Who Owns The Rivalry: Pac-12 Edition
One of the most beautiful things about college football is a good rivalry. The Pac-12 has no shortage of great rivalries due to proximity, rich history and sometimes a coaches decision. We're going to break down each rivalry in the conference and see who the winner is now and whether that could change in the future.
The Bruins have been the class of Los Angeles in recent years. Anthony Barr and Co. have knocked around the Trojans literally and figuratively (just ask Matt Barkley). Right now, the Bruins own L.A., but Steve Sarkisian brought in an impressive recruiting class and Brett Hundley won’t be around forever. Hopes are high for the Trojans faithful with the new leadership, but if they want to reclaim their reputation as an elite Pac-12 power, they will need to take back Los Angeles.
This is easy. In the last two years, Stanford has more Pac-12 championships than Cal has Pac-12 wins. Sonny Dykes hopes to close that gap this upcoming year, but Stanford has been the standard of the conference and Cal has been the punchline.
Oregon State has had talented teams, but the Pac-12 runs through Eugene. The last time the Beavers won the Civil War was in 2007, when Matthew Sieverson rushed for 142 yards in a 38-31 double overtime win over the Dennis Dixon-less Ducks. Mike Riley has had some impressive teams, and the Beavers consistently will compete in the Pac-12, but they have not been able to match the Ducks’ talent or resources.
When Mike Leach took over in Pullman, the Cougars were the laughingstock of the conference. They are slowly make progress, going to the Las Vegas Bowl last year. There's a lot of expectation and excitement with Chris Petersen now taking over at Washington. Sarkisian made the Huskies one of the better Pac-12 teams, but no matter how talented they were, Washington always seemed to end up with seven or eight wins. Some believe Petersen is capable of taking the Huskies to the next level, and with a new stadium, Washington has quite the pitch for recruits. While Washington State has reasons to be excited about the future, they are still playing catch-up to the Huskies.
Prior to the Sun Devils’ 58-21 shellacking of the Wildcats in 2013, the previous four matchups had been decided by a combined 15 points and came away victorious every time. Todd Graham is 2-0 against Rich Rodriguez, so the Devils own the rivalry now, but that could change in the coming years. The Sun Devils need to replace nine starters on defense and Tucson has become a playmaker’s destination with RichRod at the helm. Either way, expect Territorial Cup games to resemble the razor-thin matchups from 2009-2012.
The two newest members of the Pac-12 haven’t exactly thrived in their new conference. Utah has developed a reputation for being a tough team at home after beating Stanford and almost stealing wins away from Pac-12 title contenders UCLA and ASU. Head to head, Utah has two wins to Colorado’s one, but every game has been decided by a touchdown or less. Right now, Colorado is in a better position to win this rivalry. Mike MacIntyre has made some steps in the right direction, and the future looks bright with Sefo Liufau under center. The questions about Utah quarterback Travis Wilson’s health seem to be dissipating, and he could be a serviceable Pac-12 quarterback, but like his predecessor, Jordan Wynn, he can't seem to stay on the field.
Since the expansion of the conference, these two teams have battled for Pac-12 South supremacy. The winner of the last three of these matchups essentially locked up the division title with the victory, and they have been doozies. An Alex Garoutte missed field goal decided the game in 2011, Brett Hundley orchestrated a last-second comeback in 2012 and almost repeated it in 2013, but the Sun Devils escaped Pasadena with the win and the Pac-12 South title. With Hundley at the helm and ASU replacing nine starters on defense, UCLA should control this rivalry. USC will be back in the thick of things in the division, but this game and renewed rivalry has and will continue to have huge implications on who punches their ticket to the Pac-12 championship game.
Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly made these the premiere teams in the Pac-12 North, and David Shaw and Mark Helfrich have continued that high level of competition. The contrast in style of play, and style in general, almost is poetic. Finesse and speed against strength and bulk. The Ducks’ flash and flavor against the simplicity and tradition of the Cardinal. The last few years, the Cardinal have prevented the Ducks from running away with the game by running over them. They have the Ducks' number. However, the Ducks could retake the Pac-12 North crown in Marcus Mariota’s junior season. The Cardinal defense, which one of the few that has stifled Mariota, lost a significant amount of talent and experience.
Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll took this rivalry to the next level after the What’s Your Deal? game (Harbaugh tried to go for a two-point conversion in a 55-21 win against Carroll’s Trojans in 2009). While these coaches have graduated from the then-Pac-10 to the NFC West, the bitter rivalry continues in Palo Alto and Los Angeles. While Stanford has won three of the last four matchups, the Trojans have won the most recent battle, and no game has been decided by more than seven points in that time frame. Stanford owns this rivalry now, but the Trojans easily could change that in the coming years.