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Commentary: Time to give the Pac-10 respect

What was once considered a pass-happy conference, where defense was more of a formality than a necessity, is in the process of an evolution.

The “one-trick pony” (USC) that was the conference’s only real threat against the elite conferences from around the rest of the nation has morphed into a Pac-10 that now features a stable of worthy thoroughbreds.

A major reason for the turnaround is a change in philosophy out West: run the football.

The transition has produced three of the country’s top-10 leading rushers in Toby Gerhart (Stanford), Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State) and LaMichael James (Oregon).

And it is no surprise that all three of their teams are at the top of the conference standings.

Surely, former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler would be smiling if he were alive to see his brand of football sweeping over the West Coast like the swine flu.

For it is he, not Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, that Gerhart can thank for his success this season.

Harbaugh learned many things during his career as a quarterback at UM and his various stops in the National Football league.

But it was Schembechler’s style of play that clearly left an indelible impression on the up-and-coming coach.

Harbaugh crafted his team in the mold of the Wolverines’ squads of yore, with a big, physical offensive line, a tight end and a fullback that will knock the snot out of you.

All that has done for the new Cardinal star that dons No. 7 is propel him to the top of a Heisman race with favorites Colt McCoy from Texas and everybody’s favorite Floridian Jesus freak, Tim Tebow.

The special thing about Gerhart, however, is the fact that he is chasing the trophy the old fashioned way — no preseason publicity stunts, no outspoken endorsements from his head coach to the nearest media outlet.

He just nestles the ball tightly against his 235-pound frame and tries to make opposing defenders’ skulls explode.

The East Coast-biased media have always had their reliable fallback excuse that the games come on too late to watch Gerhart’s performances, as well as the rest of the best the Pac-10 has to offer.

But in the age of DVR and Tivo, there is no excuse to deprive one’s self of the great play that has gushed from the Pac-10 this season.

This Thursday’s matchup between OSU and UO in the Civil War will attest to that.

It will mark the first time the rivalry game will determine who goes to the Rose Bowl and pits the electric Rodgers brothers of OSU against the two-headed UO monster of Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James.

For a conference that went 5-0 during last year’s bowl season, the Pac-10 will send at least six teams bowling this season.

Coaches from other conferences better take notice.

There is a power shift occurring — the teams out West have already passed the once dominant Big-10 by.

And the Big-12 and SEC are in the crosshairs.

Reach Erik at

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