Nick Johnson at Oregon State

To win a Pac-12 championship you don’t want to fumble away wins early.
Photo by Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Only two weekends of Pac-12 play are in the books. With 80% of the conference calendar still to come it would be easy to say it’s too soon to talk about the championship race.

That would be wrong.

It takes a high mark to win this basketball league and recent history tells us a fast start is critical.

The target for winning the Pac-12 regular season championship is a 14-4 record. Cal did win the league with a 13-5 mark three years ago but you have to go back eight years to find a Pac-12 team that went 14-4 (Washington) but didn’t win the regular season championship (Arizona went 15-3 that season).

The formula to get to 14-4 is simple: Sweep at home, split on the road, sweep your rival. That’s nine home wins and five road victories.

It’s really hard to do if you stumble out of the gate. Of the last seven champions, none started worse than 3-1 in conference play. So even though some teams have only played three games we can already safely eliminate seven teams.

The remaining five can say they’re still in the Pac-12 race without having people laugh at them. The two preseason favorites, Arizona and UCLA, are in the mix as expected. The Bruins are the only squad with a 4-0 league record and the UA is 3-1.

Based on non-conference results, it’s not a surprise Oregon (3-0) is off to a good start. The Ducks went 9-0 at home out of conference and backed it up with a sweep of the Arizona schools this past weekend in Eugene.

Arizona State (3-1) brought an impressive 11-2 record into Pac-12 play but the Sun Devils’ strength of schedule was horrible so it was assumed they would look like last year’s 10th-place team once conference play began. ASU, however, has the exact same results through four games as its in-state rival so the Devils have the same right to claim contendership at this point as the Wildcats.

The biggest surprise when compared to the out-of-conference records is Washington. The Huskies only managed a pedestrian 8-5 mark before the Pac-12 season but have won their first three league games, all on the road. Granted, WSU/Cal/Stanford isn’t exactly a murderers’ row this year, but if the blueprint for a championship calls for five road wins, Washington is already 60% of the way there.

The most disappointed non-contender after two weeks would have to be Colorado. The Buffaloes have played close games but the goal is to sweep at home and split on the road and CU (1-3) hasn’t been able to do either.

Who has the inside track among the top five? As with football, it’s not just who you play, it’s who you don’t play. Such is life with the unbalanced 12-team schedule. Here’s a look at the teams each of the five contenders only play once. Home misses are the teams you don’t host this year and the road misses are the road trip you don’t make:

Sean Miller at Oregon State

Have you seen Oregon’s schedule?
Photo by Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona
Home misses: Oregon, OSU
Road misses: Stanford, Cal

ASU
Home misses: Oregon, OSU
Road misses: Stanford, Cal

Oregon
Home misses: UCLA, USC
Road misses: Arizona, ASU

UCLA
Home misses: Colorado, Utah
Road misses: Oregon, OSU

Washington
Home misses: Cal, Stanford
Road misses: Colorado, Utah

Oregon clearly has the easiest path to a championship with just a single game against each of the preseason favorites. In fact, after the Ducks play at UCLA this Saturday, Oregon’s only remaining games against the other contenders are a home-and-home with Washington.

The toughest schedule goes to the Huskies who have to play each of the other top teams twice.

After two weekends I would peg the Bruins as the team to beat until they are beaten. Oregon is next because of its schedule and the two solid wins already in its pocket. Arizona, ASU and Washington are still looking for their first win against a fellow contender.

Either the Wildcats or Sun Devils will get that first win this Saturday when they play each other in Tempe.

The other big game this Saturday is that Oregon/UCLA tilt. The winner gets to wear the yellow jersey until someone takes it from them.

There are still eight weeks to go but to win a Pac-12 championship it would be wise not to waste any of them.

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Scott Terrell has an early case of championship fever. Get your prescription filled on Twitter and Facebook.