You won't be able to find a Pac-12 preview this summer that doesn't rank the Oregon Ducks and the Stanford Cardinal as the top two teams in the Pac-12 North, and whichever team wins the regular season will be favored to win the inaugural conference championship game, and it wouldn't be a surprise if that champion were to move on to play for the BCS Championship.
With all that in mind, I'm guessing that there are Stanford fans out there who are getting more than a little pleasure out of Oregon's current recruiting scandal. (Here's the short version: the university paid Will Lyles $25,000 for what they say were recruiting packages, but there is concern that that payment was actually for Lyles to funnel talent (LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk) from Texas to Eugene. You can read the Yahoo! Sports story that broke all this here, and you should read a level-headed response from the outstanding Oregon Duck fan blog Addicted to Quack.) There are some pretty knowledgeable folks out there who are predicting that Kelly won't coach another game for Oregon, and that the NCAA will come down with penalties more severe than those levied against USC and Ohio State.
If all that happens, the Duck program will crumble and the door will be wide open for the Cardinal to dominate the Pac-12 North for at least the next few years. Sounds great, doesn't it? Here's why I don't like it.
First of all, I harbor no ill-will towards the Ducks. They're a rival, but not a hated rival. I think Chip Kelly's a great, innovative coach; I love the goofy four-square signs they use to signal plays from the sideline; and I love that they have 17,000 different uniform combinations.
But here's the real reason I'm hoping this all blows over -- I don't want any asterisks hanging on this season. I want LaMichael James to be eligible because I want Andrew Luck to outdistance the best competition on his way to the Heisman Trophy. I want Chip Kelly on the Oregon sidelines on November 12th because if he isn't there a Cardinal victory won't feel like revenge for last year's loss. Most of all, I want a potential Pac-12 championship to mean something.
Even after last year's dominant season, I don't think college football fans and analysts are willing to accept the Cardinal as one of the nation's elite teams. If the NCAA comes down hard on Oregon, any story about any Pac-12 champion -- especially if that champion is the Stanford Cardinal -- will include mention of the ineligibility of perennial powers Oregon in the North and USC in the South.
The Mighty Card deserves better than that.