A Southern California native and veteran of several Big Ten winters, Myles Johnson knows the first words likely to be uttered by former Pac-12 athletes as soon as their new conference touches them like a midwinter breeze in Lake Michigan.
Johnson, the former Rutgers center who spent his final college basketball season in UCLA as a graduate transfer officer, recently retweeted a meme in which a man in a thick winter coat begs for help at a subway door.
The caption: “UCLA players when they get off the plane in Minnesota in December.”
Yes, it’s getting brutally cold. It will also be shocking in another way.
Bruins security guard Jaylen Clark retweeted a meme of a scared boy being woken up from bed, along with a caption that read, “USC and UCLA players waking up to their 9 a.m. Big Ten games.”
Beyond brutal weather and earlier tee times waiting for UCLA and USC on their 2024 defecting to the Big Ten, dozens of questions remain. Here are some answers more than two years before the move:
Will Chip Kelly lead the Bruins onto the field for their first Big Ten game?
This probably depends more on how UCLA does in 2023 than in 2022.
The Bruins’ schedule for 2022 gives them practically eight wins. A non-conference listing of Bowling Green, Alabama State, and South Alabama offers the easiest home schedule since a movie favorite followed by chocolate milk and a bedtime story.
UCLA is going to win enough games this season to keep Kelly working. The question is whether the Bruins can maintain their success in 2023, when they will bring in a new quarterback.
Also keep in mind that Kelly’s takeover under his new four-year contract is extremely kind to UCLA, so it wouldn’t cost the school anything to jettison him as early as December 16, 2023.
The hope for long-suffering Bruins fans is that it won’t come to that. UCLA last appeared in a Rose Bowl game as a member of the Pac-10, on January 1, 1999, and craves a return before moving to the Big Ten. Kelly’s 18-25 start at the school will be forgiven if he can bring the Bruins back to their home stadium on New Year’s Day.
Which football divisions will UCLA and USC end up in?
Geographically, it would make sense to put the newest members of the Big Ten in the West Division and bump Northwestern and Purdue east.
That move would have the added benefit of strengthening the weaker West against an East that includes the traditional powers of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
Another option would be to abandon the divisions altogether in favor of a rotating schedule with protected rivalries such as Michigan and Ohio State. USC will presumably want to keep Notre Dame on track and UCLA may try to maintain its rivalry with California.
Whatever happens, one thing is certain: the Bruins and Trojans will still face each other every season.
Which new football rivalries will be the most fun?
USC vs. any of the traditional Big Ten forces will be an instant hoot as well as a reviews bonanza.
UCLA-Michigan should be full of intrigue the next time they play, as the Wolverines recently pulled out of a home-to-house series between the teams scheduled for 2022 and 2023.
There is also plenty of room for creativity, given the bicoastal nature of the conference with 16 teams. Perhaps UCLA-Rutgers will be the Battle of the Coasts, with a bronzed tidal wave going to the winner.
Is the Big Ten Really a Better Basketball Conference Than the Pac-12?
Yes, but like most things it is complicated.
A Pac-12 team has not won a national championship since Arizona in 1997. The Big Ten has won only one national title since then, the state of Michigan netted in 2000. Maryland also won a national championship in 2002, albeit as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The most important metric to consider is NCAA tournament bids. The Pac-12 typically lags its counterparts at major conferences in this department. Remember the embarrassment of 2012, when Washington won the Pac-12 regular season title but finished in the National Invitation Tournament?
Last season, the Pac-12 received just three NCAA tournament bids for the Big Ten’s nine. More bids means more leeway for missteps and less pressure to finish at the top of the conference. It should also improve the conference champion’s placement.
Is there a way to avoid all the frequent flier miles associated with a bicoastal conference?
Probably not for football and men’s basketball.
Those games will be played at home stadiums for the sake of the fans, the tradition and – let’s face it – the television.
Creative solutions may be on the horizon for Olympic sports. For example, the UCLA softball team could fly to Chicago to play back-to-back series against Penn State and Rutgers, alleviating the need for so many cross-country trips.
“Meet me half way” could take on a literal meaning.
What about the cold weather conundrum?
One option would be for UCLA and USC to play as many Big Ten race football games as possible before the end of October, which would bring benefits across the board.
The Bruins and Trojans would avoid playing on snowy fields, while fans of frozen Midwestern outposts could enjoy Southern California in November. Trips to the Rose Bowl and the Colosseum could be billed as travel packages that fill seats, not to mention the visiting schools’ athletics department coffers.
What kind of reception should the Bruins and Trojans expect on the road in their final Pac-12 seasons?
Filthy, filthy, filthy.
Fans at the McKale Center in Arizona needed no extra incentive to inflict hatred on rival UCLA. Now, to borrow a phrase from “Spinal Tap,” the vitriol will presumably go to 11 for the Bruins’ final trips to the desert.
Arizona state students can pull back the curtain of distraction in the Desert Financial Arena to reveal a Penn State Nittany Lion tearing apart a Trojan, or a Bruin frozen forever.
The most caustic response comes from UCLA and USC after their last Pac-12 games are played.
Goodbye, and goodbye.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times†