“Talking Tennis” is a column by Nick Kaufmann about tennis.

Last weekend, the Pac-12 men’s tennis season kicked off with a bang for the No. 1 Trojans, who went up to the Pacific Northwest and beat Oregon and Washington 4-1 and 4-0, respectively. With conference play just beginning, here is your in-depth look at the Pac-12 this season:

Arizona: The Wildcats finished 17-8 overall and 3-5 in the conference last season and were dumped in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament to Stanford. This season, they hold a 10-3 record and are undefeated at home. They have the potential to make some noise. Overall, though, this is nothing more than a middling team at best.

Arizona State: In their second season back with a team last year, the Sun Devils went 14-14 overall and 4-4 in conference play before reaching the second of the NCAA Tournament. This year they are 4-5 but are the definition of a team that plays up to its competition and has been known to cause fits for opponents in the past. The Sun Devils have shown they can compete and make life difficult for the heavy hitters in the conference.

California: The Golden Bears enter the season after shocking everyone last year by beating top-seeded UCLA to advance to the Pac-12 Championship. With a 16-13 overall record and 4-4 conference record, Cal was the definition of a dangerous underdog as they beat both USC and UCLA last season and upset Illinois in the second round of NCAA’s before falling in the third round. They currently sit at a 5-2 record including an upset over UCLA at home. The Golden Bears’ entire starting lineup returned for this season, and with an extra year of experience under their belt, they could finish in the top three of the Pac-12.

Oregon: The Ducks had a respectable 13-10 overall record last year, but they were abysmal in the conference, going a meager 1-7. The Ducks also lost their top player from last year in Thomas Laurent. Oregon’s strength lies in doubles, where it boasts the No. 11 team in the country. Having such a strong doubles lineup can make Oregon dangerous, as was shown when it nearly upset UCLA in Eugene over the weekend. If underestimated, this is a team that can beat you.

Stanford: The Cardinal were semifinalists in the Pac-12 Tournament and lost in the third round of NCAA’s last year. They had a 19-7 record and were 5-3 in the Pac-12. Historically one of the best teams in the conference, the Cardinal have had a tougher road this season, as they have already been thrashed multiple times by USC and suffered quick defeats to Texas and TCU. The Cardinal, however, should never be overlooked because of their elite talent. Their strength is their consistency up and down the lineup.

Utah: The Utes finished last year 17-12 overall and 2-6 in the Pac-12. One of those conference wins was a home victory over No. 12 Stanford. Historically the Utes have been dominant in the elevation at home, and so far this season, that holds true as they are 12-0 at home. However, the Utes have had a terrible 0-4 start on the road this year. The Utes have the ability to go undefeated at home this season, but they are unlikely to win any of their conference road games as they are all against the California schools.

Washington: The Huskies were the only team in the Pac-12 with a losing record last season at 7-17 and 2-6 in the conference. This season, they are 8-6 and have already passed last season’s win total. In the conference, the Huskies will be little more than an afterthought and shouldn’t make any noise. The silver lining is that this team has a good combination of youth and experience which could make the difference in a match.

UCLA: If it isn’t USC winning the Pac-12 in tennis, it is usually UCLA. The Bruins finished last year 19-6 overall and 8-0 in the Pac-12. They were shocked in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament and made a run to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. This year the Bruins are learning to deal with the loss of their top singles and doubles player for last year, Maxime Cressy.

So far UCLA has looked shaky at best, especially after barely beating Oregon 4-3 on the road this past weekend. The issue for this team is its bottom three in singles look very questionable, and against higher level competition this will be heavily exposed. The Bruins’ strength is their top three singles players, consisting of junior Keegan Smith, sophomore Govind Nanda and freshman Drew Baird. UCLA’s doubles lineup also features some impressive players, such as Connor Rapp and Bryce Perreira.

This year will be a test for the Bruins to find their new identity and perhaps a new lineup. Never count them out, though, as they will still be one of the toughest teams to play.

USC: The Trojans finished last season 22-8 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-12. They won the Pac-12 Tournament and lost in the third round of NCAA’s last year. This year, however, the Trojans have been dominant in every sense of the word. They are the No. 1 team in the nation after a five-year drought from the top spot and have won the indoor national championship.

The Trojans are the strongest team not just in the conference, but also in the country. There are virtually no weaknesses on this team, and so long as everyone can stay healthy, it’s easy to envision them winning a national title. With a strong doubles lineup led by senior Riley Smith and junior Daniel Cukierman and a deep singles lineup featuring senior Brandon Holt, sophomore, Mor Bulis, and freshmen Stefan Dostanic and Ryder Jackson, this team will be nearly impossible to beat and is easily the favorite to win the Pac-12. In fact, the Trojans could very well go undefeated in the conference and for the rest of the season.

Pac-12 Final Ranking Projection

  1. USC
  2. Stanford
  3. UCLA
  4. California
  5. Arizona State
  6. Oregon
  7. Arizona
  8. Utah
  9. Washington

“Talking Tennis” runs every other Tuesday.