Friday, November 22

The Strong Side: _Pac-10 football schedule appears to work in Bruins’ favor_

In the wake of the UCLA football team’s thrilling, last-second victory last weekend, another piece of news regarding UCLA football may have been lost in the chaos of the ever-important win.

On Friday, the future of the Pac-12 was revealed when future football schedules were announced.

The announcement ended a roller-coaster ride of uncertainty that surrounded the fate of the evolving conference.

First came the divisional split with UCLA, USC, the Arizona schools, Coloardo and Utah being placed in the southern division.

The final piece of the puzzle came into place Friday with the specifics of the schedule being hammered out. The verdict: UCLA fans should be very pleased.

The Bruins will play the other five southern division teams each year while they will play four northern division schools each year, two of which will always be Cal and Stanford. Rick Neuheisel, the Bruins’ business-like head coach, wasn’t as fired up about keeping the NorCal schools on the schedule as I thought he would be.

“That’s what the conference decided to do, and I’m along for the ride. We’ll play them every time they’re on the schedule,” Neuheisel said.

The catch is that those other two northern division, non-California schools will rotate on UCLA’s schedule, but they will do so on a two year basis. The pairing, at least right now, appears that it will work in UCLA’s favor.

If you had your choice of playing Washington and Oregon right now or Washington State and Oregon State, you would pick the latter, wouldn’t you?

The Beavers probably have a slight edge over Steve Sarkisian’s Huskies. But the level of talent that the Ducks possess makes that the scarier pair right now. Just ask this year’s Bruins.

Chip Kelly’s fast break on turf doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, and the Bruins get to sit back and watch it run wild on the Pac-12 from the comfy confines of Westwood until 2013.

To make things even easier, UCLA gets to host Washington State again next season at the Rose Bowl. The Cougars have been the doormat of the Pac-10 in recent years and next year’s Bruins should be able to dispose of them, especially at home.

Other Pac-12 games on the Bruins’ schedule next year include home games with Cal, Arizona State and Colorado and road trips to Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona, Utah and USC.

Five road games compared to four home games with non-conference dates at the Rose Bowl with San Jose State and Texas to help balance that out.

The rival Trojans, on the other hand, got the short end of the stick and will have to play at Oregon in 2011 and at Washington in 2012.

There are way too many unknowns at this point to start predicting records for the 2011 Bruins, but the way the new Pac-12 is laid out definitely works in their favor.

This year’s team had to go to Texas, Kansas State and Oregon. And although the Bruins were able to emerge from Austin victorious, you could argue that the crowd was a factor in all three contests.

This team has plenty of young, talented players that will undoubtedly be more developed next year at this time, not to mention better equipped to play in hostile environments like Utah’s small, yet intimate Rice-Eccles Stadium and Arizona Stadium in Tuscon, where it’s always tough to steal a win.

Neuheisel thinks so as well.

“Not playing Oregon and Washington, you can look at both sides of the coin on that but playing Utah on the road will be a big time challenge,” he said.

I realize that the landscape of the college football world is continually changing and that the outlook on the schedule could be completely different next year at this time.

But as the Bruins fight for a 6-6 record this year, they can always look forward to next year’s schedule in the Pac-12.

Strong co-hosts the Daily Bruin Sports Show, which airs every Monday at 6:30 p.m. on E-mail him at [email protected]

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