Avinash Kunnath: Stanford in the north, UCLA in the south, but only by a smidge in each place. That Cardinal defense still feels like the best unit in the conference. They wouldn't let UCF breathe and only gave out against Northwestern because their offense couldn't get anything done. Cal has shown potential but it's still very early and their tough games are ahead of them.
In the South, UCLA was impressive against more formidable competition--their Virginia game was a really good sign, and even though they were spotty against UNLV, they took care of business. USC has been merciless, and Arkansas State looks decent enough, but I'd give a slight edge to the Bruins.
Roy Stenlund: It is a really close one to call between USC and UCLA. They are both really good teams. In the North, Stanford tops Cal, sorry Bear fans you still have a ways to go!
Jack Follman: I am still giving UCLA the slight edge in the South. Better coaching and more overall experience, depth and talent. I like Cal in the North for now. I think Stanford is coming back down to Earth and I like Cal's scheme much better as long as Stanford is full of experienced All-Americans, which they are not anymore.
Mark H Schipper: I think it has to be Stanford. Furd, as strange as it seems, is living in a different atmosphere right now, waiting for their next title fight. In the interest of full disclosure, I see the once in a century, conference-championship-or-bust era coming to a close in Palo Alto. David Shaw isn't that level of head coach and, I might be wrong, but I think the Jim Harbaugh momentum is just now petering out on The Farm, with the Big Game-gap closing up quickly.
But Cal, at this stage of its rebuild, is throwing blood money at Historically Black Colleges with dire athletic budgets in exchange for the opportunity to administer savage beatings. This might be offensive to Berkeley fans, but take it in the spirit in which it's intended, which is to say I think Cal is better than that. The bludgeoning of Grambling, from the outside, was unsavory, and I felt exactly the same this Saturday when Boston College annihilated Howard 76-0. That game was so brutal, the third and fourth quarters were shortened to expedite the execution. When has that ever happened at this level of football? These super small FCS colleges (thinks SWAC as opposed to CAA or Missouri Valley powerhouses, who have a legitimate long shot at winning a game) are putting their non-NFL aspirational kids at risk against high-stakes, top-level athletes to pay bills for the rest of their athletic departments. In other contexts that's easily identifiable as abusing privilege. It's something I'd like to see stop in college football, right now if not sooner.
The UCLA/USC question I got into a little in the Zona section. I think the Bruins are superior right now because A) They've beaten Southern Cal three straight seasons and have a psychological edge, and B) UCLA is a better coached team with approximately equivalent talent, better in some places, maybe less in others. I haven't had the full-blooded feeling yet, but depth and talent on UCLA's roster are starting to point toward the Bruins going on a nice run under Coach Mora, maybe as good as the four year span from 1983 through 1986 when they won three Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl under Terry Donahue. There's little doubt they can recruit talented enough athletes to win like that, but keeping a coaching staff intact and making that mysterious thing we call program chemistry work is another trial itself. It all could fall apart at any time, and that's the razor's edge between good and great a program has to walk.