Prove it, Pac-12.

The league, buoyed by the nation's best collection of quarterbacks, a rising tide of cash from the Pac-12 Networks and on-the-mark coaching hires, is trying to stick its fingers in the eyes of the college football playground bully, the SEC.

"It's may be the best the Pac-12 has ever been," said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.

You can make that case, but it would be better if Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Oregon State's Sean Mannion and USC's Cody Kessler made it for you.

Mariota and Hundley could end up vying to be 2015's top draft pick, and NFLDraftScout.com projects Hogan in its early first-round projections as well. Mannion, with perhaps the best arm of the bench and an NFL pocket-passer profile, is high-round material.

Kelly, it is important to remember, was so good last season that he earned second-team all-league honors ahead of Hundley and behind Mariota. Kessler threw for 2,968 yards in his first season as a starter and should push toward 4,000 in new coach Steve Sarkisian's hurry-up offense.

Oh, and Washington State's Connor Halliday is back after throwing for 4,597 yards in Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, and Cal's Jared Goff passed for 3,508 yards as a true freshman under Sonny Dykes, a Leach disciple.

Nothing in college football is more important than a talented, experienced quarterback, and the league has 10 returning starters at the position. And as Rodriguez notes, "It's not like you have 10 returning quarterbacks and some of them can't play dead in a Western."

The Pac-12's respect is so high that two of the three analysts on ESPN's GameDay -- Desmond Howard and Lee Corso -- picked UCLA to win the national title. Meanwhile, Oregon is widely considered the league favorite.

What the Pac-12 needs is for all this preseason respect to translate into the meeting room of the 13-member selection committee for the new four-team College Football Playoff.

All this left-coast strength comes at a time when opportunity is expanding. The Pac-12 played in only three of the 16 BCS title games, but it would have had seven more opportunities to win the national championship if a four-team playoff had been in place.

Until further notice, the SEC is king. Deservedly so. But the Pac-12 won't be on the outside of the discussion, its face pressed against the glass, looking longingly at the biggest prizes. The league is ready to kick down the door.

Five best opening-week games

1. No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU, Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN (Houston). There are developing situations at quarterback. The Badgers are ready to go with junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy (who began his career at South Carolina) over 19-game starter Joel Stave. Wisconsin could have a two-QB plan, which is definitely what Les Miles says he's doing with sophomore Brandon Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris. This is no time to make a killer turnover, because one playoff contender will get its hopes battered early in this battle of big-boy football.

2. No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 South Carolina, Thursday, 6 p.m. ET, SEC Network. Sophomore Kenny Hill (for the moment) has edged five-star true freshman Kyle Allen for the right to follow Johnny Football at Texas A&M. If that's not deep-end-of-the-pool stuff, then opening with a conference game against a physical Top 10 team certainly is.

3. Oklahoma State vs. No. 1 Florida State, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC (Arlington, Texas). A tricky opening game for the defending national champs, which is what FSU needs because it won't get tested much in the ACC. The Cowboys are coming off a 10-win season but could be pausing to reload with a Big 12-low 10 returning starters. The Seminoles have too much first-round talent, too much experience, too much Jameis.

4. No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. The teams will be trying to recreate last year's thriller -- won 38-35 by Clemson -- with starting seniors quarterbacks who showed unusual patience behind established stars. Cole Stoudt takes over for Tajh Boyd for the Tigers, while Huston Mason is the new man behind center for the Bulldogs.

5. Boise State at No. 18 Ole Miss, Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. The SEC is in a transitional year at quarterback, but watch for the Rebels' Bo Wallace, the league's top returning passer who also is fluent in the zone-read offense. This might be a good time for new Boise State coach Bryan Harsin to borrow that deep bag of tricks that Chris Petersen left behind.

Five players to watch in Week 1

1. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State. All the redshirt freshman has to do is take over for injured Braxton Miller and lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff. Expectations never change in Columbus. Barrett will debut Saturday against Navy in Baltimore.

2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU. The hype is so big for the freshman phenom that you expect him to descend into the stadium from storm clouds throwing thunderbolts to the turf.

3. Jacob Coker/Blake Sims, QB, Alabama. Nick Saban was/is waiting for one quarterback to "take the bull by the horns" but claims he's comfortable playing both in the opener at home against West Virginia. This could be the key position battle in all of college football.

4. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Beasley, a leading candidate for national defensive player of the year honors, gets an immediate showcase vs. Georgia. Beasley had 13 sacks and forced four fumbles last season.

5. Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall. Get used to hearing about the Herd. Cato, who has thrown for 8,117 yards in the past two seasons, could have Marshall (hello, easy schedule) in the big-bowl discussion all year. His potential Heisman campaign starts at Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.

Five coaches on the hot seat