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Is the Pac-12 South better than the North?

For years, the Pac-12 North Division has been the class of the conference, but if Week 1 was any indication, that may have finally changed.

Washington head coach Jimmy Lake, center, stands with teammates on the sidelines against Montana late in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Seattle. Montana won 13-7.
Elaine Thompson, AP

The first couple of weeks of the college football season are always rife with overreaction. After nine months without football, it is only human nature to place too much stock on a small sample size of games.

Thus, Alabama is unbeatable (that may actually be true), Nebraska’s Scott Frost should already be in Los Angeles asking former boss Chip Kelly for a job, Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton is going to win the Heisman Trophy and become the greatest sports story ever told (okay, the second part is probably already true), etc.

One overreaction from Week 1 was that the Pac-12 North Division is dead, murdered in cold blood by the likes of Montana, Nevada, Utah State, Kansas State and Purdue. Only conference favorite Oregon won last weekend, and just barely at that, against Fresno State.

The response to those results was immediate across the country, particularly in light of the Huskies falling to an FCS foe. Amid all the overreaction, fun though it was, a question arose.

Has the Pac-12 South Division surpassed the Pac-12 North for conference supremacy?

Jon Wilner, noted Pac-12 insider for The Mercury News, believes so, even if there is still a lot of season left to be played.

“Long way to go, but we feel pretty confident that the balance of power has shifted in the Pac-12,” Wilner wrote on Twitter. “For the first time since 2014, the South is the deeper, stronger division.”

To his point, UCLA picked up arguably the best win in the entire country on Saturday when the Bruins handled No. 16-ranked LSU (No. 5 Georgia fans would say their win over No. 3 Clemson was a bigger deal, but the Bruins win was much more unexpected and UCLA was the better team in almost every way).

USC, meanwhile, defeated the reigning Mountain West Conference champions — San Jose State — and completely controlled the fourth quarter.

ASU, Colorado and Utah all took care of business against Big Sky opponents, something Washington failed to do, and Arizona, a defunct program last season, had every chance to upset BYU in Las Vegas.

The South’s solid performance was in stark contrast to the struggles of the North.

On Monday morning, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team resides in the very much still breathing South, chimed in, noting, “A lot of interesting stuff. The North struggled,” before adding, “a 6-6 showing (for the conference), which is mediocre.”

It would be significant if the Pac-12 South has indeed overtaken the North. Since the Pac-12 was formed — with all 12 universities in tow — only one team from the South has won the conference — Sam Darnold-led USC in 2017.

Oregon has won four conference championships over the same period, including back-to-back titles the last two seasons. Stanford has won three conference titles since 2011 and Washington has won two.

More than just championships, though, the North has been the better division from top to bottom over the last decade.

Oregon is 28-11 against the South. Washington, meanwhile, is 24-14. Stanford has been one of the best representatives for the North, winning 29 games to only 13 losses. Even Washington State has been better than average against the South, with a 20-18 record.

Cal and Oregon State have had their struggles and been cross divisional punching bags, but not every year and each team has had a winning record against the South in one of the last three seasons.

The North is 125-107 against the South since 2011 — not SEC West over SEC East level dominance, but enough that whenever the Pac-12 has been thought about by national observers, North teams were nearly always the focus.

That may still be the case by the end of the season. Oregon has a showdown against Ohio State this coming weekend, while Washington could get redemption with a win over Michigan. No one knows what will happens once conference play starts, either.

For the time being, though, it looks like four of the best five Pac-12 teams reside in the South.