The Pac-10 decade started with parity and a rising Northwest. It ended that way, too.
In the middle, it was all about the Trojans, with USC winning a pair of national titles — and playing for a third — and at least sharing seven consecutive conference championships.
The Pac-10 decade featured a run of remarkable stability at the top amid significant change.
And, of course, that bastion of stability — the USC Dynasty — is now in the midst of its own seismic shift with the departure of Pete Carroll and the arrival of Lane Kiffin.
That ‘s a good place to start: the coaches.
No Pac-10 team has the same head coach it had in 2000. Only California, Oregon, Oregon State and USC had just two coaches during the decade, and, obviously, the Trojans are no longer part of that group.
Stanford and Washington both went through four coaches since 2000.
The Pac-10 won three Heisman Trophies this past decade: quarterback Carson Palmer, quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush. All played for USC. This past season, Stanford’s Toby Gerhart finished as the runner-up to Alabama’s Mark Ingram in the closest Heisman race in history.
While the decade was mostly owned by USC, it wasn’t entirely. Four conference teams finished ranked in the final top five of the AP poll at least once: Washington, Oregon, Oregon State and USC. Washington State earned three consecutive top-10 rankings from 2001-2003. California finished ninth in 2004.
That the Huskies and Cougars are mentioned there also makes both program’s precipitous slides from the national elite into the morass of ineptitude notable.
While the story of the decade in the conference is USC’s rise, the No. 2 story might be the fall of Washington, which finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3 in 2000 under Rick Neuheisel but went 0-12 in 2008 under Tyrone Willingham and lost 15 in a row before beating Idaho in Game 2 of 2009.
That fall began with the top off-field story of the decade: The controversial firing of Neuheisel for participating in a high-stakes betting pool on the NCAA tournament, which ended up costing Washington $4.5 million when the school opted to settle a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
On the field, the Pac-10 changed the way it played offense.
Over the first half of the decade, it was mostly about passing and marquee quarterbacks: five of the Pac-10’s top seven single-season passing yardage marks were set from 2002-2005.
The high-flying offenses peaked in 2002 when six quarterbacks threw for more than 3,300 yards.
The past two seasons, no conference quarterback passed for more than 3,300 yards. In fact, only three eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark the past two seasons combined.
Meanwhile, if California running back Shane Vereen had found 48 more yards this season, the Pac-10 would have produced six 1,000-yard rushers for a second consecutive year.
And yet, by the end of the 2009 season, the story in the Pac-10 was the bumper crop of young quarterbacks, eight of whom will be back in 2010.
But between Washington going to the Rose Bowl after the 2000 season and Oregon doing so following the 2009 campaign, it was mostly about USC, which fell short of a third consecutive national title after a nail-biting loss to Texas in the national title game following the 2005 season.
The Trojans finished ranked in the final top four of the AP poll from 2002 to 2008. They went 6-1 in BCS bowl games. They dominated college football as much as they dominated the Pac-10.
And yet, in the final year of the decade, they fell back into the pack — and the “pac” moved up, with Oregon and Oregon State playing a Civil War for the Rose Bowl berth.
Will the next decade bring more parity? Or will USC regain its championship form? Or will another team rise to the fore?
We shall see.