The Pac-12 is stacked with quality football teams and elite coaches.
The rise of the Pac-12 began with the hiring of Larry Scott as conference commissioner. It continued by bringing in great coaches like Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Chris Petersen, Mike Leach, Sonny Dykes and Jim Mora. Facilities upgrades, television networks and elite quarterback play followed close behind.
The rise of the Pac-12 is legitimate and has made this league the top challenger to the SEC. It's separated itself from the ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten in a significant way.
But it's still not the best league in college football.
The SEC will be the best conference in college football once again in 2015. This is due in part because the Southeastern Conference appears to be getting even better this fall while the Pac-12 is simply trying to maintain the level of play it accomplished in 2014.
Which will be much tougher than most realize — in both divisions.
Oregon has lost Chip Kelly, Nick Aliotti and Marcus Mariota in three straight years. It's now fully Mark Helfrich's program and the Ducks can't possibly be as good as they were last season. Washington is replacing three first-round NFL Draft picks and another taken midway through the second on one side of the ball without any stability whatsoever at the quarterback position. Oregon State is losing its entire front seven and Washington State is still incredibly one-sided.
Stanford, which lost more games (5) last year than it had since 2009, should be better and Cal is showing major signs of life under Dykes and star quarterback Jared Goff. But a case could be made that four of the six teams in the North will be slightly worse in 2015 than they were in '14 and Cal still has one of the worst defenses in the entire nation.
In the South Division, only USC can feel confident that it will be better this fall than it was last year. Arizona State could possibly be in that mix as well, but it's hard to improve on 10 wins. Otherwise, it's difficult to see anyone else in the South showing significant improvement.
In fact, it will be hard for UCLA, Arizona and Utah not to regress in '15 and Colorado is arguably the worst Power 5 team in the country.
UCLA loses Brett Hundley, the winningest and most productive quarterback in school history, and a true freshman could be under center in the season opener. So despite a bunch of talented returning starters, it seems hard to find more than 10 wins for the Bruins this season.
Arizona loses most of its offensive line and, even with superbacker Scooby Wright leading the way, the defense still ranked as one of the worst in the nation — giving up 28.2 points per game and ranking 103rd nationally in total defense. This is a team that won 10 games but lost four times and improvement on that record also seems impossible.
There is a lot to like about the Utes but there also isn't anything special about this team other than Devontae Booker. Utah won a bunch of games with elite special teams but both Kaelin Clay and Dres Anderson are gone. So is Nate Orchard and five other defensive starters. Special teams and a good ground game can win plenty of games but can it improve on nine wins with one of the toughest schedules in the land?
The Pac-12 is a great football league with lots of quality teams, excellent coaches and fantastic quarterbacks. It's clearly better than the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 in the national hierarchy.
But it's hard to find many teams that can take major strides forward in 2015 and that means that the SEC is still the best college football league in America.