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Originally published September 3, 2012 at 8:26 PM | Page modified September 5, 2012 at 6:53 PM

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SEC shadow looms over the Pac-12, and every other football conference

Sure, fear the SEC, but just don't fear it all that much as Pac-12 has a 12-11 record against SEC since 2000.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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The Southeastern Conference, college football's seemingly bulletproof league, has won six consecutive national championships and three of the past five Heisman Trophies. But there is one thing the mighty league can't claim.

A winning record against the Pac-12 since 2000.

Hate to be a contrarian, but the Pac-12, supposedly just a gnat in the way of the SEC's domination, holds a 12-11 advantage over its more celebrated counterpart during that span.

What does it mean? Nothing if you're the SEC, which possesses the most coveted hardware. If you're the Pac-12, though, it should make a national audience at least remember that you're not the Pac-10 anymore and call you by your proper name.

I'm not crazy enough to argue that the Pac-12 is on the level of the SEC right now. No conference is. It's not even close. The SEC is amid an unprecedented run, and all of the annoying arrogance that accompanies it is justified. But historically, the gap between the SEC and other top-shelf conferences isn't this wide, and that largely unknown stat serves as both a reminder and a reason to trust that parity will return to the sport's ever-shuffling conference landscape.

But for now, the SEC shadow looms over the rest of the nation.

You'll witness it this week. Washington visits No. 3 Louisiana State on Saturday, its first trip to SEC country in 29 years. The popular opinion is that the Huskies, still developing in Year 4 under coach Steve Sarkisian, require a miracle and a meltdown by LSU just to be in this game. The fear is that the Tigers will snap Washington quarterback Keith Price and several other Huskies in half and post a dominant victory that ruins the UW's day and hinders its season.

It shouldn't be that severe. The Huskies have a tradition of playing nonconference games of this caliber, and it's not like the Pac-12 is a flag football league. This game is a mismatch, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, but it's not Rocky versus Ivan Drago.

The Pac-12 needs a credible performance from the Huskies and a good showing from the entire league this week. It's a critical week of perception-shaping games, with seven of the 12 games pitting the conference against other BCS schools, six of them on national television.

The Pac-12 already is hearing it from pundits after a lackluster opening week. If the Pac-12 doesn't win its share of marquee games this week, the belief will be that it's merely a top-heavy conference this season, that there isn't much quality after No. 1 USC and No. 5 Oregon. The Pac-12 has just as many top-five teams as the SEC does, but the SEC boasts five of the nation's top-10 squads.

Despite that 12-11 mark since 2000, the Pac-12 has much work to do to change the perception that it's significantly inferior to the SEC.

"The biggest way to change the perception is to win and to win in the big games," Sarkisian said. "That's what the people see, and that's what the pundits talk about and write about — the big games."

The Pac-12 has a 5-8 record against the SEC during its unprecedented streak of six consecutive national titles. Oregon has lost the past two high-profile Pac-12 matchups with the SEC. Auburn beat the Ducks 22-19 in the 2011 BCS title game. And last September, LSU beat Oregon 40-27.

Ask Sarkisian to compare the conferences, and he'll tell you the biggest difference is that the SEC has had better coaching stability, particularly among the elite programs. Mark Richt is in his 12th season at Georgia. Les Miles is in his eighth year at LSU. If you expand the notion of coaching stability to include making consistently good hires, the SEC stands out even more. Alabama's Nick Saban, owner of three national titles, is the nation's best coach, but he has competition in this league.

"When you have stability, in time comes success," Sarkisian said.

What's a big factor in creating stability? Money. The SEC pays its coaches the most. SEC programs generate a ridiculous amount of cash because obsessed fans fill those huge stadiums and make generous donations. Facilities are terrific leaguewide. The television contract is lucrative.

This is where the Pac-12 is gaining ground under commissioner Larry Scott's leadership. The conference's new $3 billion television deal with ESPN and Fox is a game-changer, and you've already seen the impact in the investments that programs such as Washington and Washington State have made in upgrading their coaching staffs. Teams will have a greater ability to retain coaches now, too. And the new Pac-12 Networks should make the conference even richer.

And so, of course, the SEC is renegotiating the $2.25 billion television deal it signed in 2008. It means that, for once, the SEC is working to keep up with the Pac-12.

Then again, the SEC practically invented this money game. When it comes to capitalizing on America's unhealthy obsession with football, it refuses to be outdone.

Oh well. At least the Pac-12 has that 12-11 edge in recent history.

You know, maybe I should keep that quiet.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

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