By KENNY FRANEK
The Pac-10 Conference is widely regarded as the third (or fourth depending on how you view the Big 10) best conference in football, but is that a fair presumption? The Pac-10 currently has four teams in the top 25; Cal, Arizona State, Oregon, and of course USC. The other two conferences have a combined total of 10 teams in the top 25 (5 from the SEC and 5 from the Big 12). The Pac-10 may be behind these conference powerhouses by one team ranked in the top 25, but let’s not forget about the stunning victory UCLA had in the first week of the season when they beat a highly touted Tennessee team (who happened to be ranked 17th in the nation and resides in the SEC Conference). Not to mention the fact that, due to injuries, UCLA was playing their 3rd string quarterback against the Vols. Oh, and the 3rd stringer threw 4 interceptions in the first half alone, yet the Bruins still found a way to win. This victory alone does not mean that the Pac-10 is better than the SEC (or Big 12 for that matter), it just goes to show you that the Pac-10 should be getting some more love. They have the number one team in the nation in USC and several other teams are trying to prove that they too are forces to be reckoned with.
Let’s not forget that last year both Oregon and USC had national title hopes shattered due to key injuries. Dennis Dixon tore his ACL late in the season while the Ducks were making a case to be in the national championship picture. John David Booty played with a broken finger and threw 5 interceptions in a key loss to Stanford. One has to wonder, if these key players did not get injured at such crucial points in the season while their teams were making a run at the title game, could we have seen a Pac-10 national championship game? This we will never know, but it is definitely a thought to ponder.
Historically, the Pac-10 conference has had 223 first-round NFL draft picks. This ranks them 4th; which is 2 ahead of the fifth place Big 12 conference and 55 behind the second place SEC conference. There is no doubt that USC is an NFL-producing machine, having 4 players going in the first round alone, and 11 altogether in the 2008 draft.
The point of all this is that even though the Pac-10 may not have the number one or two all-around conference in the land, they still do have USC which has been in the top 4 final AP poll slots since 2002 (and also appeared in 3 straight national championship games in the same timeframe). This alone makes their conference one to be reckoned with and one which deserves to be shown more love.