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PAC-12 FOOTBALL REPORT

North dominates Pacific 12 Conference, but coaches fine with split

With the league split along geographical lines, coaches say division dominance is a cyclical thing and that the league should even out as teams adjust.

November 15, 2011|By Baxter Holmes
  • Oregon running back LaMichael James celebrates during the Ducks' 53-30 victory Saturday over Stanford. The Pac-12 Conference's North Division has two of the nation's best teams playing in it.
Oregon running back LaMichael James celebrates during the Ducks'… (Kyle Terada / U.S. Presswire )

About 13 months ago, Pac-12 Conference university presidents unanimously agreed to halve the league into two six-team divisions, North and South.

An even split, right?

Not this season.

North teams have a combined 15-7 record against teams from the South Division -- and Oregon and Stanford are a combined 7-0.

Because the league is split along geographical lines, the Pac-12's best teams won't play in its inaugural championship on Dec. 2.

Instead, with USC banned from postseason play, Stanford or Oregon will feast on either UCLA, Arizona State or Utah.

But several league coaches say it's too early to say the divisions were divvied up poorly.

"College football is cyclical and so rushing to judgment on this isn't the best scenario," Colorado Coach Jon Embree said Tuesday during the weekly Pac-12 football coaches' conference call.

Embree said he remembered being in the Big 12 Conference when it was formed and how for years whichever team won the annual Nebraska-Colorado game in what was then the league's North Division went on to win the overall title.

"Then we lost to Oklahoma in 2002 and it kind of stayed in the South since that moment," he said.

Division dominance within conferences is an annual occurrence.

For example, there's the Southeastern Conference's Western Division, which houses No. 1 Louisiana State and No. 3 Alabama.

In the Pac-12, Oregon State Coach Mike Riley said the league should even out as teams adjust.

Riley said he was also fine with how the divisions were split, and Arizona State Coach Dennis Erickson agreed.

"I don't think it's perfect all the time," Erickson said, "but for us, just in terms of travel and so forth, it's pretty good."

Halliday surprise

Washington State Coach Paul Wulff planned to play redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Halliday on the third series of the Cougars' game last Saturday against Arizona State.

If Halliday played well he would play more minutes, the plan went.

Halliday threw for an 85-yard touchdown on his first pass.

"You could just tell he was real comfortable," Wulff said.

Halliday stayed in and completed 27 of 36 passes for four touchdowns and 494 yards -- a Pac-12 freshman record -- as the Cougars upset the Sun Devils, 37-27.

That earned him his first start Saturday against Utah.

"With him on the football field we're getting more play out of that position, obviously, and we've been searching for that all year," Wulff said.

Price is all right

Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian said an MRI exam revealed no structural damage in quarterback Keith Price's left knee, but that he was not sure whether Price would play Saturday at Oregon State. If he doesn't, Nick Montana -- the son of NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback Joe Montana -- would make his first start.

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

twitter.com/baxterholmes

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