Memo to the SEC East: See what the Pac-12 North is doing?

The Kentucky Wildcats were on the verge of staging a coming-out party… but they fell short last Saturday night against a Florida offense which is clearly quite limited.

The Tennessee Volunteers were also close to achieving a breakthrough a few weeks ago against Oklahoma… but a dropped pass early in the third quarter — one which would have led to a touchdown and a 24-3 lead — completely changed the trajectory of the second half. The Vols suffered a come-from-ahead loss and gave their critics reason to say, “Same Ol’ Post-Phil-Fulmer Tennessee.”

Vanderbilt is wistfully dreaming of the days when James Franklin prowled the sidelines in Nashville.

South Carolina is rapidly deteriorating as a program.

The SEC East seems to be Missouri and Georgia… and not much else.

The division remains stuck, unable to become what it was as recently as 2012 — when Florida and South Carolina were formidable (in addition to Georgia) and Vandy was solid.

However, on the opposite side of these contiguous 48 states, another division in a power conference is rallying.


The 2015 season began with the SEC West lording itself over the SEC East, and as shown above, the East is doing little to change perceptions through three weeks of competition. The 2015 season also began with the Pac-12 South being touted as the superior half of the conference, with the Pac-12 North sitting in the shadows. Moreover, after Stanford’s face-plant against Northwestern in week one, coupled with Washington’s brave but offensively anemic showing against Boise State and Washington State’s loss to Portland State, the North seemed to be going south, falling behind the Arizona and Southern California schools to an even greater extent.

This past weekend, however, that all changed.

Stanford got off the canvas and dominated USC’s defense, a complete 180 from last year’s game against the Trojans. In 2014, Stanford went 0-for-763 (#UNOFFICIALLY) in terms of scoring touchdowns on red-zone possessions. In 2015, the Cardinal posted 41 points with methodical drives that chewed up both the clock and USC’s front seven. No game from week three illustrated the rise of the Pac-12 North, relative to the South, more than the Trees’ ability to throw some shade on Steve Sarkisian.

However, that’s not where the Northern Rebellion in the Pac-12 ended.

California, lurking in the shadows the past few years, busted through with a 45-44 win at Texas, in a game it had led by a 45-24 margin. Some very careless errors made the game much closer than it ever should have been, but the Golden Bears were still good enough to win on the road against a program which — though very much in a rebuilding process — still possesses one of the foremost brand names in college football.

Any win in Texas — no matter how flawed on the edges the Longhorns might be — is a fantastic win for the Berkeley Boys, who are not now and have rarely been a big deal in college football. Cal gets its chance to become a big deal if it can hang with the rest of the Pac in the coming weeks, but at least the Golden Bears are now a central part of the conversation in ways they typically haven’t been. They’re clearly moving forward.

Washington, whose offense was as bad as the 2015 Seattle Mariners’ offense against Boise Stsate, has begun to reverse course. A 31-point showing against Utah State’s defense doesn’t mean everything’s been figured out, but it’s not what one would have expected a few weeks ago. Quarterback Jake Browning is growing into the position, gaining more comfort on slant passes and other short- to short-intermediate routes. The Huskies have a ton of work to do, but they appear to be making progress.

Washington State seemed to be about to nosedive to the absolute bottom of the college football world after losing at home to Portland State in week one, but after handling Rutgers on the road (keep in mind that the Cougars couldn’t beat Rutgers in Seattle a year ago), Mike Leach’s team might not be headed for crash-and-burn desolation. Making a bowl game will still be difficult, but after week one, Wazzu looked like a 1-11 team, and that’s off the board now.

Oregon State’s offense was putrid the first two weeks of the season. In week three, however, quarterback Seth Collins — akin to Browning at Washington — felt noticeably more comfortable, playing well in a win over San Jose State.

The Pac-12 North — chiefly in the form of the Bay Area schools — has shown that the conference’s balance of power might not necessarily reside in the South… of the whole league, or just the state of California. This Saturday’s Utah-Oregon game will have a lot more to say about North-South balance, but to be fair to Pac-12 South partisans, Oregon is the North’s signature program, matched against a relative Pac-12 newbie from Salt Lake City.

The Pac-12 North needed to show that it could flex its muscles outside of Eugene, and the Bay Area schools have done just that. The other schools in the Northwest aren’t likely to be competitive at the same exalted level. Their forward movements are much more modest, but they have rescued (at least temporarily) the North from the notion that it’s Oregon, Stanford, and Four Really Mediocre Teams. That might be an overly simplistic label, but it’s something recent seasons have suggested if not outright declared.


We bracket all of these comments and observations with the necessary annual reminder: It’s still September. It’s still early. It’s still an embryonic stage of the college football season. Take everything above with an allowance for the reality that seasons change as the calendar turns to October (and then November).

However, through three weeks, the struggles of teams such as Arizona State and USC — combined with Stanford’s bounce-back and the new emergence of Team Berkeley — offer more than a little reason to say that the Pac-12 North, unlike the SEC East, has changed the balance of power in its conference.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |