Schu Strings: Awaken the sleeping giant

For 12 exciting years, the Pac-10 was the nation's most unpredictable major conference. A revolving door for title-holders. But for those who enjoyed the league's balance, there's bad news. Those days appear to be over.

Pac-10 balance: 1991-2003.

Rest in Peace.

We all knew this day would come. At some point, the sleeping giant would awaken again. Eventually, USC was going to dominate. Well, eventually is here, and it appears eventually is going to stay for a while.

It's been well over 20 seasons since John McKay and John Robinson fielded Trojan teams that dominated the conference and brought fear to the masses on a national scale. More than two decades of often so-so performances by one of the country's true traditional powers. After having to endure the Ted Tollner years, the solid but not spectacular Larry Smith years, the return of John Robinson and the Paul Hackett debacle, it didn't appear USC would turn the corner any time soon when it hired Pete Carroll at the onset of the millennium.

Carroll was a solid NFL coach who could never quite get New England over the hump. But now the Carroll hire looks like the best coaching decision in modern Pac-10 history. On a national scale, the Pac-10 probably likes the idea of having a dominant program again. Not since Washington went on probation in 1991 has that been the case. But for the rest of the conference, things look as though they're going to get pretty mundane pretty fast.

And to make matters worse, no team appears prepared to challenge for the No. 2 spot, which could mean USC is in the hunt nationally on a regular basis. Southern Cal could dominate this league much in the vein of Miami in the Big East and Florida State in the ACC.

USC appears poised to move forward while the rest of the league remains in revolving door mode. In the Pac-10 there is no Texas or Oklahoma to the Big 12's Nebraska. There is no Ohio State to the Big Ten's Michigan. No Tennessee to the SEC's Florida. In the Pac-10, there is only USC.

This is not to say that can't change, but the rest of the conference doesn't appear prepared to make a serious challenge. UCLA has an opportunity to be very good, and the verdict is still out on Carl Dorrell. It's very difficult, and unfair, to make rash judgments on a first-year coach, so we won't, but UCLA was 6-2 against some of the nation's most uninspired Division I competition. Under Rick Neuheisel, Washington looked as though it could be a force. But because of Neuheisel, Washington cheated. As a result, Keith Gilbertson was given a long-term deal. I don't know about you, but I don't see Gilbertson as the sideline messiah in Seattle.

Oregon was the most consistent team in the conference for a decade, but it has hit a wall the last two seasons. Oregon State can be a good program under Mike Riley, but consistent greatness appears unlikely in Corvallis. Same with Washington State, which could be the first team in Pac-10 history to win 10 games in three consecutive seasons (ASU accomplished the feat during its WAC days).

Speaking of ASU, despite the disappointing season, there appears to be good future talent on that roster, but whether it's enough to be consistently competitive remains to be seen. Jeff Tedford has done wonders at Cal, but the administration in Berkeley seems unwilling to give him the kinds of facilities he believes he needs to compete favorably. As a result, he could be a short-termer.

Heck, as bad as it's been lately, with the right hire, Arizona might be as prepared as anyone to challenge for that No. 2 spot. At some point, a program in this conference is going to have to answer USC's call. Some program is going to have to be the Virginia Tech of the Pac-10. If it doesn't happen, things could get real boring real fast.

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