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Wednesday's college football: Pac-12 has no favorite, but lots of potential

Greg Beacham
Associated Press
Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for over 3,000 yards last season, will have the same coach in consecutive years.

Los Angeles — The Pac-12’s national championship drought hits 15 years this winter, and there are few signs of a respite. Several of the conference’s traditional powers are in states of rebuilding or disarray heading into a season that’s murkier than a Mike Leach metaphor.

Even the preseason media poll couldn’t identify a clear favorite, with plucky Utah barely emerging on top after several schools essentially split the vote.

But to the coaches entrusted with returning the West Coast’s major conference to national competitiveness, this seeming parity actually underlines the overall strength of a league on the rise again. Elite talent is easy to find around the Pac-12, and several programs are in a position to potentially put it all together.

“There are not a lot of conferences out there that can legitimately look up and say more than half their conference has a chance to win the conference,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “The people that know football know how deep and how difficult this conference is. The people that only want to look in two spots, in the SEC and the Big Ten footprint, you can’t win them over anyway, because they’re not paying attention to the scope of college football.”

Still, the Pac-12 doesn’t have a traditional power in peak form after graduation losses at defending champion Washington and Stanford, Southern California’s miserable 2018 season and the questions still looming around resurgent Oregon and its 5-4 conference mark.

Into the gap stepped Utah, the (relative) conference newcomer with numerous returning starters, an elite defense and promising quarterback Tyler Huntley.

Whether the Utes live up to their hype or another power emerges, Huskies coach Chris Petersen is confident this league is on its way up again.

“Five or six years ago, the Pac-12 could do no wrong,” Petersen said. “We were in the greatest position ever, and we were going to do this and that. And five years later, (people think) we don’t even know how to play football anymore. It’s always somewhere in between. I know we’ve got good players out here, and good coaches and programs. I think it’s all cyclical.”

Quarterback Justin Herbert returned to Oregon for his senior season, and he’ll finally have the same coach in consecutive years.

Mario Cristobal’s Ducks should contend for their first league title since 2014 if Herbert takes another step from his 3,000-yard season last fall.

Herbert calls it “a huge bonus” to have the same coaching staff for the first time: “We go from having spent all this time learning to teaching. We’re able to reach out to those younger guys, get them dialed up and up to speed so they are able to jump in as soon as we can.”

Beer at Vandy

Vanderbilt plans to conduct alcohol sales for home football games this season.

Athletic director Malcolm Turner announced the new policy Wednesday.

Vanderbilt will sell beer in public areas of the stadium. Wine will be available to fans in premium seating.

Turner says alcohol sales “will provide additional resources to invest in our mission of helping student-athletes succeed on and off the field, such as through facility enhancements and in other areas.” A portion of revenue will support alcohol education programs on campus.

Southeastern Conference chancellors and school presidents voted in May to give league members the autonomy to decide whether to sell beer and wine at sporting events. A few other SEC schools including Arkansas, LSU, Missouri and Texas A&M have since announced plans for alcohol