Let's pretend that an SEC team will be playing for the 2013 BCS championship. Actually, let's not pretend, let's just assume—why beat around the bush here?
Which team from the Pac-12 would have the best chance to beat the SEC's best?
Both Stanford (12-2) and Oregon (12-1) had outstanding 2012 seasons, with Stanford beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and Oregon beating Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Oregon was expected to be in the 2012 BCS title game but lost to Stanford 17-14 last November 17. That loss was the only one in the season by the Ducks, but it was the head-to-head competition, tiebreaker rule game that would catapult Stanford to the Pac-12 championship and eventually, the Rose Bowl game.
Oregon's offense is downright scary. That's mostly due to an up-tempo, no-huddle spread rushing attack that has embarrassed defenses.
That same type of up-tempo offense has been problematic for SEC teams—Texas A&M runs a fast, no huddle offense featuring dual-threat and Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel. Last year, Texas A&M beat Alabama 29-24. The Aggies' only two losses were to Florida (20-17) and LSU (24-19).
Despite the "gimmicky" label slapped on this style of play, it has worked with great success in the SEC.
In 2010, Auburn featured quarterback Cam Newton in a spread offense that went 13-0. Auburn would go on to play Oregon in the 2010 BCS championship and won 22-19. Both Oregon and Auburn looked evenly matched, and the game's outcome wasn't determined until Auburn's Wes Byrum made a 19-yard field goal as time expired.
Speed—and an accurate kicker—kills in both the SEC and the Pac-12.
Oregon looks like a team that could beat an elite SEC team. The Ducks have grown a lot in the past two years and appear much more comfortable on both defense and offense. The team is almost on autopilot. And if one Pac-12 team was selected as the best bet to give SEC teams the most problems, Oregon would appear to be that team.
But not so fast.
Stanford runs an offense that is mostly a pro set (Power I, two tight ends). Notre Dame runs both of those offenses and the spread, while Alabama runs the two tight ends as well as the three wides.
Stanford, like Alabama, wins games based on great defense and excellent play from both sides of its lines—power football. Alabama, however, didn't have too much of a problem beating Notre Dame in the 2012 BCS title game. The Irish lost because of an overmatched defense and the inability to establish the run.
Would Stanford have the same results against an Alabama-type team?
Stanford's defense appears to be more stout than Notre Dame's against the run; the Cardinal only gave up an average of 97 yards per game in 2012. Stanford also has an X-factor. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has wheels and can run well with the ball, so Stanford has the ability to run both a pro set as well as a spread-option offense.
While Stanford would give Alabama an excellent game, what really makes the Cardinal special is one man.
Shaw is simply brilliant. Despite nabbing Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors for two consecutive years, he still doesn't seem to get the respect he deserves. In all sports, there are certain coaches you just don't bet against. Urban Meyer, Rick Pitino, Bill Belichick, Phil Jackson and Nick Saban are proven winners. So is David Shaw. But we're not quite sure about Mark Helfrich.
He's never been a head coach. Yes, he was Chip Kelly's offensive coordinator, but Kelly called the plays. So what we have is a relatively unknown coach at a great football program loaded with talent. That sounds like a good bet.
We also have a great coach coaching a great football program loaded with talent.
It's a tough choice, but I'm going with Stanford to be that one team that can dethrone the SEC.
And as tough as it is to admit, Stanford's semi-marching band and Tree would probably fit right in with those crazy, lovable SEC fans.