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Sports >  NCAA football

The Pac-12 decade: Oregon, Stanford, USC lead our list of the best teams in the expansion era

Aug. 14, 2021 Updated Sat., Aug. 14, 2021 at 4:35 p.m.

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

The third installment in the Hotline’s retrospective series examines the best teams of the Pac-12 era. And make no mistake: There have been some very good teams.

It’s just that most of them patrolled the conference in the early 2010s – often at the same time.

By eating its own, the Pac-12 cost itself dearly in pursuit of the elusive national championship.

In this series, we have examined the key storylines, best performances and the top players of the past 10 seasons. Here are the top teams of the 12-school era.

1. Oregon 2012

Final record/AP ranking: 12-1/No. 2

Bowl result: Beat Kansas State 35-17 (Fiesta)

Comment: Chip Kelly’s last team in Eugene earned our top spot based on its season-long dominance, with all 12 victories by double digits, a top-25 defense and an epic win over USC (62-51). The only loss came in overtime against the eventual Rose Bowl winner (Stanford). Had the playoff existed in 2012, the Ducks would have qualified. We won’t ding them for failing to reach a benchmark that did not exist.

2. Oregon 2014

Final record/AP ranking: 13-2/No. 2

Bowl result: Beat Florida State 59-20 (CFP), lost to Ohio State 42-20 (CFP)

Comment: We gave this edition strong consideration for the No. 1 position based on its advancement to the national championship. That said, the Ducks lost to an unranked opponent (Arizona) and struggled early against a subpar Washington State team. By midseason, the Ducks were devastating, but each week matters when identifying the absolute best of the best.

3. Washington 2016

Final record/AP ranking: 12-2/No. 4

Bowl result: Lost to Alabama 24-7 (CFP)

Comment: The Huskies were unranked to start the season and barely beat Arizona in their conference opener. From there, the big-play offense hung 70 on Oregon and the punishing defense held five Pac-12 opponents under 20 points. UW’s only regular-season loss came to the eventual Rose Bowl winner (USC).

4. Oregon 2011

Final record/AP ranking: 12-2/No. 4

Bowl result: Beat Wisconsin 45-38 (Rose)

Comment: It’s not unreasonable to argue for these Ducks as the best of the Oregon powerhouses, in part because one of the losses came in the opener against an LSU team that reached the BCS title game. The LaMichael James-led Ducks won a showdown at Stanford and might be atop this list but for a home loss to USC.

5. Stanford 2011

Final record/AP ranking: 11-2/No. 7

Bowl result: Lost to Oklahoma State 41-38 (Fiesta)

Comment: Stanford opened Andrew Luck’s final season in the top 10 and remained there throughout, as an offense stocked with future pros carved up opposing defenses. But the Cardinal’s championship push was derailed by a home loss to Oregon, sending Stanford to a major bowl as the Pac-12 runner-up for a second consecutive year.

6. Stanford 2015

Final record/AP ranking: 12-2/No. 3

Bowl result: Beat Iowa 45-16 (Rose)

Comment: From the what-might-have-been files: If not for an early kickoff and no-show offense in the Week One loss at Northwestern, the Christian McCaffrey-led Cardinal probably would have qualified for the CFP. The other loss came by two points to Oregon, and the overall resume (two wins over top-10 teams and a conference title) was playoff-worthy.

7. USC 2016

Final record/AP ranking: 10-3/No. 3

Bowl result: Beat Penn State 52-49 (Rose)

Comment: By the end of the season, these Trojans were as good as any team the conference has produced since the Pete Carroll dynasty. They closed with four consecutive wins over ranked teams, including a decisive victory in Seattle over the eventual champs. But that first month, with the blowout loss to Alabama and Sam Darnold on the bench, undermines the overall resume.

8. Oregon 2019

Final record/AP ranking: 12-2/No. 5

Bowl result: Beat Wisconsin 28-27 (Rose)

Comment: The Ducks overcame a narrow come-from-ahead loss to Auburn in Week One and dominated the conference as Justin Herbert produced a memorable senior season and the defense held six opponents to single digits. If not for an upset loss at Arizona State, the Ducks assuredly would have reached the playoff.

9. Stanford 2012

Final record/AP ranking: 12-2/No. 7

Bowl result: Beat Wisconsin 20-14 (Rose)

Comment: Like USC in 2016, the Cardinal benefited from a midseason quarterback change, with freshman Kevin Hogan taking over just in time to fuel the stunning win at Oregon and lead Stanford to its first conference title of the century. As with the ’16 Trojans, we factored the early losses into our overall assessment of the team.

10. USC 2011

Final record/AP ranking: 10-2/No. 6

Bowl result: DNP

Comment: A superbly gifted team (Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee) that’s easy to overlook because NCAA sanctions related to the Reggie Bush case included a postseason ban. For that reason, the South champs were unable to advance into the Pac-12 title game and face the same Oregon team they had beaten a few weeks earlier.

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