Power rankings: USC, UCLA face off
The Pac-12 conference season opens this week with the league's geographic rivalries. That includes one of college volleyball's traditionally great matchups: USC vs. UCLA. The Trojans host the Bruins at 10 p.m. ET Wednesday on ESPNU.
USC (10-1) is ranked No. 4 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll and received two No. 1 votes this week. USC has lost one match, which was to San Diego. The Bruins, meanwhile, are ranked 11th in the coaches' poll. The only loss for UCLA (9-1) was at Hawaii on Sept. 7.
Depending on which school's criteria you go by, this is either the 100th match between the Los Angeles-based programs -- or the 112th. UCLA claims the latter and says it has a 58-53 series edge. USC, however, says it only counts the matches that have been played since its program became a scholarship sport in 1976. Thus, by USC's definition of the series, the Trojans lead 53-46.
Here's one stat, though, that is not in dispute: The teams are 5-5 over their last 10 meetings.
Can the Bruins get one of the rare wins by an opponent at USC's Galen Center? The Trojans are 96-10 on that court. But UCLA did win there in 2011, and then went on to win the NCAA title later that year. In all, the Bruins have four NCAA championships and the Trojans three.
Who are the key players to watch Wednesday? For USC, sophomore Samantha Bricio leads the way with 116 kills. Teammate Elise Ruddins has 75 kills and may follow in Bricio's footsteps this season as Pac-12 freshman of the year.
And if Ruddins' name sounds familiar to volleyball aficionados, it should. Her aunt, Kim Ruddins, was an all-American setter at USC in the 1980s and played on two U.S. Olympic teams.
Speaking of volleyball bloodlines, UCLA senior Kelly Reeves is second for the Bruins with 106 kills this season. Reeves' mother, Jeanne Beauprey Reeves, played for UCLA from 1979-82 and was actually Kim Ruddins' teammate on the U.S. team that won a silver medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
But Ruddins and Beauprey were on opposite sides of the net in the first NCAA championship match, in 1981, which was won by Ruddins' USC team 3-2 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.
Gee, it would have been kind of funny if Kelly Reeves had grown up to play for USC and Elise Ruddins for UCLA, huh? Then again, maybe you don't even joke about such things with this rivalry.
Here are this week's espnW Power Rankings:
1. Penn State (9-1)
The Nittany Lions won the Penn State Classic by shellacking Albany, Eastern Kentucky and Yale in hammer-meets-nail fashion. Now it gets a little tougher. Penn State starts the Big Ten season at home against Michigan State, a Sweet 16 team last year, and Michigan, which advanced to the 2012 Final Four along with the Nittany Lions.
2. USC (10-1)
The Trojans swept UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton last week in their final nonconference matches. By the way, USC's last NCAA title came a decade ago, in 2003, when the Trojans went 35-0.
3. Florida (11-1)
Last week, the Gators swept regional rival Florida State, plus overmatched Marquette and Milwaukee. Junior libero Taylor Unroe was named SEC defensive player of the week. Now Florida tips off conference season this weekend with Mississippi State and Mississippi.
4. Hawaii (11-1)
The Rainbow Wahine won the Shocker Classic in Wichita, Kan., over the weekend. Now they're back home, where they will have an exhibition match Wednesday before opening Big West play this weekend with Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside. Hawaii was unbeaten in conference play last year.
5. Texas (6-2)
The Longhorns outlasted former Big 12 rival Nebraska on Sunday, winning 3-2 in Austin, Texas. It was the programs' first meeting since the Huskers moved to the Big Ten in 2011. This week, the defending NCAA champions open league play with TCU and Oklahoma. Texas also does still have one more nonconference matchup on its schedule, at LSU on Oct. 5.
6. Washington (8-0)
These are happy days in the Pacific Northwest: the NFL's Seahawks are unbeaten, as is the Washington Huskies football team. And same for the volleyball Huskies, who would be the "home" team if they make the final four this December at KeyArena in Seattle. That's a ways off, but Washington -- ranked No. 2 in the coaches' poll this week -- is off to a very good start. They begin league play Wednesday at 13-0 Washington State; the Huskies and Cougars are the only unbeaten teams in the Pac-12. Then Washington plays at Oregon on Friday in one of the league's better rivalries. The Huskies split their matchups with the Ducks last season.
7. Stanford (7-2)
The Cardinal swept Cal Poly and St. Mary's last week and begin Pac-12 play Wednesday at Cal. Then Friday, Stanford hosts Arizona State, which is ranked No. 16 and off to an 11-1 start. The Cardinal, meanwhile, are ranked No. 7 by the coaches. Stanford won the Pac-12 last year at 19-1, with its only loss coming to USC.
8. San Diego (8-2)
The Toreros won their cross-town rivalry match with San Diego State last week after gaining their highest-ever AVCA ranking of No. 2. But then the Toreros were swept in their West Coast Conference opener Friday at BYU. That wasn't a big shock; San Diego and BYU shared the league title last year, and the Cougars were picked to win it this year. Still, the Toreros remain in the AVCA top 10 -- they're No. 8 -- and host Pacific and Saint Mary's this week.
9. UCLA (9-1)
The Bruins have yet to play a home match this season; they won't do that until Oct. 2 and 4 when Stanford and Cal visit UCLA. After meeting USC on Wednesday, the Bruins travel to Colorado on Friday.
10. Michigan (10-1)
The Wolverines had to battle to beat a scrappy Ohio team 3-2 in Ann Arbor, Mich., last weekend. Next up is that "other" Ohio on the Wolverines' schedule: Ohio State. The No. 13-ranked Buckeyes, who are 12-0, and No. 10-ranked Wolverines face each other Friday to open Big Ten play in Columbus, Ohio. Then Michigan will try to go slay the giant, top-ranked Penn State, in State College, Pa., on Saturday.
Next in line: Minnesota, Ohio State, North Carolina, Nebraska, Arizona State
• Kelsey Robinson, one of the players who left Tennessee after last season, already has made an impact at Nebraska. She had 26 kills and 23 digs in the Huskers' 3-2 loss at Texas on Sunday. Robinson, who was SEC player of the year in 2011, has just one season of eligibility with the Huskers but looks to be making the most of it. Nebraska, 7-2 and ranked No. 12 in the AVCA poll, opens Big Ten play this weekend at Northwestern and Illinois.
• Speaking of the Illini, they have a losing record at 4-6, but still impress the coaches enough to remain ranked at No. 24 this week. That's because they have played such a taxing nonconference schedule, including top-10 teams Texas, Washington and San Diego. And all four of the Illini's wins are against ranked teams: Florida State, Kentucky, Iowa State and Arizona State.
• Few, if any, would argue that Texas is the best Big 12 team -- but the two teams with the best records so far in that league are West Virginia (13-1) and Kansas State (12-1). They meet Friday in Morgantown, W.Va.