Monday, August 8, 2011
The New Texas/Oklahoma: USC/Utah?
Now that the Pac-10 and has become the Pac-12, splitting out into two new revenue-enhancing divisions, fans are going to have to get used to a new way of doing things.
Not only will they have a conference championship game to look forward to, but the competitive landscape has also changed. By splitting the northern schools and southern schools into separate divisions, teams won't just be competing with the rest of the conference to get into Rose Bowl position. Now all you need to do is get atop your six-team division, land in the conference title game, and the BCS is at your finger tips.
In the North Division (see how simple that is, Big Ten?), Stanford and Oregon figure to fight it out for the division crown/ while Cal, the Washington schools/ and Oregon State play for a trip to the Maaco Bowl in Vegas. It's a bit weird to take USC out of the mix, but all six of the North members are original Pac-10 members (Pac-8 actually), so it's a familiar landscape with the traditional rivalries intact.
In the South, though, things are about to get very different with the addition of Utah and Colorado to the LA and Arizona schools.
While USC and UCLA will continue to battle for LA supremacy, you never get the sense that UCLA is a team USC would consider a bitter rival (SC has won 11 out of the last 12). Arizona and Arizona State have shown flashes of competence over the past decade, but neither has been able to sustain long enough to really get under anybody's skin except for each other's.
And then you have Utah and Colorado.
Colorado has had some good days in its history, but they haven't won a road game since 2007 and haven't finished above .500 since 2005. To say new head coach Jon Embree has his work cut out for him is putting it mildly.
But Utah. Now there's a different story.
During Kyle Whittingham's six full seasons as head coach in Salt Lake City (he was defensive coordinator for a decade before that), the Utes have gone 58-19 and 5-1 in bowl games. They went 13-0 in 2008 with a 31-17 beat down of Nick Saban's Alabama team in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. They've won at least 10 games in each of the two years since then, and have finished in the top 25 coaches' poll each of the past three seasons. (They're just on the outside of this year's preseason top 25.)
And this was with a Mountain West recruiting base. Now that they're in a big-time conference with its own network and a championship game, the influx of cash will allow them to complete the facility upgrades they need to compete for top level talent on the national level.
And that brings us back to USC, the reigning king dick among the South schools. The Trojans are in a bit of a down period now thanks to the Pete Carroll regime, but it would be a mistake to think this will be any more than a bump in the road of USC football dominance. Even with the school's scholarship reductions and bowl ban, head coach Lane Kiffin still brought in the fourth-ranked class of 2011 and have several top prospects on board for the class of 2012.
It might take a year or two before USC re-emerges as a perennial contender for the national title, and it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a few years of 8- and 9-win seasons out of the Utes as they develop recruiting inroads with the top talent of the classes of 2013 and 2014.
But if you're look a couple of years down the line at which two schools in the South will emerge as the powers to beat, you're looking at USC and you're looking at Utah. And although they haven't played each other since 2001, you might just be looking at the birth of a great new rivalry.
Will it be Texas/Oklahoma? Probably not. But give it time. It might just be something special.