When news broke about USC and UCLA joining the Big Ten, the conference’s football elite might not have been shaking in their boots.
Neither Pac-12 school has been a juggernaut lately in the highest-profile sport. No College Football Playoff appearances. No conference titles. The shift in Big Ten football’s balance of power could be minimal when the Bruins and the Trojans officially compete in the league in 2024.
But USC and UCLA are nationally relevant in many other sports, including basketball, and their presence will impact Big Ten programs, and the Gophers, immediately. The U and other Big Ten programs could be pushed down in the pecking order in a league grown to 16 schools and possibly more in the near future.
Here’s how UCLA and USC look in several prominent sports and what that means for the Gophers:
Gophers last season: 9-4 and won the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
Last season: 4-8 (no bowl game).
Comment: The NCAA dropped sanctions on the program following Pete Carroll’s departure in 2010, but USC has not been able to sustain much success over the past decade. The Trojans fired Clay Helton last fall and stole Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma. Big recruits and transfers have followed, and the Trojans appear to be rising just in time for this move to the Big Ten. The Gophers will gain a marquee opponent. Win or lose, their games against USC will resonate with fans.
Last season: 8-4 (Holiday Bowl bid, but game was canceled due to COVID).
Comment: The Bruins 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 had back-to-back 10-win seasons, recorded 46 victories in six years, but he was fired in 2017. Chip Kelly, former Oregon and San Francisco 49ers coach, has had even less success: He’s 18-25 at UCLA, and last season was his only winning season in four years.
Gophers last season: 13-17, last in the Big Ten (no NCAA tournament).
Last season: 26-8 (lost in NCAA tournament first round).
Comment: Andy Enfield arrived in 2013-14 and turned USC into a perennial top 25 program after a couple of rebuilding years. The Trojans recorded six 20-win seasons and reached four NCAA tournaments in the past seven years, including reaching the Elite Eight in 2021. That was USC’s longest NCAA tourney run since making the Elite Eight in 2001. Enfield signed one of the program’s highest- rated recruits 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 back in the days of John Wooden, UCLA is far removed from the 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, most recently in 2021, when the Bruins lost to Gonzaga on Jalen Suggs’ halfcourt buzzer-beater. Entering his fourth season at UCLA, Mick Cronin is restoring some luster in Westwood; the team was ranked as high as No. 2 in the country last season.
Gophers last season: 15-18, ninth in the Big Ten (no NCAA tournament).
Last season: 12-16 (no NCAA tournament).
Comment: Second-year coach Lindsay Gottlieb has a challenging rebuild ahead; the Trojans have had three straight losing seasons in the Pac-12. Their last NCAA tournament berth came in 2014 under former USC star Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. Gottlieb orchestrated a major turnaround at Cal in her eight seasons, including a Final Four trip, but former Trojans greats Cooper-Dyke and Lisa Leslie aren’t walking through the door.
Last season: 18-13 (reached WNIT semifinals).
Comment: Except for last season, the Bruins have looked like a national power since winning the WNIT championship in 2015. Cori Close has coached them to three Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight in four years, and UCLA likely would’ve made six straight NCAA tournaments if not for the cancellation of the 2020 tourney. Close landed the No. 2 high school player in the 2022 class in five-star point guard Kiki Rice.
Gophers last season: 23-9 (lost in the NCAA Elite Eight).
Last season: 15-15 (no postseason).
Comment: The Trojans used to be the model of consistency in women’s volleyball, reaching 17 straight NCAA tourneys under Mick Haley from 2001-17 and winning national titles in 2002 and 2003 (35-0 that season). Since Haley was fired five years ago, USC has struggled to return to prominence. Brent Crouch lasted just 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 years, Banachowski retired and was replaced by Michael Sealy in 2010. Sealy won an NCAA title in 2011.
Gophers last season: 27-26-1 (lost in the NCAA regional at Oklahoma).
Comment: Does not have Division I softball.
Last season: 51-10 (lost in the College World Series semifinals).
Comment: The Bruins might take over as the Big Ten’s top softball program when they join the league in two years. They won the Pac-12’s last NCAA title, in 2019. They’ve made seven straight trips to the Women’s College World Series under coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who also won it all in 2010.
Gophers last season: 16-36 overall, 6-18 in the Big Ten (no postseason).
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 came in the 1970s, and the last one was in 1998. They have just two College World Series trips in the past 22 years.
Last season: 40-24 (lost in NCAA regional final).
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.
Gophers last season: They had the best finish in school history, finishing sixth at the NCAA meet behind four All-America picks.
Comment: Does not have 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 meet at Maturi Pavilion behind the Gophers and Iowa. That could be a sign of things to come for the Bruins, who have seven NCAA titles as a program, the last in 2018.
- USC won the 2018 and 2021 NCAA women’s track and field championships and finished runner-up in 2019.
- UCLA won the NCAA championship in women’s golf 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 both UCLA and USC have only club wrestling.
- UCLA and USC finished 1-2 in the Pac-12 in women’s soccer in 2021-22.