Cal Football: Where Does Pac-12 North Rank Among Power 5 Conference Divisions?

Despite Quinten Pounds' impressive touchdown catch, Washington's loss to Auburn told us something about their respective conferences.Photo by Jason Getz - USA TODAY Sports
Jake Curtis

As a Cal fan, did you ever say to yourself, “Boy, I wish we were in the Pac-12 South”?

Of course, in the same breath, you probably said, “I sure am glad we’re not playing in the Southeastern Conference.”

Yes, the SEC is a different world, with the likes of Alabama, LSU and Auburn in one division and Florida and Georgia in the other. Cal would have trouble staying relevant in that company.

But could the Bears have played in a Pac-12 championship game by now if they were in the Pac-12 South? A Pac-12 North team has won seven of the eight conference championship games, the only exception being USC’s three-point win in 2017 against a Stanford team that finished the season 9-5.

Since the conference expanded to 12 teams, nine Pac-12 North teams have finished the season ranked in the top-10, and five wound up in the top five. In that same period, three Pac-12 South teams finished in the top 10 and only one in the top five.

The only season the Pac-12 South could have been considered better than the North was 2014, when five Pac-12 South teams finished in the top 25 and only one in the Pac-12 North made it. But even in that season, the Pac-12 North had the most dominant team, Oregon., which finished the season ranked No. 2 and blew out Arizona 51-13 in the conference title game.

Three of the conference's four best head coaches reside in the North with Chris Petersen (Washington), David Shaw (Stanford) and Mike Leach (Washington State), while UCLA’s Chip Kelly is the big name in the South.

Lindy’s preseason college football magazine decided to rank the eight divisions of the five Power Five football conferences. (The Big 12 does not have divisions so it was not included.)

We present those rankings, then give our opinion on how those divisions should be ranked, with the Big 12 given a spot in our rankings.

1. SEC West

2. Big Ten East

3. SEC East

4. Pac-12 North

5. Big Ten West

6. Pac-12 South

7. ACC Atlantic

8. ACC Central

Regarding the Pac-12 North, Lindy’s said, “Laugh all you want about the Pac-12 but it has 3 of the most physical teams in football – Oregon, Washington, Stanford.”

We might add Cal to that group of physical teams.

OK, now for our rankings:

1. SEC West

Auburn beat Pac-12 champion Washington last season, but finished only 3-5 in the SEC West. And, oh yeah, Alabama is in this division.

2. SEC East

Georgia and Florida are the kingpins, but the emergence of Kentucky and the improvement of Vanderbilt earn this division the No. 2 spot. A division in which Tennessee finishes last has to be formidable.

3. Pac-12 North

The division still lacks a national title contender, but Stanford, Washington, Oregon and Washington State (with Mike Leach in charge) are top-25-caliber teams every year, and the only weak link now is Oregon State. (I suppose it is possible we may have overrated this division since it includes Cal, which beat the eventual conference champ last fall.)

4. Big 12

Having 10 teams gives this conference an obvious advantage, and the resurgence of Texas to challenge Oklahoma’s dominance improves the image. However, Baylor slipped after Art Briles left and West Virginia is in flux with the departure of Dana Holgorsen. Oh, and don’t forget Kansas – a stain on the conference even Les Miles may not be able to remove.

5. Big Ten East

Yeah, I know Ohio State and Michigan are perennial powers, and we will take heat for ranking the division this low. But the Buckeyes may take a step back without Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh keeps coming up a bit short and any division that includes Rutgers and Indiana has shortcomings.

6. ACC Atlantic

The presence of Clemson makes up for the poor quality throughout the division. And Florida State won’t be bad forever.

7. Big Ten West

One statistic tells you what you need to know about this division: Northwestern finished three games ahead of the second-place team in 2018. Yes, Northwestern. Things will be different if Scott Frost can get Nebraska going and Wisconsin bounced back from a poor 2018 season.

8. Pac-12 South

Not a single team in this division was ranked in the final top 25 last season, and only one was ranked in 2017 (USC at No. 13). This division will take a major step up if Chip Kelly gets UCLA going.

9. ACC Central

Pittsburgh finished 7-7, including a 51-6 home loss to Penn State, and ended up alone in first place in the ACC Central. With Miami and Virginia Tech in decline this division is searching for a star team.

Do you agree with our rankings, or were we too much of a homer?