It has officially been 10 seasons now since the Pac-10/12 last won a national championship and making that fact even tougher is that the conference has come very, very close to grabbing one numerous times in that span. Thinking about this dark national spotlight time this week, I put together a Top 10 of the best Pac-12 teams of this era that just missed out.
1. 2005 USC (12-1 8-0 #2 in final poll, lost BCS Championship to Texas)
The team that Matt Leinart came back for was absolutely loaded and it showed as the Trojans ran the regular season table with Reggie Bush winning the Heisman and held the number one ranking throughout the season.
What went wrong? The Trojans lost maybe the best BCS Championship Game of all time by three points to Vince Young and Texas due to an epic performance by Young.
What if there had been a Playoff? The Trojans get a good Ohio State team as a four seed and probably beat them by 10-14 points. This sets up the final with Texas which, in a matchup that I think they win more than they lose if they play it numerous times, but since they did actually play it, I have to still give the nod to Texas.
2. 2008 USC (12-1 8-1 #3 in final poll, beat Penn State in Rose Bowl)
The last of Pete Carroll's great USC team was led by Mark Sanchez and maybe the best linebacker unit to ever play in the Pac-12 of Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga. They may not have been quite as good as the earlier Carroll USC teams, but there may not have been a more talented Pac-12 team since.
What went wrong? The Trojans got tripped up in the Pete Carroll snake pit of Corvallis in a tight 21-27 loss where they could not run the ball and got passed over by fellow one-loss Florida and Oklahoma teams for a shot at the title.
What if there had been a Playoff? It would be a very, very tough call, but I think USC would miss out on the Playoff behind Florida, Oklahoma, Alabama and Texas because they had the worst loss and a lack of great wins in a very weak Pac-12.
3. 2012 Oregon (12-1 8-1 #2 in final poll, beat Kansas State in Fiesta Bowl)
This was the best Chip Kelly/Mark Helfrich Duck team for my money even though they did not make the championship game as the 2010 and 2014 did. For combination of scheme effectiveness, coaching and talent, I think 2012 was the perfect storm for the Ducks.
What happened? The Ducks got taken down 17-14 in overtime by a Stanford team that put together an amazing defensive performance and got revenge on the Ducks after they basically knocked them out of the national championship two years running. The Ducks then missed out on the BCS Championship game being behind an undefeated Notre Dame team and a one-loss Alabama team.
What if there had been a Playoff? I think Oregon grabs the third seed in the Playoff and gets a very tough Alabama team in the first round. A very tough match-up for the Ducks, I think they can hang with the Tide, but struggle to run the ball and stop the run and put too much on a freshman Marcus Mariota, losing by a couple scores.
4. 2010 Oregon (12-1 9-0 #3 in final poll, lost to Auburn in BCS Championship Game)
The true liftoff of the Chip Kelly Ducks, the 2010 edition pretty much blew out every team they faced in the regular season except for one strange game at Cal. This edition may not have had as much talent or depth as later versions, but had maybe the perfect back for their system in LaMichael James, a scheme that opponents had scene very little of before and a little more grit.
What happened? The Ducks got as close as they ever have to a national championship, tying Auburn in the final minutes of the BCS Championship Game before losing 22-19 on a field goal.
What if there had been a Playoff? It would have been very interesting for Pac-12 fans. I think the Ducks get the second seed behind Auburn and Stanford ends up with the third seed setting up Pac-12 rematch in the semifinal. The best Stanford team in history led by Andrew Luck would be tempting to take in a rematch but the 2010-11 Stanford teams lacked the speed, depth and experience against Oregon on their defense to beat the Ducks. Oregon then faces Auburn in a championship game that I think they would lose 8/9 times out of 10.
5. 2014 Oregon (13-2 8-1 #2 in final poll, beat Florida State in Rose Bowl and lost to Ohio State in championship)
The latest and greatest, these Ducks were by far the best they have been at quarterback with a junior Heisman winner in Mariota and extremely talented at running back, receiver and along the offensive line. They fought devastating injuries and still lost just one game in the regular season while dominating everyone they played down the stretch.
What happened? The Ducks got ran over by Ohio State in the championship game.
What if there HAD NOT been a Playoff? Alabama and Florida State play for the national championship. Oy!
6. 2011 Oregon (12-2 8-1 #4 in final poll, beat Wisconsin in Rose Bowl)
Just another great Oregon Chip Kelly team that returned a ton of pieces from the 2010 team that came four points away from a national championship and kept things rolling over Pac-12 teams.
What happened? Oregon opened up the season with a loss to a tough LSU team in Arlington, but was getting back into position for a shot at the BCS Championship Game in November before Matt Barkley and a red-hot USC team upset them in Autzen.
7. 2010 Stanford (12-1 8-1 #4 in final poll, beat Virginia Tech in Orange Bowl)
The best of the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw era Cardinal team was led by Luck and a bullying offensive line and defense that became a juggernaut as the season went on.
What happened? The Cardinal ran into a red hot Duck team that blazed past them with speedy runs and the cards did not fall to get a one-loss team into the BCS Championship.
What if there had been a Playoff? See what I put for 2010 Oregon.
8. 2006 USC (11-2 7-2 #4 in final poll, beat Michigan in Rose Bowl)
The beginning of the end of the elite USC teams under Pete Carroll, this Trojan group had some growing pains, lost a couple of games, struggled early against some weaker conference foes and lacked a bit of the star power of the earlier days but still had a roster any Pac-12 coach right now would trade for.
What happened? The Trojans got shocked by two points in Corvallis in October, but had themselves right back in line for a BCS Championship Game shot before getting shocked again by four points by UCLA to close the regular season.
9. 2011 Stanford (11-2 8-1 #7 in final poll, lost to Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl)
Andrew Luck's final Stanford team continued Harbaugh's powerful battering ram in the hands of David Shaw with the same recipe and a little more experience and talent.
What happened? Oregon ran away from Stanford in a November showdown and not enough dominoes fell in Stanford's favor to get them into the BCS Championship Game.
What if there was a Playoff? This would be a very interesting scenario. I believe the Cardinal would have gotten in as the four seed and faced off with undefeated LSU in the first round. I am tempted to pick Stanford, but I think LSU would have won a grind it out affair.
10. 2007 USC (11-2 7-2 #3 in final poll, beat Illinois in Rose Bowl)
A frustrating USC team that had loads of talent, but lost a couple of games and seemed to have lost their edge, but still a Top 5 team.
What happened? The Trojans suffered maybe the biggest upset in Pac-12 history when Harbaugh's Stanford took down USC in The Coliseum and then cemented not winning a national championship when they lost a seven point game to an Oregon team that was becoming unstoppable.
Special case - 2007 Oregon
I feel like I have to mention Oregon in the first year of Chip Kelly as offensive coordinator because they very much appeared on their way to a BCS Championship Game with Dennis Dixon as a Heisman favorite before Dixon went down with an injury. The Ducks lost an early season game to Cal before they got humming, but LSU ended up winning the national championship with two losses and, had Dixon not gone down, I have to think that the Ducks at least would have had a great chance to get to the championship game.