Pac-12 coming on strong
League play will begin pretty soon, but there's still some unfinished nonconference business to take care of. Not necessarily a lot of big-name matchups, though, as teams get ready for the league grind. But that's OK because we've already had some blockbusters and upsets.
We're a few weeks into the season -- far enough along that we have a pretty good idea of who's good, but still aren't sure how good they are. We might not see much change in this list next week. After that, though, it could get volatile.
1. Nebraska (8-0)The Huskers won all three matches of the event they hosted last week: sweeps over Oklahoma and Duquesne and a four-setter against Kentucky. For the second consecutive time, Meghan Haggerty was named Big Ten freshman of the week. There is only one match this week for Nebraska: Saturday at Iowa State, which is coached by former Huskers player Christy Johnson-Lynch.
2. UCLA (6-1)The Bruins had an excellent time in Hawaii, sweeping Idaho and San Diego State and then defeating the host Rainbow Wahine 3-1. Senior Tabi Love had a career-high 26 kills and hit at a .346 clip against Hawaii. Wednesday, in another battle of beautiful campuses, the Bruins host Pepperdine. Then, in what could be a tricky trip, they visit Colorado State on Saturday.
3. Oregon (8-0)Are the Ducks really a top-five team? We'll find out soon enough. They have just one more nonconference match -- Wednesday at Portland State -- before starting the Pac-12 gauntlet. League play then begins the following week against rival Oregon State, which had a huge upset of Penn State on Saturday.
4. Washington (8-0)The Huskies have yet to lose a set -- but they've also played just one ranked team: Purdue. They're likely to have another sweep Tuesday at Portland, then they have a week to prepare for the start of Pac-12 play. Huskies coach Jim McLaughlin hit a milestone last week and now has 501 career victories, 277 of those at Washington.
5. Penn State (7-1)OK, maybe we are under-penalizing the Nittany Lions after their 3-2 loss to unranked Oregon State in Chicago on Saturday. But considering their previous wins over Stanford and Texas, it's hard to drop them too far. Penn State followed the upset with a sweep of Illinois-Chicago. This weekend's Penn State Classic should be another sweeping exercise for the Nittany Lions.
6. Minnesota (7-1)The Gophers played twice at Texas last week and came away with a split. Minnesota's 3-1 victory on Thursday ended the Longhorns' 33-match home winning streak; the Gophers clinched that match with a 29-27 fourth-set triumph. They fell the next night to Texas by a 3-1 score, but the trip definitely elevated the perception of the Gophers.
7. Texas (6-2)The Longhorns were rocked a bit by their loss at Gregory Gym, something they hadn't experienced there since September 2010 against Illinois. The 33 victories in a row at home was the longest such win streak the very accomplished Texas program ever had. The Horns bounced right back and avenged the loss. This weekend, they host the Texas Invitational.
8. Southern Cal (9-0)Like Washington, USC hasn't strongly tested itself in nonconference play. That's not likely to happen this weekend, either, when the Trojans almost certainly will put on a clinic at the TCU Invitational. One of last year's Final Four teams, USC is finding its footing before opening Pac-12 season with rival UCLA.
9. Stanford (6-2)Speaking of rivals, the Cardinal, as always, will have a lot to say about how the Pac-12 goes. Stanford had back-to-back losses at Hawaii and Penn State in August, but the young Cardinal learned from both of those matches. Stanford plays in the Pac-12/West Coast Conference challenge this weekend against San Francisco and St. Mary's.
10. Hawaii (7-2)How can the Rainbow Wahine be placed behind a team -- Stanford -- they already beat this young season? Well, Hawaii won't like it but it just lost to UCLA, a week after the Rainbow Wahine were upset by Cal. Both matches were in Honolulu. The school's alumni face off against this season's team in an exhibition Friday, and Hawaii starts Big West play Sept. 19.
• Interesting tournament this weekend in Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane, the Conference USA favorite, host the Big 12's Kansas State (ranked No. 19 in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll), Atlantic-10 power Dayton (No. 20) and the Big Ten's Minnesota (No. 10). That's a very strong quartet.
• Among the visitors to the Texas Invitational this weekend is Illinois, which is off to a 3-4 start. That's not too surprising, considering whom the Illini lost to graduation from last year's national runner-up team. Illinois' most recent defeat was 3-2 to Louisville on Saturday. The Big East favorite Cardinals, meanwhile, are off to an 8-1 start; they've beaten two Big Ten foes (Illinois and Purdue) and lost to the other (Penn State). Louisville is host to the volleyball Final Four in December.
• Wednesday, ESPNU will highlight a new conference matchup: Tennessee travels to face one of the Southeastern Conference's latest members, Missouri. The match will air at 8 p.m. ET. Tennessee won its first outright regular-season SEC title last year.