As an overall league, the Pac-12 was really, really bad last season. But, in its badness, it was also profoundly weird.
To wit: The 2012 Pac-12 regular-season champion, Washington, didn't go to the NCAA tournament, the first power-six team to accomplish that feat since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. (It's still pretty mind-blowing, honestly.) Cal, the league's most efficient team overall, never distinguished itself during the conference season.
With the exception of Utah and USC, who were just, I don't know, let's not talk about it, most of the teams in the league weren't individually awful. They were just ... blah: Stanford started strong but faded fast before eventually winning the NIT (of course); Colorado got hot late at the right time, won the conference tournament, and looked great in March; Oregon appeared promising but never got over the hump; Arizona, arguably the league's most enticing team, ended up being wholly mediocre. UCLA was, well, UCLA.
The Wildcats and Bruins have since reloaded with the No. 3- and No. 1-ranked recruiting classes, respectively, and so the rebirth of the Pac-12 after a deathly 2012 is on the tip of everyone's tongues. But how, exactly, will the league shake out? I don't know, which is why I was especially interested to see how the media would vote in the league's preseason media poll. At Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday, all precincts reported:
So, to recap, Arizona was picked to win the conference in aggregate, if only barely ... even though more voters picked UCLA to actually win the conference. Go figure.
Washington received two first-place votes, somehow, and was picked to finish higher than Colorado, which seems criminally underrated at No. 6. (Andre Roberson, anyone?) USC revamped its whole team, loaded up with a brutal schedule, returned its best player from injury (Jio Fontan) and is talking NCAA tournament, but couldn't get more than a passing glance at No. 9.
It would be easy to dismiss this as an uninformed media poll (those darn media members!), but more than anything, I just think people are confused about the 2012 Pac-12. The league's clear top two -- UCLA and Arizona -- are the best primarily thanks to the arrival of talented freshman, which none of us has seen on the collegiate level and one of which, UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, is still not eligible. And I'll be honest: I don't think Washington is better than Colorado, but am I willing to bet my breakfast bagel on it? No! Not a chance. And not just because I really want to eat this bagel. I just don't know.
I think the Pac-12 is due for a recovery this season. The infusion of talent and increase in coaching continuity are indicators of a move in a decidedly positive direction. But until everybody gets back out on the court, and we get to see some of these teams in action, I'll forgive anyone who says they have no idea what to expect. Because neither do I.