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Pac-10’s assignment is to go the extra mile in ’07

The Pacific 10 Conference’s annual media day, which has frankly never been able to hold Billy Cannon’s shorts when compared to the Southeastern Conference’s media day, was fouled up Thursday at a hotel somewhere near LAX.

It was a wonder they had silverware for the buffet.

Maybe you haven’t heard -- the SEC is better than the Pac-10.

Les Miles, the head coach at Louisiana State, said so.

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Anything we(st) can do, they can do better.

“I’ve been in this conference 19 years,” Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti said as he nibbled off his lunch plate. “I’ve heard it every year regardless. It’s just a built-in bias against the West Coast.”

Miles, for no apparent reason (you don’t need one in the South), riled up his congregation recently as he envisioned a possible Bowl Championship Series national title showdown against USC in the Louisiana Superdome on Jan. 7.

“I can tell you this, that they have a much easier road to travel,” Miles said of USC. “They’re going to play real knockdown drag-outs with UCLA and Washington, Cal-Berkeley, Stanford -- some real juggernauts -- and they’re going to end up, it would be my guess, in some position so if they win a game or two, that they’ll end up in the title [game]. I would like that path for us.”

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Miles later told reporters in Baton Rouge that, as far as teams go, the Pac-10 “may have one or two really good ones.”

Why does the SEC do it?

Why can’t it just shut up and play?

Answer: It can’t help itself.

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The SEC still can’t get over Auburn going undefeated in 2004 and having to watch USC and Oklahoma play for the BCS title.

It still can’t stand the fact LSU had to share the national title with USC in 2003.

The SEC’s status as the nation’s preeminent college football conference -- rarely argued by anyone -- is only demeaned by the league’s seemingly insatiable need to tell everyone about it.

“They’re fanatics,” first-year Arizona State Coach Dennis Erickson said. “Sometimes you’re so isolated, with tunnel vision, you think that nothing else exists. There is no other football. Do they even play out west?”

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You can argue all day the SEC is better than the Pac-10 but you can’t argue one is cream sauce and one is crud.

The Pac-10 is certainly better than Miles thinks, poised for one of its most exciting seasons ever. Its top quarterbacks could hitch a bus south tomorrow and beat out any number of top SEC quarterbacks.

USC, the team Miles can’t wait to face in the Sugar Bowl, has blown away every SEC opponent it has faced dating to Matt Leinart’s debut at Auburn in 2003.

The conference is seen as USC and the Nine Dwarfs, and maybe it is this year. But, in fact, four different Pac-10 schools have won major bowl games since the BCS was formed in 1998 -- Washington, Oregon State, Oregon and USC.

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The Pac-10 is 7-4 in BCS games compared to the SEC’s record of 9-4.

Is that really rookie ball versus the big leagues?

The Pac-10 may never be as top-to-bottom strong as the SEC, but it definitely takes more giant leaps when it comes to scheduling.

Phil Steele, who produces one of the most-respected preseason football publications, ranks the toughest schedules from last year.

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His top six were Stanford, USC, Washington, Arizona, UCLA and Oregon. Tennessee (hey, an SEC team!) was seventh. LSU, according to Steele, played the 50th toughest schedule.

And what are the eight toughest 2007 schedules, according to Steele?

All Pac-10 schools.

LSU checks at No. 52.

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USC, the school that is supposed to tiptoe to the BCS title game, plays at Nebraska, Notre Dame and Cal.

USC has lost six games since 2002 -- four to Pac-10 schools.

The Trojans didn’t lose to Auburn in 2003; they lost to Cal. USC didn’t lose to Arkansas or Nebraska in 2006, it lost to Oregon State and UCLA.

“It’s obvious,” USC Coach Pete Carroll said. “Our toughest games are in the conference.”

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USC, though, is carrying most of the Pac-10’s water.

California won 10 games last year and shared the Pac-10 title crown but couldn’t overcome a season-opening blowout loss at Tennessee.

“That colored everything that happened the rest of the year,” Bellotti said of the Pac-10’s perception.

Washington State’s getting hammered at Auburn didn’t help, nor did UCLA’s blowing a late lead at Notre Dame.

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The Pac-10’s national image will change only when teams other than USC start making national noise.

The conference will get plenty of chances this year: Oregon plays at Michigan. Washington plays host to Boise State and Ohio State. Cal, this time at home, gets another shot against Tennessee.

UCLA gets a do-over against Notre Dame; Washington State plays at Wisconsin.

“It’s very, very important,” Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said of the matchups. “We have to win games like that.”

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A question was also posed: How would Miles and LSU fare playing a round-robin Pac-10 schedule?

“Jump in and try it one year,” Washington State Bill Doba cheerfully proposed.

Hansen said he’d like to, just once, see an SEC team play in Pullman.

“In late November,” Hansen said.

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Erickson, though, may have summed up the overriding sentiment.

“Les Miles,” he said. “Who cares?”

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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Heavy favorites

USC was a unanimous pick to win the Pacific 10 Conference football title, according to a poll of West Coast media members. The order:

1. USC

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2. California

3. UCLA

4. Arizona State

5. Oregon State

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6. Oregon

7. Arizona

8. Washington St.

9. Washington

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10. Stanford


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