The world of college football was finally starting to come around. At last, the praises of the Pac-12 were starting to be sung by the national media, murmurs of the Pac-12 being the best conference outside of the swamplands with some even suggesting that it might be better than the SEC. It seemed as if everyone east of the Colorado River was beginning to see the light.
I hate to be the one to break it to everyone, but based on what I have seen so far in 2014, I just don't see it. At least not in regards to the Pac-12 challenging the SEC as the greatest conference in the land. Primarily because the middle and upper-middle of the conference looks so questionable.
The Pac-12 looks to have a healthy national title contender in Oregon, but where they seem to be coming up short in 2014 is what rests right below the Ducks. That lower-upper crust that the SEC thrives so well with (think those teams just outside of the Playoff cutoff - think LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi right now), is faltering right now in the Pac-12. Right now, Stanford, USC and UCLA are near that region, but just not really looking that impressive.
Unless these teams, along with a Washington, Arizona State or Arizona, can start showing that they can healthily populate the Top 25 and stay there, the Pac-12 is probably going to remain a second class citizen to the SEC for now. It is too fitting that when the Pac-12 finally has a bit of national momentum, some of the key players are coming up short.
It is very early, but many Pac-12 programs, especially ones expected to compete for the conference championship, have performed more poorly than expected.
Then - Came in bordering on a national title contender.
Now - 3-0, but struggled to win each game against opponents that are widely considered above average at best.
Then - Came in as a borderline Top 10 team that could sneak into the Playoff conversation if their young offensive line and replacements on defense step up quickly.
Now - Lost their second game of the season at home and now face an uphill battle to get back into the Top 10 with what could be the nation's toughest schedule.
Then - A Top 15/20 team that has the talent to break into the Top 10 if they head in the right direction under Steve Sarkisian.
Now - Coming off a heartbreaking loss where it looked like their defense isn't going to be able to stop anyone from running wild on them.
Then - A Top 25 team that has one of the best "big three" in the nation in Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong who could easily win the Pac-12 South.
Now - The Sun Devils have started strong with an easy schedule but might be without Kelly for a while.
Then - The Huskies upgraded at coach with Chris Petersen and returned more talent and experience than they have had in a long time; a sleeper to compete for the Pac-12 North.
Now - The Huskies are 3-0, but have really struggled on both defense and offense at times and their expectations have been significantly lowered by most fans and journalists
Then - Expectations not sky high, but the Beavers were expected to be a solid team with a great quarterback and improved defense.
Now - The Beavers are 2-0, but looked very average at best in their openers and don't appear to have a ton of playmakers on offense to fully replace Brandin Cooks.
Then - A team that should be expected to go to a bowl every year under Mike Leach that returned pretty much its entire offense and good chunk of its defensive front seven.
Now - A team that just got their first win of the season against an FCS opponent that likely won't be favored in any game the rest of the season.
Now... is the sky falling above the Western sky? No. I would still rate Pac-12 as the second or third-best conference in the country. I might give the Big 12 the edge for second based on overall strength and how well the conference has dominated the Pac-12 in head-to-head play in recent seasons. And that's not too bad. If a number of teams play as well in-conference as they should and the three teams playing Notre Dame this year show up, everything should be okay.
However, I am a little bit disappointed that I feel what should be the Pac-12's finest hour (season) and the conference is at least a little bit late to its own party and dressed a little sloppy.