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West Coast Worthy?

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There is a perceived notion that there is an East Coast bias when it comes to major college football, but is it warranted or just simple math?

When looking at it geographically, it seems rather cut and dry. There are far more metropolitan areas right of the Mississippi River than left of it.

Of course that is a very generic way of looking at the situation.

No one was complaining of a lack of West Coast love, when USC was dominating the college football landscape just a couple of seasons ago. The Trojans are now finishing up a two-year bowl ban, loss of scholarships and having the highly successful Reggie Bush-years stricken from the record books, including the 2004 national championship.

Make no mistake though, it wasn't an East Coast bias that caused USC's fall from grace, but rather the program's own doing.

The truth is that the matchups that take place seem to hold more intrigue back East (relative term), with SEC clashes and Big Ten affairs taking center stage on a weekly basis.

By all accounts, Chip Kelly's Ducks are poised for another shot at the big prize in 2011.
There isn't a huge clamoring for a New Mexico/New Mexico State battle outside the Land of Enchantment and that is the real problem in terms of national attention.

Still, football is played by exactly the same rules out west and is equally entertaining and 2010 may have just been the beginning of a revival of sorts.

Oregon picked up the Pac-10 mantle just in time, replacing USC on a national level in terms of dominant play last season. The Ducks were a highlight reel each and every week, running on cylinders almost every other team in the country lacked. Still, when push came to shove in the BCS national title game, it was the SEC, not the Pac-10, that reigned supreme, capturing its fifth straight national title, with Auburn's late scoring drive. By all accounts, Chip Kelly's Ducks are poised for another shot at the big prize in 2011, although the program has come under its own scrutiny of late.

Oregon edged out Stanford for the Pac-10 title a year ago, thanks to a memorable shootout, but the Cardinal asserted themselves as a true conference contender after years of mediocrity. It certainly helped to have one of the nation's premier signal-callers under center. Andrew Luck's decision to bypass the NFL Draft to return to the Farm and take care of some unfinished business was certainly great news for the Stanford faithful, including new head coach David Shaw. Luck is as good as it gets under center and with a nice core of returning players, it automatically legitimizes the program. So does last year's 40-12 thumping of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Luck knows how to win and that's half the battle.

So, where else might the West find some credibility in 2011?

Last season, the West had the feel-good story of college football, as the nation not only recognized Boise State as a power, but followed the program intently each week, hoping the Broncos could finally bring a halt to the BCS machine.

The Broncos didn't just appear out of nowhere, but earned their reputation with a run of excellence that began with a shocking 43-42 overtime win against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The team captured its second Fiesta Bowl in 2010, with a 17-10 victory over TCU, finishing that season undefeated. Last year, the Broncos opened up the campaign with a thrilling victory over ACC- power Virginia Tech, traveling east to do so. The only thing standing between Boise State and a shot at the national title was a 34-31 loss at Nevada in late November. Still, the Broncos finished 12-1 overall.

The team makes what some view as a lateral move from the WAC to the Mountain West this season, but this is a program once again loaded for bear. Never shying away from competition, we will all get an early gauge of the Broncos, as they hit the road once again to open things up, taking on SEC foe Georgia at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in the Chik-fil-A Kickoff Game on September 3.

Another program hoping a change of scenery trumpets its cause is Utah. The Utes have been fighting for respect for sometime now, even getting support on Capitol Hill. Recent history supports Utah's grasp for even a morsel of credibility. The team ran the table in 2008, including dominating a strong Alabama squad in the Sugar Bowl. 2009 saw the Utes lose just three times (at Oregon, at TCU and at BYU), but once again come out on top in the postseason, knocking off California (37-27) for a ninth straight bowl win. Last season, that streak came to an end, as the Utes fell to the aforementioned Broncos in Las Vegas (26-3), but Utah still finished with an impressive 10 wins.

The Utes move to the new look Pac-12 in 2011 and will become immediate players in the national title picture moving out of non-BCS purgatory. This year's slate includes tough road games at USC, BYU, Pittsburgh and Arizona, but Utah catches a break in not seeing Oregon on the docket during the regular season. A showdown with the Ducks could occur however, if the two teams run through their respective divisions, meeting in the inaugural Pac-12 title game.

The forgotten team out west may be USC. Despite a lack of national attention thanks to NCAA restrictions, the Trojans won eight games a year ago, but were left out of the postseason. Their banishment from the bowl season will conclude following this year and while they may not be playing for a Pac-12 crown, they are more than capable of producing double-digit wins. The cupboard isn't exactly bare and with players like QB Matt Barkley and WR Robert Woods back in the fold, this is a team that can score with anyone.

While Oregon, Stanford and Boise State represent the best the West has to offer in 2011, there are some programs that would like nothing better than to follow the blueprint laid forth by the Broncos, forcing their way into the nation's consciousness with their play on the field.

It isn't happening overnight, but a change is taking place in the Pacific Northwest with the Washington Huskies. Steve Sarkisian is building something special in Seattle and despite the loss of first-round NFL Draft pick Jake Locker under center, the Huskies certainly have more than enough to eclipse the seven wins the team posted a year ago. The team really came together during a trying 2010 campaign, getting blasted in mid-September by Nebraska (56-21) only to get revenge in the Holiday Bowl over the same Cornhuskers (19-7). It marked the first bowl appearance since 2002 for the Huskies. With outstanding playmakers in RB Chris Polk and WR Jermaine Kearse suiting up each week, look for Washington to start a postseason trend.

Joining the party could be Fresno State. The Bulldogs have earned a reputation under Pat Hill as a tough non-conference opponent and have never shied away from any foe. This year will be more of the same, with quality non-WAC opponents California, Nebraska, Ole Miss and Boise State all on the docket. The latter two games take place in Fresno and how the team fares could help with its swagger heading into a wide-open Western Athletic Conference now that Boise State has moved on. Eight of the team's 13 games are scheduled to be televised, putting the Bulldogs in the public eye more often. Adding even more intrigue is the fact that former Fresno standout David Carr's younger brother Derek is finally ready to take the helm under center.

San Diego State could be another such program. The Aztecs haven't really been relevant in the college football world since the days of Marshall Faulk. However, under Brady Hoke, SDSU hit its stride a year ago, winning nine games, its most since 1971. Hoke was rewarded with the Michigan job and will do his best to revive the Wolverines in 2011. San Diego State isn't void of talent though, and has two of the nation's most underrated offensive players in QB Ryan Lindley and RB Ronnie Hillman. The real question is, can the Aztecs, who seemed to be on the way up, maintain their level of play under perhaps a stop-gap caretaker in veteran coach Rocky Long?

So, while the East casts a pretty big shadow on the rest of the college football world, there are some teams out west that have a real opportunity to bask in the sun in 2011.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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