With the exception of Colorado's game against Division 2 New Orleans and a Seattle-Washington contest in January, non-conference play is finally, mercifully over. Over the last week the Pac-12 actually picked up a couple of decent wins when USC exploded against TCU and UCLA beat Richmond. Unfortuanately, those positive steps were offset by defeats at the hands of UNLV, Butler, Kansas, Fresno St. and Southern Mississippi. The conference still dwells below the Missouri Valley and the Mountain West in the RPI ratings. Whatever.
We're moving on! No until mid-February at the earliest will this space again discuss at length the NCAA tournament prospects of the Pac-12 conference, because it's a topic that will continue to get beaten to death. Instead, let's focus on a prize that somebody is guaranteed to earn. The regular season conference championship!
Obviously, the biggest change from last season is the addition of Colorado and Utah. This means that beyond having two new schools to play, there will no longer be an 18 game, home-and-home round robin. And this year it looks likely that the change will greatly help some schools and harm others. Here's the list of what schools each team misses:
Cal & Stanford: vs. Washington, Washington St. ; at Arizona, Arizona St.
UCLA & USC: vs. Oregon, Oregon St. ; at Colorado, Utah
Arizona & Arizona St.: vs. Cal, Stanford ; at Oregon, Oregon St.
Colorado & Utah: vs. UCLA, USC ; at Washington, Washington St.
Oregon & Oregon St.: vs. Arizona, Arizona St. ; at UCLA, USC
Washington & Washington St.: vs. Colorado, Utah ; at Cal, Stanford
Winners: Cal, Stanford, Arizona and Arizona St.
Please note that 'winners' is awarded from the perspective of winning the regular season title, rather than having opportunities to boost tournament resumes. Cal and Stanford avoid a trip to McHale center and only have to play Washington once - which might be particularly valuable for Cal since they seem to match-up so poorly with teams like the Huskies.
But Arizona and Arizona St. might be even luckier - they avoid Cal and Stanford, which appear to be the best duo in the conference, and also avoid a trip to Oregon and Oregon State. The Beavers have looked tough this year and I have a feeling it will never be easy winning at Matt Court.
Losers: USC and UCLA
They miss the easiest road trip in the conference, which might cost them a full game or two in the final standings. And although Oregon and Oregon St. aren't pushovers, they would probably rather avoid the Bay Area schools or Arizona.
Washington and Washington St. almost made this category, but missing Utah and Colorado at home is offset by avoiding the Bay Area road trip, probably the toughest road weekend in the conference this season.
Losers: Pac-10 fans
Don't get me wrong - Utah and Colorado might end up being decent acquisitions as basketball teams. But as of this year they aren't worth adding in exchange for losing the 18 game round robin. The Pac-10 was the only major conference that scheduled the full home-and-home regular season, and it's a shame to lose it for football reasons.
Sure, Cal might be more likely to win the conference this year, but it's not the same without a trip to the desert, or watching Cal try to solve the Husky conundrum at home. And we'll all complain much louder when Cal misses UCLA and USC later on down the road. What else must we sacrifice in the name of progress?!
New Orleans at Colorado
USC at California, 6:00, CSNCA
Oregon St. at Washington, 6:00
Oregon at Washington St., 6:00
UCLA at Stanford, 8:00, CSNBA
UCLA at California, 1:00, CSNBA/FSN
Arizona St. at Arizona, 2:30
Utah at Colorado, 3:00
Oregon St. at Washington St., 3:00
USC at Stanford, 3:30, CSNBA
Oregon at Washington, 7:00, ESPN2
There's little interesting to say about the two rivalry match-ups, as Colorado and Arizona should cruise at home against inferior opposition. But UCLA's recent winning streak will be tested up north, and we'll see immediately which teams from the northwest look most likely to make a run at the title when the Oregon schools visit Seattle and Pullman.
If you can only watch one non-Cal game this week? Well, I'd suggest Oregon St. at Washington, but that game happens at the same time as Cal/USC and won't air in the Bay Area anyway. I'd complain, but we're doing pretty well to be able to see every game this weekend between Cal/Stanford and UCLA/USC. The Thursday night double-header should be entertaining, and UCLA will be a good test for the Cardinal, who have yet to convince everybody that they are in fact for real.