There aren't many people on planet earth that look like DeForest Buckner. At 6'7" and 290 pounds, there are few who can measure up to him. Even in football, he's basically a unicorn. A unique species of defensive lineman that are not commonly found anywhere and definitely not in the Pac-12. He is one of the rare blue chip defensive lineman in the conference.
When I think of the Pac-12, I think of a skill league. There are always talented quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs sprinkled throughout the twelve teams. The SEC, on the other hand, is a line of scrimmage league. In more raw terms, it is a size/speed league. They have bigger/faster players and that's why they have been so successful on the field with seven national championships since 2006. They also recently had the most players drafted to the NFL by conference for the ninth year in a row.
When comparing the Pac-12, which hasn't won a national championship since USC in 2004, to the SEC, it's impossible to ignore the startling gap in defensive line talent between the two. USC signed the most blue chip (4 or 5 star rating in the 247Sports composite rankings) players at the position since 2011 with nine. Eight teams in the SEC have signed more than that in that same time frame. Eight!
Argue with recruiting rankings all you want, but there is no debating that the SEC has the "dudes" who can stop the run and get after the quarterback. Even the top teams in the Pac-12 can't compete with those sheer numbers.
UCLA has signed eight blue chips on the defensive line since 2011. Washington, Oregon, and Cal have each signed five.
Alabama signed eighteen. Georgia signed seventeen. Texas A&M and Tennessee have signed fourteen each and most of them are young. LSU signed thirteen.
I could keep going if I wanted to, but you get the point. The number of "dudes" on the d-line in the SEC is far greater than the number of "dudes" on the d-line in the Pac-12.
So, why is there such a huge difference in talent? It's pretty simple. There are just way more top defensive linemen for the SEC schools to choose from in their recruiting footprint. There are forty five 4 or 5 star recruits on the defensive line from there in the 2016 recruiting class. There are only seven in the Pac-12 recruiting footprint. This doesn't have anything to do with the lure of the SEC when compared to other conferences. They just have way more big time line talent that lives where they are.
With that great of a disparity, is it even possible for the Pac-12 to close the talent gap at the position? To be honest, I don't think it is. The SEC has way more of those guys in their backyard and will likely always have the upper hand in this area.
It's not going to be impossible for a Pac-12 team to win a national championship. There is plenty of talent spread throughout the league and the top teams in the conference can hang with anyone from anywhere in the country. Looking at these numbers, though, just shows how tough of a job it will be for a Pac-12 team to finish the job.
You can win a lot of football games with great quarterback play and explosive playmakers on the perimeter, but it gets a lot easier to win when you have the studs on the defensive line to go with those other players as well.