In the non-conference schedule, next week at top 25-ish Georgia Tech and Easter weekend at home against projected Omaha-contender East Carolina are the key hurdles. Aside from that, the Bruins face decent teams in Michigan and Oklahoma State in the Dodger Stadium Classic March 8 & 9 before finishing up against USC on March 10.
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In the conference, the main competition will be Oregon State and Stanford. The Beavers are the defending national champions who bring back a number of key pieces from last year’s team, but they did have their longtime, program-building coach retire in the offseason. Where the Bruins are being projected from 3-5 in the preseason polls, Oregon State is appearing in the 5-7 range. Stanford is ranked consistently getting projected in the 12-15 range. It’s essentially a three-team conference race, and UCLA could conceivably be a top five team in the nation and not win the conference because Oregon State and/or Stanford are also that good. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to have two Pac 12 teams show up in Omaha in the final eight.
The Bruins host Oregon State to open conference play on March 15, and they travel to Stanford three weeks later on April 5. That Oregon State series kicks off a five-week run in the schedule that will make or break the season: home against Oregon State, home against Arizona, at USC, at Stanford, and home against East Carolina. How the Bruins come out of that stretch should be a good benchmark against which to set your expectations for the postseason.