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Conference Power Rankings: UCLA boosts Pac-10 into second spot

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
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For years the Pac-10 has played the role of Rodney Dangerfield, complaing it can't get no respect. And that's fair. Especially now that the conference has become a dangerous minefield to navigate. Just look at the most recent big road win as Exhibit A.

The nation's eyes were on Oregon State and whether or not the Beavers could be the team to crush Idaho's dreams. No, the Beavs were just the latest sacrificial lamb for No. 3 Boise State to prove its worthiness. Instead, the biggest noise came from that other L.A. school.

UCLA QB Kevin Prince knows which way the Pac-10 is headed. (US Presswire)  
UCLA QB Kevin Prince knows which way the Pac-10 is headed. (US Presswire)  
UCLA turned back the clock ten years and demolished No. 7 Texas in Austin. And don't think that win was flukey. It wasn't. The Bruins were the dominant team in that game. The 'Horns helped them out with turnovers galore, but UCLA was in control of all facets, including showing a stifling defense. Could this be the program-changing win Rick Neuheisel needed so badly to get going in full swing?

Sure, Texas wins that game seven or eight times out of 10, but that doesn't matter. It goes in the books as an upset for the Pac-10. As they say, that's why they play the games. The only one of those hypothetical 10 games that counts is the one they actually played.

So count one big one for the left coast crew.

The amazing thing about the Pac-10's rise is the relative silence of USC. But don't think one leads to the other in this case. This has been building for awhile out West. Oregon has been a budding championship contender for years now, Stanford took the quick way to the top by hiring new "it" coach Jim Harbaugh while Arizona has gone the slow and steady route, improving little by little every year in the Mike Stoops era. None of those rising programs were beneficiaries of USC's recent predicament. Plus, USC isn't exactly dead. The Trojans are still quietly residing in the top 20.

Even more impressive, the next level programs are showing they can play, too. UCLA obviously proved it's worth, Arizona State has put scares into two top 10 teams in as many weeks, Oregon State's two losses came to top 5 opponents and as long as Cal has Jeff Tedford, they'll be competitive. Now if the Apple Cup combatants could get back on track, we'd really be talking.

The spotlight won't be dimming anytime soon. The glamour game of the week is between Alabama and Florida and the Red River Rivalry always will draw attention, but the most entertaining battle is probably taking place at rockin' Autzen. The Ducks will face their stiffest test by far when No. 9 Stanford -- coming off a solid win at Notre Dame to vault up the rankings -- visits. You can count on this game living up to the hype.

It all works in building momentum toward the new Pac-12 next season. When Utah gets thrown into the mix, the Pac-10 will join the SEC and Big Ten as being in a separate stratosphere from the rest.

So you can quit the bit now, Pac-10 fans. You're getting your respect.

1. SEC (LW: 1): Still pretty clearly the No. 1 league this season, and Arkansas' showing only helped, showing that the league has returned to having quality depth. Six of the top 20 in the AP Top 25 are SEC squads. 'Nuff said.

2. Pac-10 (LW: 3): UCLA's huge victory over Big 12 power Texas boosts the conference tremendously, adding to an impressive non-conference resume. Only four teams ranked, but the conference has shown quality depth ... well, down to the duo from Washington, that is.

3. Big Ten (LW: 2): They drop a spot this week, and that's more an indication of the Pac-10 than the Big Ten. But an 8-2 week where no school played another BCS team? Not the best, even if the heavyweights made mince meat of opponents.

4. Big 12 (LW: 4): It was tempting to drop the league this week with Texas getting humiliated and Oklahoma escaping -- against a Big East team no less! -- but the second-tier schools (Mizzou, K-State, OK State) give it the nod.

5. Mountain West (LW: 5): While Utah and TCU just continue winning, BYU's step backward isn't helping. For the league to move up, it needs Air Force and San Diego State to keep playing well and give the MWC some depth.

6. ACC (LW: 6): Quietly, a nice week for the league, oustide of Duke that is. It's top-ranked team, Miami, dominated the Big East preseason favorite and N.C. State controlled Georgia Tech to give the conference a second team in the Top 25 again.

7. WAC (LW: 7): Boise is obviously legit and I like Nevada a lot, but again, the conference just isn't strong enough top to bottom to move up. It hurt having Fresno State lose that bad at Ole Miss, perhaps the SEC's worst this year.

8. Big East (LW: 8): The worst part about Pitt's drubbing at the hands of Miami? It looked to be a lot more like Pitt being bad than Miami being good. As a whole, the conference struck out again in the big games. Needless to say, things don't look good right now.

9. C-USA (LW: 9): Pretty ho-hum week for the league, winning the out-of-conference games it should have and losing those that were expected. But UAB did well by the league with the double-OT loss at Tennessee.

10. MAC (LW: 10): Hey, it could have been worse. In what looked like the Big Ten-MAC Challenge, the little brother of the upper Midwest nabbed two win over Big Ten teams and nearly got a third from Central Michigan.

11. Sun Belt (LW: 11): FIU (at Maryland) gave another close loss that teams in the league need to start converting into wins. Conference doormat Western Kentucky at least hung tough with South Florida.

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