College football starts this week. (Hooray!) Unfortunately, that also means that in a couple of days we'll be confronted with the first of many inane sports columnists who insist the Pac-10 is somehow "soft." (Boo!) Where this pillowy stereotype originated isn't important. What is important is that it's dead wrong. And here's the proof.
Most teams that play in major conferences begin their seasons with what's affectionately known as a cupcake: an opponent so lacking in skill that it necessitates a comparison with a bite-sized confection. Here's Gregg Easterbrook at ESPN explaining what's in the display case:
Defending BCS champ Alabama opens by hosting San Jose State, which was 2-10 last season, including a 62-7 loss. Texas opens by hosting Rice, which is coming off a 2-10 year that included a 73-14 loss. For the second consecutive season, lower-division Florida A&M plays at Miami -- there isn't even a pretense here that the Rattlers, who lost 48-16 at Miami in 2009, are anything other than a hired pushover because this isn't a home-and-home; Miami never plays at A&M. The University of Tennessee opens by hosting Tennessee-Martin, which last season had a losing record in Division I-AA -- which the NCAA now insists on calling the FCS, perhaps for Football Cupcake Subdivision. The Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks, in turn, have found their own cupcake: They will host NAIA Lambuth.
And on and on it goes. With one exception (OK, two): the Pac-10.
Because the conference requires its teams play six games at home and six games away, it's much more difficult for a University of Washington to get fat and happy early in the season devouring cupcakes. Case in point: an opening game at BYU, a Cougars team that finished 11-2 last year, spent most of the season ranked in the Top 25 and would be more appropriately referred to as an unsweetened scone with an aftertaste of baking soda.
Just remember that the next time you hear an SEC, Big 10 or Big 12 fan refer to the Pac-10 as soft. After all, we're not the ones who spoil our dinner by eating dessert first.