Editor’s Note: Subjective rankings are sure to draw criticism. Rarely does a sportswriter get to take it and dish it out in a single sitting, but that’s what our Nick Bartlett and Jack Follman do here. Let’s listen in as the two debate their respective most prestigious Pac-12 football program rankings and have some fun along the way.
Jack: There’s no question about who is Number One. So much so that if we combined the rest of the programs into one program would they still be behind USC?
Nick: Yes, they would still be behind the Trojans. It’s not only the historical dominance on the field that separates USC from the pack, there are other aspects at play here as well. Most notably, they’re the most iconic football program in Los Angeles, including the professional teams.
When you’re the big ticket in the West Coast’s largest city, that’s saying something. They have celebrity fans from Will Ferrell to Snoop Dogg and everyone in between. Eleven National Championships and 39 conference titles also don’t hurt their cause.
Jack: Washington and Oregon will always be a point of contention here. Let’s do another hypothetical. Had Oregon won a national title in the Chip Kelly/Marcus Mariota years, would you put them over Washington?
Nick: I think you read my mind on this question. This exact scenario played out in my head and proved to be the deciding factor as to why Washington took the number two spot. Had the Ducks won that title, they’d own the bragging rights. But as it currently stands, UW has four National Championships to Oregon’s zero.
Jack: Some historical success numbers point to UCLA being more prestigious than Washington and many over Oregon, but you have the Bruins pretty low, why so?
Nick: C’mon Jack you can do better than this…In all seriousness, while the Bruins have been successful on the field with their seventeen conference championships, Los Angeles football will always belong to the Trojans.
But not only do they play second fiddle to their cross-town rivals, they’re also the warmup act on their own campus to UCLA Basketball. It may not be fair, but it’s the truth.
Jack: How do you factor in success while playing in a smaller conference, like schools such as Arizona State and Utah have, particularly when compared to a program such as Colorado, which you could argue may have had just as much, if not more, success if they spent years in those smaller conferences the way ASU and Utah did?
Nick: That’s too much, bro.
Nick: Jack, I stole your question. How do you factor in success while playing in a smaller conference that schools like Arizona State and Utah have, particularly when compared to a program like Colorado, who you could argue may have had just as much if not more success, if they spent years in those smaller conferences the way ASU and Utah did?
Jack: It’s very, very difficult and I don’t want to take away from the success those programs had just because they played in a lower conference too. There’s been plenty of times where teams from the Mountain West have beaten Pac-12 teams, and look at what Utah did to Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
My best take is to scrape a little off the top of those programs for what they did playing in lower conferences and give some credit to the ones who have had to compete in the Pac-12 for decades—as in giving Cal and Stanford the nod over Arizona State and Utah.
Nick: OK. I’ll think of something original now. The biggest discrepancy on our respective lists is the ranking of the Utes. Why do you have them eighth?
Jack: A combination of Utah playing a lower division until 2011 and still not having a resume of say BYU (don’t kill me Utah fans) and still not having won the Pac-12 since joining when most of the programs I have ahead of them have.
I expect them to rise over time, and I expect them to be ahead of the Bay Area schools, and probably UCLA, in not too long, given their commitment to football as a school over those programs, in my opinion.
Nick: Two teams we haven’t discussed yet are the Cougs and Beavs. Many fans may argue that the two programs are identical. How come you gave the nod to WSU?
Jack: They are very identical. I give WSU the slightest nod because I don’t think they quite hit the epic lows Oregon State did during the 70s through the 90s, and that’s why WSU has a slight overall better record.
WSU probably also gets some points for being a better program in recent history, which also factors into doing these rankings in 2020.
Nick: Which team was the hardest for you to rank on this list? Mine was definitely Colorado, it felt like they should be higher, but I couldn’t justify moving them up. Did you have a similar feel about the Buffs? I guess this is two questions in one.
Jack: I agree, mine was Colorado. It’s hard to factor in a team that played in top conferences for so long, winning a conference with Nebraska and Oklahoma in it a few times and the national championship is such a huge thing, something only they and Washington really have legitimate claims to in modern times in the Pac-12.
However, they’ve been so bad for so long, and only really had one strong run prior to joining the conference, so I have them low. Arizona State was also very hard to rank.
Look for past and future list rankings on the Great Pac-12 Debates page.
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