Mailbag: The great debate of North v. South

Happy Thanksgiving in advance. The Pac-12 blog is thankful for its loyal readers, their strong opinions and insightful mailbag letters.

Dan in Mesa, Ariz. writes: The North and South divisions went 12-12 in interdivisional play during the regular season. What do you think is the significance of that statistic?

Kevin Gemmell: I got a few of these this week from folks asking me which division I think is better. The significance is that the South stepped up and showed that it’s not the little brother division anymore. I’m not prepared to say the South division is stronger than the North. But I’m also no longer willing to concede that the North is the stronger of the two divisions.

In the preseason, the sense from the Pac-12 blog was that the North was more top heavy, but the South might be a little deeper with ASU, UCLA, USC and Arizona all lumped together -- but there was clearly a perceived drop off after Oregon and Stanford. That gap has narrowed.

The South’s middle upped its game with those four teams all notching big wins. The North’s middle, Oregon State and Washington, faded down the stretch, but Washington State picked up some slack.

Take a look at our power rankings this week and it reads like this: North, South, North, South, South, North, South, North, North South, South, North.

Stanford and Oregon beat UCLA. USC beat Stanford. Utah beat Stanford. UCLA beat Utah. Washington State beat USC. Stanford beat Washington State and so on and so on.

What this boils down to is what we’ve been saying for months, nay, years. That the Pac-12 completely devours itself with the nine-game conference schedule. Winning the Pac-12 means something. And whether it’s Stanford or Arizona State that comes out on top, they will have earned it.

Seth in Coos Bay, Ore. writes: Hey Kevin. I miss Chip. That is all.

Gemmell: I’ve been waiting for these. Got a couple after the Stanford loss, but a few more came in this week.

Let’s jump back to January, shall we? The Pac-12 blog posted a poll regarding life after Chip Kelly and 7,169 folks voted. The consensus was that Oregon would have 10 or fewer victories in 2013 (the comments on some of these older pieces are always fun to look at). As it stands, the Ducks are at nine wins heading into the Civil War. A victory over a reeling Oregon State team would give them 10 and then a bowl game win would give them 11.

Remember, Chip Kelly went 10-3 in his first year, so Mark Helfrich could actually do better than Kelly in his first season.

I know you weren’t necessarily making a critique of Helfrich … more stating a fact that you miss Kelly. And that’s OK. I think that’s a normal reaction when a team doesn’t do as well as fans had hoped.

I do think one of the offseason goals for the Ducks should be a little more media training. Talk of putting up 40 points on Stanford and then the Rose Bowl comments haven’t painted Oregon in the best light these last few weeks. Especially when you can’t back it up.

Jon in Fairfield, Calif. writes: What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 13 Kevin, You made the following comment in your above-referenced article: "For the first time since the creation of the two-division system, we have a new South Division champion."Uh, not true. Technically, USC won the P12 South in 2011, but was ineligible for post-season play, so the runner up went to the CCG (UCLA). Why can't you media members give my Trojans some due? It is lazy journalism like this that continues to propogate falsities. I would ask that you amend you article accordingly.

Gemmell: Jon, nothing about it is false. As a matter of fact, I even checked with the USC athletic department to see how they define themselves from the 2011 season, and even they concede that UCLA was in fact the official South champs in 2011.

I get your point, and I understand that this is a semantically sore spot for USC fans. And the Pac-12 blog has gone on numerous diatribes regarding the plethora of ways USC got hosed. If you want me to say it again, I will. USC got hosed, caboodled, finagled, given the bum steer.

But it’s not lazy when it’s 1) been researched and 2) accurate.

Rob in Santa Clara writes: "UCLA takes step back with loss." Too bad for you. You could have had your two favorite teams in the lousy conference championship game. And, for your information, the first south champion was not UCLA.

Gemmell: Haven’t heard from Rob in a while. But he’s always the sunshine on my cloudy day. Great to hear from you, buddy. To your second point, see above.

To the first point, you might recall a mailbag response to Rob regarding my love of all things UCLA.

But what weakens his argument is the fact that I picked Arizona State to win the division and I picked Arizona State to win the game. So if UCLA was really one of my two favorite teams, wouldn’t you have more respect for me being able to put my bias aside and pick the team I thought would win?

Or is it possible -- just possible -- that I have no dogs in this fight and I simply call it like I think I see it?

Joe Bruin writes: Hey Kev. That loss against ASU was a tough pill to swallow. Glad ASU was finally able to beat us. But, I got to give credit where it is due, and the Sun Devils played a fantastic game, almost error free. In your opinion, what was the biggest game changing factor that hurt UCLA's chances from winning the game? The TD we gave up to end the first half? The 2 missed FGs from Fairbairn? Hundley's INT that was returned for a TD? or was it those two nasty (and very common) penalties we had on the last drive? or how about the fact that Myles Jack did not partake in ONE play on defense? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Gemmell: When you find yourself down by 22 at halftime, it’s never just one thing. And when you find yourself losing by five points with a failed final drive and points left on the field, it’s never just one thing.

All of the above were contributing factors. But what really stood out to me was UCLA’s inability to contain Taylor Kelly as a runner. I talked about that with Mike Norvell after the game and he said Kelly was just making all the right reads. They wanted to put UCLA to a decision and from there it was a matter of Kelly executing. When you look at the numbers, 84 of his 99 rushing yards came in the first half.

Now, as UCLA does, it made a big run in the second half. Norvell said the offense didn’t take it’s foot off the gas, UCLA just simply played better. But the Bruins got buried early and couldn’t find a way to get out. I credit the Bruins for not rolling over when things could have gotten rough. And there are plenty of mistakes along the way to lament. The penalties, for example, on the final drive are magnified, as are the two sacks.

But as you graciously point out, give credit where it’s due. I felt like line play would be the tipping point and ASU’s nine sacks is evidence of that. Solid, solid road win for the Sun Devils.

Josh in Lynden, Wash. writes: Kevin, will Larry Scott do anything to get the Pac-12 better bowl games. I mean personally I would rather see USC in the Heart of Dallas bowl than the Sun Bowl. At least its a New Years day bowl. Our bowls arent good outside of the Rose … Will this change?

Gemmell: The only change for the Pac-12’s contracted bowls is next year the league will switch affiliations from the New Mexico Bowl to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl -- so this is your last year to take in the "Breaking Bad" tour if you make it to Albuquerque.

The league contracted with the Big 12 on a six-year deal before the season started, to go along with new six-year agreements for the Alamo, Holiday, Kraft Fight Hunger, Las Vegas and Sun bowls. The deal moved the Kraft Fight Hunger up the pecking order and tied in the Big Ten, along with adding the Big Ten to the Holiday Bowl.

Keith in Teutopolis, Ill. writes: There will surely be a lot of things written to you regarding Arizona's trouncing of Oregon; anger, gloating, Schadenfreude, etc. But I'd like to say thanks for picking Oregon to beat Zona. I sincerely wish they could have lived up to your expectations of them. But at least you don't lose any ground to Ted because he picked them too.

Gemmell: I’ve always said to take those predictions with a grain of salt and have fun with them. We do.

Ted and I both missed on Arizona, so good for them. I did lose ground on the Oregon State-Washington game. My cursed Oregon State season continues. Why can't I quit you, Beavs?

So once again, Ted and I are tied going into the final week with a total of 69-16.

We had talked about making a wager on this year, but we never got around to it. Maybe next year. We’d welcome suggestions during the offseason. I’m thinking Ted would look stunning in a handlebar mustache for the duration of the bowl 2014 bowl season.

Disillusioned Bear in Hibernation, Calif. writes: Dear Stanford Fans: Congratulations on your team's Big Game victory over an injury-depleted Cal squad that's learning entirely new offensive and defensive systems. You must be so proud of your Pac-12 North champions. How time flies... it seems like only yesterday that the Cardinal was going 1-11 and losing to UC Davis. Life is short so enjoy your moment. And for those of you who live in California, sincerest thanks for subsidizing our school with your hard-earned tax dollars. Dear Oregon Fans: WT[heck]?!?!?

Gemmell: Some mailbag questions/comments are just too delicious to tamper with. I’ll let this one stand on its own.