Pac-12 looks good from SEC turf

As a card-carrying member of the SEC-rules-college-football club, I understand the consequences of saying this.

But here goes:

This just might be the Pac-12's year.

There, I said it, and while realizing that we're only four weeks into the season, there's ample evidence that the Pac-12's depth, overall talent and balance across the league stacks up as well as it ever has against the SEC.

Now, if we could only get an Alabama versus Oregon matchup in the VIZIO BCS National Championship game. That's the game everybody wants to see.

Toward the end of Oregon's 59-14 smackdown of Tennessee a few weeks ago, the Ducks' fans chanted, "We want Bama."

And leading up to that game, Oregon offensive lineman Jake Fisher echoed what a lot of people outside the SEC's footprint have been rolling their eyes and saying as the league's national championship streak has swelled to seven in a row.

"They're really big and scary," Fisher said of the Vols, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "So we're all really, really intimidated by the SEC. We're just going to have to keep our minds right."

It was a given that Oregon and Stanford were going to be strong again this season, but where it looks like the Pac-12 has made up the most ground on the SEC is the middle of the pack.

Look at what Jim Mora Jr. has done with that UCLA program. Washington is greatly improved, particularly on defense. We'll find out more about unbeaten Arizona on Saturday at Washington, and Arizona State has a big one this weekend as well against USC.

Who would have guessed in the preseason that USC would be only the sixth- or seventh-best team in the Pac-12?

But even the Trojans, as hapless as they've been on offense, are a load on defense with several future pros sprinkled throughout that starting lineup.

"One of the things you're seeing is that the defenses in the Pac-12 have caught up in terms of the athletes in the front seven -- the length of those athletes, their size and their ability to be physical," said one current Pac-12 coach. "Speed has never been an issue in this league, but now you're seeing teams that are combining a little bit of it all."

Indeed, Stanford is probably the closest thing to an SEC team in the Pac-12 when you start talking about lining up and being physical and winning the line of scrimmage.

Stanford held Oregon's warp-speed offense to two touchdowns last season and bullied the Ducks in a 17-14 overtime win. Oregon has to travel to Palo Alto this season in a Thursday night game Nov. 7.

Ironically, one of the things working against the Pac-12 this season in the national championship race could be the very thing that has been so challenging for the SEC.

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