Happy New Year!
If you're like me, when you think of the phrase "new year" you also think of College football. And if that's the case, you also think of the Rose Bowl.
Yesterday, Ohio State won the Rose Bowl 26-17 over Oregon. The Buckeyes kept Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli at bay all game, causing many of us to ask the question, "didn't this guy dominate the Pac 10 this year?"
And the answer was, "yes." Had Toby Gerhardt not had such an amazing season, Jeremiah Masoli would have been on a lot more peoples minds for award discussions, including Pac 10 conference player of the year.
Oregon's loss to Ohio State sent the Pac 10 conference to a sub-par 2-5 record in Bowl games this year; this includes losses from four of it's five ranked teams in the BCS poll.
The Pac 10's two wins came from USC beating Boston College and UCLA taking care of Temple. Neither game was a blow out, and considering the expectations that began each of these teams seasons, it's a shame for the Pac 10 conference that these match ups even existed. Nevertheless, USC seem poised to regain stature heading in to 2010, and perhaps more so 2011.
Therein lies the problem. The Pac 10, more than any other major conference, revolves around one team; USC. Since 2002, the conference has been dominated by the Trojans, thus their 2009 shortcomings have magnified the shortcomings of the rest of the conference.
For example, two of the Pac 10's bowl losses came from head-to-head games with the Mountain West, a non-BCS automatic qualifying conference that has so far gone 4-0 in bowl games. TCU, a Mountain West team, will play Boise State, a WAC team that defeated Oregon on opening day, in the Fiesta Bowl on Monday. TCU are a win away from an undefeated season which would rank them #2 in the nation, and further proclaim the Mountain West's current dominance over the Pac 10.
I would never argue that the Mountain West is superior overall than the Pac 10, because it's not; I personally believe that this is a one year thing, and it will need to continue for another two to three years before I can wholeheartedly say that the Pac 10 has fallen to the Mountain West in superiority. The Pac 10 schools just have more tools to work with in recruiting, promotion, and bowl placement. BYU, Utah, and TCU, the top of the Pac 10, are narrowing the gap between the bulk of the Pac 10, and the top of the Mountain West, but as a whole, the Pac 10 is still undeniably better.
In the end, USC's one to two year decline will be good for the Pac 10. It's opened up the regional, and in many ways national spotlight to programs that have been off the national radar like Stanford, Oregon State, Washington, and Arizona. It's also helped Oregon regain some respect as a national contender. I doubt that in the current climate, Stanford, Oregon State, Washington, or Arizona could ever compete for a national championship, but you never know; a few years ago who would have thought TCU would be in that sort of argument?