mean that he made the conference better, but rather that he watches these teams religiously every week and has come to appreciate the quality of football.
"I probably never gave it the respect that it deserved," Stoops said. "These are as well-coached teams as I've played anywhere I've been, especially offensively. There are some very talented coaches and very talented players."
Stoops played and coached in the Big-12 and Big Ten and, like a lot of people east of the Rockies, he never got to see the Pac-10 on a daily basis and just wrote it off as another league.
A big reason for the lack of respect could be the lack of football tradition in the Pac-10.
Besides USC, which has 10 national championships, five Heisman Trophy winners, and 129 All-Americans, the Pac-10 doesn't have a historic and perennial football powerhouse.
Even the Trojans had been down in more recent history. Prior to last year, USC's last national title was in 1978.
In the more recent years, different teams have been at the top of the Pac-10.
Arizona State won it in 1996 and Washington State in 1997.
UCLA topped Arizona in 1998.
Stanford won the conference in 1999 and Washington bested Oregon State the next year.
Oregon won the title in 2001.
USC was the top dog last year, and Cal is right there with them this year.
In the span of less than ten years, every single Pac-10 team was within a win of winning the conference.
Any year, any team in the Pac-10 can win. Without that consistent team that is in the hunt every year, the entire conference gets overlooked.
Other conferences have teams that have been around and on the national scene for a much longer time and are always vying for conference and national titles.
The Big Ten has always had Michigan, Ohio State and - until recently - Penn State. The Big-12 has Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska and Texas A&M. The ACC has Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech. The SEC has Florida, Alabama and Tennessee. All of those schools have had recent and historical success.
No Pac-10 team other than USC can match the longevity of those programs, but, this season, the conference should be mentioned in the same class with all of those teams.
Starting in 2001, the Pac-10 has had a legitimate claim to the best football conference in the nation.
In that season, Oregon got snubbed for a chance at the national title when the Bowl Championship Series selected Nebraska, which lost 62-36 to Colorado in the regular season and didn't even play in the Big-12 Championship, to play Miami in the title game.
Miami defeated Nebraska, 37-14, in the Rose Bowl for the BCS title, while Oregon beat that same Colorado team, 36-16, in the Fiesta Bowl.
In 2002, the Pac-10 sent two teams to BCS games. USC beat Iowa in the Orange Bowl and Washington State lost to Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.
This year is no exception. The Pac-10 has three teams sitting with one loss or less and should put two of them in a payday BCS bowl.
USC has restored its national prominence and - with the exception of a big-time upset - will be playing for its second national title in two years.
Cal should earn a Bowl Championship Series berth with just one loss to the No. 1 team.
Even ASU (as much as I hate to admit it) should end up 9-2 and have an argument of only losing to two of the top eight teams in the land.
Even teams like Oregon, UCLA and Stanford should make lower-tier bowls and can compete with any mid-level team from any conference.
The days of the Pac-10 being overlooked as a premier football conference should be over.
National media and coaches around the country should mention the Pac-10 in the same league with the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big-12.
The only way this will happen is if Pac-10 schools continue to be successful during bowl seasons and the Pac-10 becomes recognized from softball to football and everything in between as the Conference of Champions.