When the first news of divisional alignment came our way, everyone immediately concurred that no matter what happened, Cal's rivalries with USC and UCLA should not be broken up. There was all sorts of creative brainstorming, like the zipper and pod, plus some sort of split that would put the California schools together in one division, or separate them in a way that their rivalries would be intact.
So it looks like the issue is finally on the verge of being settled at the upcoming Pac-12 meetings. But it's being settled in the worst possible way for Golden Bears, the Register-Guard reports.
This is set: the four Northwest schools will be together, and Arizona and Arizona State will be in the same division as USC and UCLA. Then it’s a matter of where the new members, Utah and Colorado, go. In a compromise, expect the Northwest schools to be put in with Stanford and California, but the Bay Area schools will be guaranteed games every year against both the Bruins and Trojans.
Seems like we get the regular season we want, right? Sure, but we get it at the potential cost of a much tougher road to becoming Pac-12 champions.
I don't care whether they're on the decline or not; Cal beating USC every year to try and win a Pac-10 title will be much harder than Oregon beating Arizona or Washington beating Colorado on a year-to-year basis (or whatever rivalries they try and construct inter-division). Our out-of-division rivalries could cost us big-time when we have that extra loss to the Trojans...and no one other than the Furd has to deal with them.
The Oregon schools and Washington schools would rotate into them every few years, but beating mighty Troy or an always dangerous UCLA squad is no longer needed, and becomes a huge advantage when trying to win close division races. There could be significant asymmetry if the Northwest squads beat up on the relatively easier Rocky Mountain and Arizona schools (it could be argued Arizona is the best of the bunch these days, but who knows how long it'll last), while USC and UCLA give Cal all they can handle. The LA schools generally have the best records and the most talented teams--taking wins from there require a much bigger effort from the opposition.
Moreover, the Northwest division instantly becomes the toughest division in the conference, perhaps in all of college football. All these teams have legitimately contended for the Pac-10 title in the past decade, even currently hapless Wazzu. For Cal to have to deal with potential road-trips to Autzen and Husky Stadium every season (two places that are generally houses of horror for any Pac-10 to deal with), while their cousins to the south get nice warm trips to the Arizona schools, a rebuilding Colorado and an adjusting Utah just seems heavily unfair to the Golden Bears. It seems incredibly unfair that USC and UCLA get the easier road to the conference title game and Colorado and Utah manage to draw these games every year over the old Pac-8 squads.
Finally, we face the possibly dire circumstance of having to beat a team like USC or UCLA TWICE to get to Pasadena, or otherwise perish. Beat them once in the regular season in the rivalry game? Well, it turns out they won their division and they're gearing for revenge! And when rematches occur, it's hardly easy to sweep a team in one season.
The generally more acceptable path would for Cal and the Furd to stick with USC and UCLA in the same division to avoid the ugly possibility of a rematch, but apparently this would be unsatisfactory to the Northwest schools, who want to guarantee at least one trip to California each season. Splitting the teams up would've drawn outrage over the loss of the rivalry games. Thus we're left with this horrid combination that could make the road MUCH harder to capture the conference.
If the Golden Bears end up with this sort of divisional alignment, they'll have seriously earned any division crown. But based on the difficulty of the task ahead of them each season, who knows how much longer we might have to wait.