I first remember watching college football in 1990. Well, the 1991 Washington Iowa Rose Bowl is the first football memory I can readily call upon. I think it would be impossible for me, and intellectually dishonest, to include teams I didn't actually watch. As you've noticed by now, or not noticed, this blog has a west coast slant to it. These teams are on TV here, they get the coverage, and I don't feel bad about it because every other fucking blog ignores this area of the country.
I came up with this list based on a few criteria. The dominance of the team, the strength of schedule, quality of losses and the quality of the conference. 10-2 one year might be more impressive than 10-2 in another. I came up with a list of all the very good/great teams of the last 22 years, and narrowed it down from there.
Without further adieu, in descending order, here is the top Pac-12 teams since 1990.
10. 1997 Washington State Cougars: The quintessential Mike Price WSU team with an explosive offense and a aggressive turnover forcing defense. Their sole regular season loss was to 9-3 Arizona State in your classic, undefeated team not used to success gets outgunned by the last powerful Bruce Snyder ASU squad. They defeated a 10 win UCLA team, quality squads in Arizona, Oregon, and the previously mentioned absurdly talented Washington squad. Probably their most impressive game was a loss to the national champion Michigan Wolverines, a game WSU controlled and probably would have won if not for the injury to Michael Black early on(this was like taking Marshall Faulk out of those old Rams offense as far as scheme importance(Slight exaggeration). Best WSU team ever assembled, better than 2002, without question.
9. 2011 Oregon Ducks: I put this Ducks incarnation on here because they scored, based on my general research, more points than any team in Pac 12 history(They did play 14 games). They also became the first Ducks team in ages to win the Rose Bowl. Their two losses were to USC(10-2) and national championship runner up LSU. Their only other competitive game was against Wisconsin (11-3) in the Rose Bowl. In time, this season may be looked at as the hiccup between the 2010 and 2012 squads.
8. 2003 USC: You could say this team was a triple overtime loss to Cal from being undefeated, and I could tell you that they still had to go to triple overtime to beat Cal. Thats not to say this team wasn't great. The Cal game was the only game decided by less than 14 points. They didn't annihilate, but soundly beat every squad, although they only played five teams with winning records that season. This was supposed to be a down year, in transitioning from Palmer to Leinart. They still scored a ton of points, and their defense, especially the front four. I particularly remember Shaun Cody and Kenechi Udezi swarming the immobile John Navarre repeatedly during the Rose Bowl.
7. 1996 Arizona State: Ah, the forgotten great team of the last twenty years. This team is often left out of discussions because their run at the top lasted only this one year. That doesn't make this team any less exceptional. This was the year Jake Plummer became legendary, and Pat Tillman started to become renowned as an unbelievable badass. In week 3 they shut out and beat up Nebraska, a team that hadn't lost a regular season game since November of 1992, and wouldn't lose another regular season game until October of 1998. They entered the Rose Bowl undefeated, but lost to an outstanding Ohio State squad at the last second. The Pac 10 wasn't great in 1996, but this team was.
6. 2010 Stanford Cardinal: After their Orange Bowl dismembering of Virginia Tech, I said this is one of the best Pac 10 teams I'd ever seen. They were physically dominating, and extremely well coached. They had deceptively deep talent and lost to a team thats proven to be their kryptonite, Oregon, a team we will see later in this list. What made this team so impressive is that while Oregon ran teams to death, Stanford beat you up mentally and physically, lesser teams fell apart in the second half and some teams simply had no interest in showing up(See the Washington, UCLA and Oregon State contests). Statistically, the 2011 squad was better, but to the trained eye, the 2010 team was better.