The Pac-12 driver’s seat already is occupied, Arizona buckled up and ready to rule. Currently leading the nation, the Wildcats certainly are expected to lead their conference as well.
So who will be the league’s co-pilot? Two candidates line up Saturday when Oregon visits Colorado.
That the Ducks are in the mix shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dana Altman’s crew rolled to the Sweet 16 last year, giving eventual national champion Louisville everything it could handle before losing. Even Dominic Artis' nine-game suspension couldn’t slow a loaded Oregon roster that could just be good enough to bump Arizona out of its predicted first-place perch.
The wild card is Colorado, a team every bit as capable of co-piloting or even driving the league.
That wasn’t supposed to happen. When the Buffs joined the Pac-12, they were another realignment geography punchline, a Rocky Mountain addition to a coast-hugging conference. The move was made, as all realignment moves were and are made, for football. Basketball didn’t even move the needle, let alone create an impact.
And yet here we are. Thanks to Tad Boyle and Spencer Dinwiddie (still top five best names in college basketball), the Buffaloes are a legit Pac-12 threat. They won the league tourney two years ago and merited an at-large NCAA berth last year.
Still, despite a home win against Kansas, a near loss to Oklahoma State, a top 25 ranking and that NCAA past history, not everyone is paying attention to Colorado.
Maybe it’s their newbie status on the national scene or maybe it’s the shadow cast by their more familiar league peers (Arizona, UCLA, Oregon), but the Buffs are still a little bit under the radar.
This game against Oregon could help change that. Bold predictions are dangerous, especially in Week 1 of the Pac-12 season, but a win against the Ducks could very well put Colorado, if not in the driver’s seat, much more than just along for the ride.