Conference Alignment

The divisions have been set in the new and improved Pac-10.

The divisions have been set in the new and improved Pac-10.

And now for something out of the “Be careful what you wish for” department.

Cal and Stanford didn’t want to be aligned in the North Division of the new Pac-12 unless they could be guaranteed to play UCLA and USC every year. They got their wish. Now, here’s the bad news: They have to play UCLA and USC every year.

Preserving the rivalries the Bay Area schools have with the Los Angeles schools, as well as maintaining recruiting advantages, made Cal and Stanford happy that they were assured yearly games with their Southern California foes. But the down side is while other teams may miss having to play the Trojans in certain years, the Bears and Cardinal will always have them on their schedule.

Couple that with the fact that the conference balance of power in recent years seems to be swinging to the Pacific Northwest, and the Bay Area schools appear to be in for a challenging schedule every season.

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott announced the details of the new Pac-12 last week. When Colorado and Utah join the conference in July, the new Pac-12 will be split into two divisions. Cal and Stanford will join Oregon, Oregon State, Washington and Washington State to form the North Division, while UCLA, USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will make up the South Division.

Each team will play every opponent in its division every year, and four of the six in the other division to make up a nine-game conference schedule. But part of Scott’s announcement was that the conference representatives agreed to allow the Bay Area schools and Los Angeles schools to play each other every year, even though they are in different divisions.

While Cal and Stanford have their own rivalry, as do UCLA and USC, there also is a strong rivalry between Northern California and Southern California. Scott said preserving rivalries was one of the conference’s main criteria in determining realignment, and that’s why a special provision was made for the Bay Area and Los Angeles schools to play each other every season.

Every program in the conference would have liked to have been put in the same division as UCLA and USC. Southern California is the biggest recruiting base for every conference team, and coaches want to be able to tell a recruit’s parents that their son will be coming home to play at least once per season.
Part of Scott’s announcement also was that the Pac-12 would hold a conference championship game each season, pairing the winners of each division. The division winner with the best conference record will host the game.

Scott said the conference entertained the idea of playing the game at a neutral site, but it wanted to reward the team that had the best regular season. The conference also wanted to preserve a college atmosphere at the championship game and assure that it would sell out every year.

Oregon 60, UCLA 13
California 50, Arizona State 17
Stanford 38, Washington State 28
Arizona 44, Washington 14

The Duck Machine
After having a week off following a scattered 20-point win over Washington State, Oregon was back in machine mode during a nationally televised rout of UCLA. The Ducks showed why they may not lose again, putting all of their breathtaking offensive weapons on display and using their underrated defense to absolutely dismantle the Bruins, 60–13.

Quarterback Darron Thomas, showing no ill effects of a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the win over Wazzou, completed 22-of-31 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns. For all the Heisman Trophy attention that Oregon tailback LaMichael James is receiving, Thomas may be just as worthy a candidate.

The Ducks are ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press top 25 and No. 2 in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings. Can they remain there? Oregon looks pretty much unbeatable at this point. The biggest obstacle might come this weekend when the Ducks travel to USC. For most of this season, the Trojans haven’t appeared to be what they once were. But they did appear to be that in their last game, a thorough 48–14 whipping of Cal.

Besides that, Oregon’s two remaining road games are at Cal and Oregon State.

Narrowing the Gap
It wasn’t as close as the score indicates, but just being able to make a game appear close is a victory these days for Washington State. In the past few weeks, the Cougars have quietly become more competitive. Granted, they have a lot of ground to make up after being woefully non-competitive so many times during the past 2½ years, but things are incrementally looking up in the Palouse.

Washington State lost to Stanford on Saturday 38–28. The Cougars trailed 31–7 and scored a flurry of late points to make the score appear more respectable. But WSU is slowly becoming more competent, which is at least making the Cougars more than just an afterthought for Pac-10 opponents.

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Athlon takes a look at Week 8 of action from the Pac-10. The divisions have been set for the conference, and by the way, Oregon rolled again.

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