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Dorm Report: Changes should bolster Pac-12

<p>The Pac-12 Conference has long been considered one of the more dominant in college football, and its association with the "Power Five" is well established.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Pac-12 Conference has long been considered one of the more dominant in college football, and its association with the "Power Five" is well established.

But with the ever-increasing gap that exists between the Southeastern Conference and the rest of the college football realm, the sport's landscape has taken a shift in the direction of a "power one" with four other potential contenders.

With the program swings in the Big Ten, like the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, and other relevant moves in the ACC and Big 12, it seems the other conferences are doing their best to play catch up.

But what about the Pac-12? Sure, Utah and Colorado joining the conference was a notable move. But how close, realistically, are either of the two newest Pac-12 programs to winning a national championship?

That argument goes against Rutgers (which could be as far away from any championship relevance as any team out there) and Maryland as well. Neither are close to making a serious national impact. But other teams in the Big Ten could be.

That, of course, isn't to say no Pac-12 teams are on the cusp of winning a national championship. Almost every season, Oregon is in the mix. The Ducks are still a perennial contender following Chip Kelly's move up to the NFL coaching ranks and took part in the 2011 BCS title game under Kelly, falling to Auburn..

The Pac-12, though, has been without another national championship participant since USC was one of the top programs in the country almost a decade ago. You'd have to dig back to the early 1990s to find Washington in the top national spotlight prior to USC's dominance.

The start of the 2014 college football season will feature some pretty monumental changes within the Pac-12 Conference, and it has a lot to do with the coaches in the league.

In the more recent past, and this year especially, the Pac-12 has been a coaching carousel, with rotations of new program heads coming in by the truck load.

This year is only a slight exception, but it's clear the programs that made coaching switches have not just the university's best interest in mind, but the team's as well.

Take a look at the hiring of Chris Petersen in Washington. The former Boise State coach spent so many years turning the Broncos into a program that was once an FCS convert into a national powerhouse capable of tearing down teams that should have been feared.

Not to mention Petersen's ability to develop players into top-notch athletes. He took mid-level recruits (at best) when he started at Boise State and made them into NFL-caliber talents. How do you think he's going to fare with a few years of bringing in elite recruits to an up-and-coming Washington program that he can develop even further? Huskies fans should be excited because, if the transition from Steve Sarkisian to Petersen goes smoothly, Washington could challenge for the conference's top spot.

Speaking of Sarkisian, the former Washington coach seemed like the right person for the USC job in the eyes of the Trojans' athletic department. It makes the transition a bit smoother considering his familiarity with the team (former offensive coordinator) and the layout of the Pac-12.

USC has one of the top recruiting foundations in the country, and the way Sarkisian was able to build back up a Washington program that crumbled under Ty Willingham, gives the Trojan fans a reason to be optimistic about the future.

The conference is riddled with second- or third-year coaches, some attempting to maintain the success of the program, like Mark Helfrich at Oregon. Then there are some that are trying to pull the team out of a tailspin, like Sonny Dykes at California.

Dykes wanted to establish the foundation at Cal in his first season, so he started a true freshman quarterback in Jared Goff. The Golden Bears managed just one win in 2013 - against an FCS program - and went 0-9 in league play. But with the first-year shock out of the way (to both Dykes and Goff), the Bears only have one place to go, which is up.

Helfrich inherited quite the collection of recruits from Chip Kelly, who now coaches the Philadelphia Eagles. It all starts with Marcus Mariota under center, who projects to be one of the top players picked in the 2015 NFL Draft. But with returning stars in cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu, the Ducks seemingly have the best shot (on paper) at making it to the first-ever four-team college football playoff to vie for a national championship.

Established coaches like Jim Mora Jr. at UCLA and Rich Rodriguez at Arizona have already done wonders for their respective programs. The Bruins, like the Ducks at Oregon, possess one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Brett Hundley, and are regarded by some as a Top 10 team in the nation.

Arizona flashed some serious potential last season when the team absolutely dismantled Oregon, 42-16, late in November. It had college football experts wondering if this was the Rich Rodriguez of West Virginia fame, and not the much maligned one from Michigan.

Stanford, led by David Shaw, has continued to produce at a high level even after the Jim Harbaugh/Andrew Luck years. Arizona State, helmed by Todd Graham, has also taken a giant leap forward. Expect those teams to make a splash in the standings in 2014.

Even Oregon State, which began 2013 ranked in the Top 25 and then fell during a subpar campaign, could make a dent once again with Sean Mannion leading the charge at QB.

It's been a while since multiple Pac-12 programs were considered serious title contenders. While top conferences took large steps forward, it seemed as though the Pac-12 was content with staying pat.

But after a few years of juggling coaches and players around, it would appear the Pac-12 is poised to once again assert its dominance and rejoin the elite in the college football world.

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