LOS ANGELES – When Gary Andersen left Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin for Oregon State and the Pac-12 last December, the veteran coach made a move that would have been unthinkable or at least a bit illogical just a few seasons ago.
Andersen knew exactly where he was going and what he was doing.
It’s not because the Big Ten is declining, he said. The Pac-12 is on the rise, and it just might be the peak of college football this fall.
“I absolutely have felt a huge swing in the last two years, and that’s me being in the Midwest for two years, that the Pac-12 has gained a ton of respect nationally,” said Andersen, the league’s only new coach this year. “The Pac-12 has gotten better and better and better.”
Indeed, the West Coast’s premier conference is stacked with elite talent in wealthy programs committed to contending for national championships as it celebrates the 100-year anniversary of its official formation this fall.
Andersen couldn’t resist the chance to move back out West, even though he’ll have to compete with the archrival Oregon Ducks, who reached the national title game last season behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota.
But almost nobody gets an easy ride these days in the Pac-12, which has a wealth of amazing players and no clear-cut title favorite. While comparisons among leagues are inexact at best, every coach is publicly confident the Pac-12 is the equal of the SEC and anybody else.
“A lot of the talent that’s been out West that maybe had left the western part of the country, going somewhere else, is now staying out here,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “We’re one of them, but the other schools in our division and in our league are doing it. So I think the Pac-12 South is probably going to be better this year than it’s ever been. The Pac-12 will be better than it’s ever been, and I think it’s going to stay that way into the future.”