When they’re not playing each other, Oregon and Stanford are a combined 39-1 this decade against the rest of the Pac-12 North.
(Yes, that tally includes the 2010 season, when the league wasn’t divided into divisions yet, but it further illustrates just how long the Ducks and Cardinal have held a stranglehold on Cal, Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State.)
It’s now 2015, so it’s time to ask this question: Are the Pac-12 North’s "Other Four" ready to put an end to Oregon and Stanford’s absurd .975 winning percentage against them? Instead of entertaining the possibility of a division championship -- that would constitute a classic case of putting the cart in front of the horse -- we'll start with baby steps here, and see if this the season that the Other Four can at least notch multiple wins against the Two Bad Bullies.
So far this decade, the only such victory was Washington’s 17-13 upset of the Cardinal -- and that was back in 2012. Oregon is undefeated against Pac-12 North teams not named Stanford this decade.
"[Oregon and Stanford] have been the ones able to finish games -- they're formidable opponents," Cal quarterback Jared Goff said. "That's what we haven't been able to do, but that's what we'll have to do to compete in this division. And this is a great year to do it. We have all our pieces coming back."
Goff's Bears are the trendiest pick to serve up a formidable challenge to Oregon and Stanford. Cal's offense is unquestionably prolific, and there is evidence in Berkeley suggesting a downtrodden defense is at least making a push to carry its own weight.
Ultimately, a lack of balance is exactly where the Pac-12 North's lack of parity originates: Offenses at Cal and Washington State have been fruitful, but defensive performance at those two programs has lagged too far behind for them to form a "middle class" in the division. Look no further than Cal's 60-59 victory against the Cougars last season: That record-breaking game was a statistical freak show that included 1,261 passing yards.
"It was like a video game," Goff said. "It was unbelievable."
Exactly. The spectacle was entertaining, but showed just why Cal and Washington State haven't been serious contenders -- yet.
Offseason reports, though, do indicate that change might be on its way. The Bears say their defense is finally competing with the offense in practice -- always a good sign -- and the Cougars are optimistic that their defense is also entering a new era under first-year coordinator Alex Grinch, whose specialty lies in fixing a broken secondary. Washington State also hopes a tweaked offensive approach, built more on lining up with quarterback Luke Falk under center and running downhill will help stabilize the offense and keep the defense off the field.
Oregon State and Washington also shouldn't be completely discounted in the bid to spoil the Pac-12 North duopoly, though both will feature new quarterbacks and rebuilt defenses. The Huskies are adamant that they will be better defensively in 2015, but it is indeed difficult seeing them break through with this season's roster after they fell short with last season's crew that included several NFL draft picks.
So, it appears Cal and Washington State are the programs in best position to finally a make a move this season. But they play three of their four games against Oregon and Stanford on the road -- the Cardinal visit Pullman on Halloween -- so breaking that 39-1 grip won't be easy.
But if the Other Four do find a way to break the headlock, perhaps the North will move on a path toward parity that ultimately mirrors its balanced brother in the South. Until that happens, the Pac-12's divisions couldn't be in more different situations.