The San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner assembled his top storylines from Pac-12 spring practice. The piece focuses on uncertainty around the conference at the quarterback position, but amid the current mess at that important position, there's clarity developing around the quality level of some teams. This is happening mostly in the Pac-12 North, which Wilner opines may become one of the strongest divisions in the country in 2016.
Now, this is a statement worthy of an offseason discussion.
Stanford and Oregon have dominated the Pac-12 North ever since the league's expansion in 2011. In fact, those two teams are a combined 48-2 against all the other programs in the North this decade. That staggering tally immediately suggests two things: The Cardinal and the Ducks have been very good, and the Pac-12 North (unlike its counterpart in the South) hasn't featured much, if any, parity -- though Washington State did make a surge last season.
Wilner sees 2016 as a potential shift to an evenly matched foursome at the top of the division. Most importantly, the Washington schools have come out of spring ball unscathed. The Huskies and Cougars both saw their stock steadily rise throughout the 2015 season, and both of those teams return strong starting quarterbacks -- a luxury that Stanford and Oregon do not have. Washington also featured the Pac-12's best defense last season, and the Huskies are the early favorite to repeat their No. 1 ranking in that category moving forward.
"No roster is superior to the other three; each team is flawed in one fashion or another; and yet, with a few breaks and good health, the Cougars are just as capable as the Ducks, the Huskies just as dangerous as the Cardinal," Wilner writes.
There's one more wild card that can make the Pac-12 North even more interesting: While Oregon State isn't expected to make much noise, California may well have the offensive firepower to seriously impact the standings in the post-Jared Goff era. The Golden Bears spent spring ball showcasing an impressive young batch of receivers -- namely early enrollee Melquise Stovall -- and Wilner thinks they'll be a force to be reckoned with.
Either way, even if Stanford or Oregon win to maintain their stranglehold on the top, it definitely seems that the Pac-12 North is moving toward a position of greater strength beyond just its top two teams. That shift started in earnest last year, and if it continues as Wilner expects in 2016, the schedule moving forward promises to be a brutal marathon with very few easy-to-pick games.