Don't be surprised if... the conference champion has two losses

Fifth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.

Don't be surprised if ... the 2010 Pac-10 champion has two conference losses.

While talking to a handful of Pac-10 coaches Tuesday night, you could sense a feeling shared by just about all of them: If things go our way, we could win this thing.

Coaches have to be optimistic. But this felt genuine. And for good reason.

The Pac-10 looks wide open heading into 2010. That was said before last season, and looked true for much of the year, until Oregon won the conference by two games. And the Ducks would be solid favorites if not for the loss of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who one coach volunteered was the best player in the conference.

The Ducks remain co-favorites with USC, but USC isn't eligible to win the championship. And no one really knows what the Ducks' offense, so dynamic with Masoli, will look like with either Nate Costa or Darron Thomas running the show.

While it's safe to say that Washington State is not going to win the conference, other teams typically picked in the bottom half -- such as UCLA and Arizona State -- look to be good enough to be a threat to any team on their schedule. It's not hard to put together an argument supporting Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and Arizona as potential champions. And the more you look at California's depth chart ...

In sum: We have parity.

And that suggests not only will going unbeaten in conference play be a long shot, it also won't be easy not to slip twice.

And keep in mind: A once-beaten USC, which has a favorable home schedule, doesn't count.

Further, if two losses is good enough for first place, that means you probably can count on more than one team finishing atop the conference. Which means tiebreaker fun!

Just imagine if Arizona, California and Oregon State -- long Rose Bow-less programs (never in the Wildcats case) -- tie for the championship. Remember the three-way Northwest deadlock in 2000 that saw Washington go to the Rose Bowl, Oregon State to the Fiesta Bowl and Oregon dropped to the Holiday Bowl?

A three-way tie of two-loss teams is not to hard to envision. In fact, it's easier to predict than a team going unbeaten in conference play.