When news of USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten broke, perhaps the conference football’s elite did not cower in their boots.
None of the Pac-12 schools have been a juggernaut lately in the most prominent sport. No college football playoff appearances. No conference title. The change in the balance of power in Big Ten football could be minimal when the Bruins and Trojans officially face off in the league in 2024.
But USC and UCLA are nationally relevant in many other sports, including basketball, and their presence will have an immediate impact on the Big Ten and Gophers programs. The U and other Big Ten programs could be pushed back up the pecking order in a league expanded to 16 schools and possibly more in the near future.
Here’s what UCLA and USC look like in several top sports and what that means for the Gophers:
Gopher last season: 9-4 and won the guaranteed rate bowl.
Last season: 4-8 (no ball game).
Comment: The NCAA dropped sanctions on the program after Pete Carroll left in 2010, but USC hasn’t been able to sustain much success over the past decade. The Trojans fired Clay Helton last fall and stole Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma. Big signings and transfers have followed, and the Trojans seem to be rising just in time for this move to the Big Ten. The Gophers will win a top opponent. Win or lose, their games against USC will resonate with fans.
Last season: 8-4 (Holiday Bowl bid, but game canceled due to COVID).
Comment: The Bruins have lost in back-to-back Pac-12 Championship games after winning the South Division in 2011 and 2012 under Rick Neuheisel and Jim Mora. Mora, who won 10 consecutive seasons, had 46 wins in six years, but was fired in 2017. Former Oregon and San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly was even less successful: He 18-25 at UCLA, and last season was his only winning season in four years.
Gopher last season: 13-17, last in the Big Ten (no NCAA tournament).
Last season: 26-8 (lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament).
Comment: Andy Enfield arrived in 2013-14 and turned USC into a long-lasting top-25 program after a few years of rebuilding. The Trojans have had six 20-win seasons and reached four NCAA Tournaments in the past seven years, including reaching the Elite Eight in 2021. It was the longest NCAA Tournament run in the USC since making the Elite Eight in 2001. Enfield has signed one of the highest in the program. ranked rookies ever – Evan Mobley, the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Last season: 27-8 (lost in NCAA Sweet 16).
Comment: A blue blood in the John Wooden era, UCLA is a far cry from 10 NCAA titles won in 12 seasons starting in 1964. The Bruins’ last national championship was in 1995. There have been four Final Four berths since, the most recently in 2021, when the Bruins lost to Gonzaga on Jalen Suggs’ half-court buzzer-beater. Entering his fourth season at UCLA, Mick Cronin is restoring some shine to Westwood; the team was ranked No. 2 in the nation last season.
Gopher last season: 15-18, ninth in the Big Ten (no NCAA tournament).
Last season: 12-16 (no NCAA tournament).
Comment: Sophomore coach Lindsay Gottlieb has a tough rebuild ahead; the Trojans have had three consecutive losing seasons in the Pac-12. Their final NCAA Tournament berth came in 2014 under former USC star Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. Gottlieb has orchestrated a major turnaround in Cal over his eight seasons, including a Final Four trip, but former Trojan greats Cooper-Dyke and Lisa Leslie aren’t walking through the door.
Last season: 18-13 (reached WNIT semifinals).
Comment: With the exception of last season, the Bruins have looked like a national powerhouse since winning the WNIT championship in 2015. Cori Close coached them to three Sweet 16 appearances and one Elite Eight in four years, and the UCLA probably would have made six straight NCAA tournaments. if not for the cancellation of the 2020 tournament. Close landed the No. 2 high school player in the class of 2022 in five-star point guard Kiki Rice.
Gopher last season: 23-9 (lost in the NCAA Elite Eight).
Last season: 15-15 (not post-season).
Comment: The Trojans were the model of consistency in women’s volleyball, reaching 17 straight NCAA tournaments under Mick Haley from 2001-2017 and winning national titles in 2002 and 2003 (35-0 this season). Since Haley was fired five years ago, USC has struggled to get back into the limelight. Brent Crouch only lasted two years before leaving to become Auburn’s coach. Brad Keller is 22-23 in two seasons.
Last season: 25-6 (lost in NCAA Sweet 16).
Comment: The Bruins have a rich tradition. Legendary coach Andy Banachowski led the team to six national titles and had the most wins in women’s volleyball history (1,106) until Hawaii’s Dave Shoji broke his record in 2013. After 43, Banachowski retired and was replaced by Michael Sealy in 2010. Sealy won an NCAA title in 2011.
Gopher last season: 27-26-1 (lost in NCAA Regional at Oklahoma).
Comment: Has no Division I softball.
Last season: 51-10 (lost in the College World Series semifinals).
Comment: The Bruins could become the Big Ten’s top softball program when they join the league in two years. They won the last NCAA Pac-12 title, in 2019. They made seven straight trips to the Women’s College World Series under coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who also won it all in 2010.
Gopher last season: 16-36 overall, 6-18 in the Big Ten (no playoffs).
Last season: 25-28 (no postseason).
Comment: The Trojans are historically the most successful program in college baseball, with 12 national championships, twice as many as anyone else. But six NCAA titles were won in the 1970s, and the last in 1998. They’ve only had two trips to the College World Series in the past 22 years.
Last season: 40-24 (lost in NCAA Regional Finals).
Comment: In 2022, the Bruins made their fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance under John Savage, who coached the program to an NCAA title in 2013, their most recent CWS appearance.
Gopher last season: They had the best result in school history, finishing sixth in the NCAA meet behind four All-America picks.
Comment: Has no Division I gymnastics.
Last season: Fifth in the Pac-12 with two All-America picks, including former Olympian Jordan Chiles.
Comment: In January, UCLA finished third in a meeting at the Maturi Pavilion behind the Gophers and Iowa. It could be a sign of things to come for the Bruins, who have seven NCAA titles on the schedule, the last in 2018.
- USC won the 2018 and 2021 NCAA Women’s Championships in Track and Field and finished second in 2019.
- UCLA won the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship in 2011 and USC won it in 2013.
- Gophers wrestling is a national fixture, recently featuring Olympic gold medalist and two-time NCAA champion Gable Steveson. But UCLA and USC only have club wrestling.
- UCLA and USC finished 1-2 in the Pac-12 in women’s football in 2021-22.