Can a team that has lost a game by 39 points win the Pac-12 Conference championship?
Technically, of course, it is possible. There are no regulations banning such things.
The question here is whether there is historical precedent for Cal — 4-1 but coming off a 92-53 undressing at the hands of Missouri — to win the conference crown. The Bears, after all, were picked second in the conference, and no other Pac-12 team looks invincible, either.
Note: Pac-12 favorite UCLA is 1-3 with a victory over a Division II school and coach Ben Howland is busy trying to squeeze himself into the mixed-up head of star forward Reeves Nelson. So things could be worse, Cal fans.
First, some bad news: No Pac-10/Pac-8/AAWU/PCC champion dating back to 1950 has ever lost a nonconference game by as many as 39 points. So, if the Bears go on to win the 2012 Pac-12 crown, they would boast an ignominious distinction.
The flip side is that teams that have won or shared the conference title over the past 62 seasons have routinely suffered one-sided defeats somewhere along the way. Twenty-four of them have lost at least one game by 20 points or more during their championship season.
Everybody has a bad day. Well, except for John Wooden’s UCLA teams of 1964, ’67, ’72 and ’73, which all went undefeated.
Last season, Arizona lost by 22 outside the conference to BYU, then by 22 to UCLA, and still won the Pac-10 crown. The year before, Cal lost by 22 to Syracuse, then captured its first title in 50 years.
Eventual co-champ Arizona lost by 26 points at LSU in 2000, Oregon State by that same margin to UCLA in 1980, and the Beavers by 26 to Bill Russell and USF in 1955.
UCLA’s 1952 PCC championship team was crushed by No. 1 Kentucky 84-53 in a pre-conference game.
Two in-conference wipeouts stand out as particularly intriguing because of what happened next:
— In 1966, Oregon State lost 79-35 — by 44 points — on the road against UCLA, the two-time defending national champion. In the rematch, the Beavers reversed things, winning 64-51.
— In 1997, eventual champ UCLA lost 109-61 at Stanford — by 48 points! — in what then-Bruins coach Steve Lavin referred to as the Maples Massacre. The Bruins beat Stanford 87-68 in the rematch at Pauley Pavilion, an unlikely 69-point swing in less than a month.
So Tuesday’s result is just one ugly loss to a quick and superb team, but not the end of things. There may not be a team in the Pac-12 as good as Missouri, or at least as problematic.
It’s still November. Cal’s top-25 status is torpedoed, but there are a lot of games ahead, and the chance to learn and grow and be better the next time.
Not that Mike Montgomery and the Bears will be asking for a rematch with Missouri anytime soon.