Consensus: Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford are the elite clubs in this conference. Barring injuries, one of these three teams will likely finish the season with the league's top record, though the Sun Devils are ineligible for postseason play.
The Pac-12's remaining eight clubs, however, have all proven capable of making serious dents in the titans' armor. Previously atrocious Washington has experienced a night-and-day turnaround from 2011. Utah, despite being the only team to finish non-conference play with a losing record, shut down USC for two straight right out of the gate. Washington State lit up previously unhittable Arizona ace Kurt Heyer on the road.
The takeaway: this is a stacked Pac-12 conference. Stanford opens its journey Saturday at Sunken Diamond versus USC (1 p.m., KZSU 90.1 FM). Here are the rankings and conference records heading into the Cardinal's conference opening day:
- Stanford (0-0)
Three games in, and only two teams remain standing in the dogfight with an unblemished record. The Cardinal, of course, can thank the fact that they were off this weekend. Colorado only has a club baseball team, so a rotating bye throughout the Pac-12 schedule has been introduced to accommodate the league's odd number of teams.
- Arizona (2-1)
Arizona's offense is lethal in a different way: the Wildcats have already stolen 42 bases on the young season, while the Cardinal have swiped only eight. The Duel in the Desert (Tussle in Tucson, Assault of Arizona?) between the Powers of the PAC begins on March 30.
- Oregon State (3-0)
Discipline rules: Pat Casey's hitters have walked a combined 97 times on the year, 22 more than second place Arizona State (75). The Beavers were easily the Pac-12's most impressive team last week, as they outscored Cal 26-8 in a road sweep. Mark Appel and Brett Mooneyham had better be in the strike zone when Stanford visits Corvallis.
- UCLA (2-1)
Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer may be gone, but the Bruins are hanging tough with clutch hitting and clean baseball. UCLA swept Georgia and took two of three from Arizona State in soggy Los Angeles, highlighted by a Friday walk-off blast.
- Arizona State (1-2)
The Sun Devils have elite talent, but will they be motivated enough to hang with Stanford and Arizona as they face their 2012 postseason ban? The jury is still out after a sloppy weekend series loss in Westwood.
- Washington (2-1)
With only six sacrifice flies all of last season, the Huskies' offense was an abomination in 2011. Times are changing in Seattle though, as 21 of 35 players on the club's 2012 roster are new. A series win over surprising Oregon had to bolster this club's confidence.
- Oregon (1-2)
The Ducks can exhale after escaping Seattle with a 13-inning 3-2 victory that salvaged their series against the Huskies. A sweep at the hands of 2011's cellar dweller would have certainly been a buzzkill following Oregon's 12-3 start, which featured a sweep at Vanderbilt.
- Washington State (1-2)
The Cougars went into Tucson and roughed up previously unhittable Arizona ace Kurt Heyer to open the conference slate with a 6-0 win. They then proceeded to lose two Southwest shootouts to the Wildcats. This team is extremely dangerous if it can find pitching depth beyond its Friday starter position.
- USC (1-2)
The mighty Trojans, owners of 12 national title trophies, have been stuck in neutral ever since Mike Gillespie retired and handed the reins over to the now-fired Chad Kreuter. Frank Cruz is now trying to right the ship, but his lineup looked punchless in a doubleheader sweep at the hands of Utah.
- California (0-3)
Ten errors on the weekend made the Golden Bears look like a high school team at home against the disciplined Beavers. Cal can no longer rely on Erik Johnson to strike everyone out; they're going to have to learn how to pick it in the windy confines of their home ballpark.
- Utah (2-1)
No respect yet for the conference newcomer, even though the Utes held USC to just one run in their Pac-12 opening doubleheader. We'll see if Utah can repeat the feat in Eugene next weekend before being taken seriously. They did start the season 2-12, after all.
About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.
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