Can the Pac-12 South overtake the Pac-12 North in 2014?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA has a chance to be the first Pac-12 South team to win the conference in 2014 behind Brett Hundley.

The South Division of the Pac-12 has been the little brother of the conference, since the expansion of the conference into two divisions and unless the South can make a move this season, it is hard to believe that it won't stay that way for at least the near future. There is a slight gap that could potentially open for the South to at least even up the balance of power in 2014, but it will take a number of things for that to happen.

It is probably the most-interesting the power scheme of the conference has been going into a season since the Pac went from 10 to 12 as the conference's current four big powers in Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC are all at least in some sort of transition phase. Oregon is in their second year under Mark Helfrich after their first non-BCS season since prior to Chip Kelly, Stanford losing more talent in one season than they have in quite some time, UCLA returning a great deal of talent, including Brett Hundley and USC finally having a coach who has proven that he can win on the college level.

The first key for the South to have a shot against the North is for those transitions taking place in the North (We can also throw in Washington going from Sarkisian to Chris Peterson in there too) to head in bad direction for the programs up North. UCLA has the potential to be a Top 10 at the end of 2014, but that still won't matter in the game of thrones in the Pac-12 if Oregon and Stanford maximize their potential yet again. If the Ducks prove that they aren't going to slow down under Mark Helfrich, they will likely be playing in the BCS playoff and if Stanford isn't going to slow after losing a number of the leading men from their recent Pac-12 domination, I think their scheme and coaching will keep them above UCLA and USC. Throw in a Washington program that could take the next step into BCS success if Peterson can transition well into BCS football, and the South has another racer to compete against that they better hope sputters.

Regardless of what happens in the North though, the teams in the South will need to step up in 2014, if they hope to turn the tide in the battle for Pac-12 power. For programs like USC, the Arizona schools and the mountain schools, their fight is more of a long-term thing, but for UCLA and Jim Mora, this is the year where they need to capitalize. The Bruins almost assuredly only have one more year with Brett Hundley and aren't likely to have a Heisman-level quarterback again anytime soon. The Bruins are loaded on talent like Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes, that will have to come back for at least 2015, but it I don't know if I can see them controlling the power direction of the conference if they can't start by winning the thing with Hundley in 2014.

The Bruins are far from alone in their quest to bring power to the South though. Their cross-town rivals look like the team that is most-likely to join them in giving the North a fight in 2014 and in the long run. 2014 isn't quite as important for USC as it is UCLA as they break in a new coach, but it is close. The Trojans made a solid, safe hire with Steve Sarkisian, but it was far from a big splash and he will need to prove that he can exceed the 7-8-win cap that he was trapped under in Seattle immediately to silence doubters. The South desperately needs USC to live up to its potential for the division to compete with the North and Sarkisian needs to start heading towards fulfillment again quickly to avoid risking having another tenure in Troy mired in second-guessing and mediocrity.

I'm sure (If they are even still reading) at this point that Arizona school and mountain school fans are griping about thinking that the South is strictly the LA schools. That is an understandable gripe, but I just think that 2014 isn't an integral year for any of those schools in the directional battle for power. Arizona has to replace the two most-important positions in their scheme with no experience and questionable talent, the Sun Devils have to replace their entire starting defense and earned a lot of cushion with their South championship last season, the Buffaloes are still simply in the mode where five wins would be a success and Utah is similar, just replace the number five with six and a bowl.

The non-LA schools will still have a role in trying to prove that the middle and bottom of the South can compete with the Washington and Oregon State's of the North, but right now, UCLA is the main team at the plate with the chance to hit the South back on top and if they can, they will raise the rest of the South up with them.

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