The routine seems to have been the same the past few years. Logic and potential convinces me before the Pac-12 season that the power dynamic will start to shift to Los Angeles with UCLA and USC starting to dominate, but then the season starts and that does not happen.
I know it is very, very early, but USC and UCLA already look to me like they are far from ready to dominate the conference, let alone even their own division, despite preseason hype. Both teams could turn around and carry the flag of the conference, but I just don't see it happening right now and it really doesn't make sense.
Based on population, fan base, location, tradition and education, both LA schools check in at the very top of the conference and it shows in their recruiting classes, but it just hasn't seemed to show up on the field for almost a decade now. An LA school hasn't won the conference since 2008 and one hasn't won the South Division in three years.
On top of that, the LA schools have been dominated by the schools that currently still hold the power of the conference - Oregon and Stanford. UCLA and UCLA are a combined 3-20 (UCLA is a staggering 0-12) against the Northern powers since 2008 and a good chunk of those games haven't even been close. Also, in that time frame, an LA school has only beaten the conference's best program (Oregon) one time. And as the great Rick Flair once said - you have to beat the man to be the man.
But their struggles are not even just limited to against the North powers, the LA schools have far from dominated their Arizona rivals during that time either. The LA schools are a combined 13-11 against the Arizona schools since 2008 and have lost the South Division to teams from the state the past two years.
It is clear that the LA schools have struggled to live up to their potential, but what is far less clear is why and if it will change.
Coaching - This is more of a reason for USC who lost somehow followed up the mistake of hiring Lane Kiffin by hiring a very similar Steve Sarkisian, but UCLA had their own coaching issues before Jim Mora came into town 2009-11 when Rick Neuheisel was losing big with a talented squad. The jury is still a bit out on Sarkisian, but the Trojans haven't made the best coaching decisions since Pete Carroll left town and it has really held them down.
Sanctions (but only for USC) - Pretty simple and no way around it... sanctions have really hindered USC. Exactly how much is up for debate though.
Parity and the rise of the Pac-12 - The Pac-12 is the same conference that the Trojans dominated in a couple of different decades including the 2000s when I think the conference may have been at its all-time worst. Obviously programs like Oregon and Stanford have risen up and made the LA's schools' schedules much tougher, but programs like Washington have bounced back along with the Arizona schools and Utah in recent seasons. Not only do these programs steal more recruits out of LA, but they also wear out the LA schools much more over time. It's not like you can coast for a few games anymore and save up for a few big tests.
Culture - This goes in opposite directions for the LA schools. I feel that the air of superiority USC developed after their near decade of astounding dominance and their fondness for those days has held the program back. The best USC teams in recent history were the ones coming off of the dark days of the early-2000s that had a chip on their shoulder and had something to prove. Recent Trojan teams seem to lack that drive to prove doubters wrong and regularly being highly-rated going into the season probably doesn't help. Also, the administration and fan base's thirst for the Pete Carroll days has a lot to do with why they have made two-straight poor choices in coaching searches.
UCLA on the other hand seems to have the same problem they have always had, they just never seem to have that "edge" a program needs to have to get to the next level. People have always accused UCLA of not caring enough about football and for the program's perceived "softness" being one reason they never quite live up to expectations and I at least have to give a "if there is smoke, there is fire." I have to think that this culture issue has something to do with the Bruins always being a very good, but not great team that just misses their potential.
When will the power swing back to LA the way it inevitably should?
Honestly I don't know and I think it might not be an inevitable thing anymore. College football has changed a lot and seeing the struggles at programs like Texas, Michigan and Miami along with programs like Georgia and LSU seemingly perpetually underachieving, simply having a great population base, tradition and fan base doesn't automatically mean dominance.