BERKELEY (CBS/AP) — This is one of those rare weeks when even Michigan hopes for an Ohio State victory.

There are four games this Saturday pitting Big Ten teams against top Pac-12 competition. This is the best opportunity until bowl season for the conferences to establish themselves as powers of the sport.

No. 4 Ohio State, which had trouble beating Cal in Columbus last year, plays the rematch with the Golden Bears on the road at Cal.

Elsewhere Saturday, No. 20 Wisconsin travels to Arizona State, No. 23 Nebraska hosts No. 16 UCLA, and Illinois takes on 19th-ranked Washington in Chicago.

No. 17 Northwestern got the Big Ten off to a solid start by winning at Cal. Like Michigan coach Brady Hoke, whose Wolverines took down Notre Dame last week, Wildcats coach Fitzgerald said he’ll be rooting for the rest of the Big Ten this weekend.

Also on the Pac-12 slate for Saturday: No. 5 Stanford at Army, Fresno State at Colorado, Boston College at USC, Tennessee at No. 2 Oregon, Southern Utah at Washington State, and UTSA at Arizona. Utah hosts Oregon State in a conference game.

Over the last five seasons, the Pac-12 has a slight edge over the Big Ten: a 13-12 record in non-conference games and 4-3 in bowl games. But last year, the Pac-12 won four of the five meetings. And the Pac-12 has won eight of the last nine Rose Bowls that pitted teams from the two leagues.

So while the Southeastern Conference has ruled college football for the past decade, the Big Ten isn’t exactly set as the next best. The improved Pac-12 is certainly part of that discussion.

According to STATS Inc., the Big Ten went 62-73 over the last five years against teams from the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and Notre Dame, including bowl games. The five victories last September, against nine losses, were against four teams that finished a combined 22-28, including bowl teams Syracuse and Vanderbilt.

During the same span against the same major leagues, the Pac-12 was 59-68, a slightly better winning percentage.

So far this year? The Big Ten is 4-0. The Pac-12 is 1-2.

“I think differences between conferences are more exaggerated than accurate,” said Washington State coach Mike Leach, whose team lost to Auburn in the opener before a win at USC. “There’s definitely nuances between conferences, but if you’re in one of the major conferences — the Pac-12, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the SEC, the ACC — they’re probably more similar than they are different. They all have 300-pounders, guys who can run.”

Last week, the Pac-12 was 8-0 in non-conference games, outscoring opponents 384-111.

By Saturday night, the picture of conference strength this season could be a little clearer.

As far as the scrutiny of the results, well, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer brushed off the big-picture importance during his time on the Big Ten coaches conference call. So did Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. Illinois coach Tim Beckman said he didn’t even realize there were so many games this weekend pitting Big Ten teams against major opponents.

But Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, the newbie of the group, let down his guard.

“It’s important for all of us, from a recruiting standpoint and playing another big-time conference, so I do believe it matters for the conference,” he said. “Those are important games.”

(Copyright 2013 CBS San Francisco and the Associated Press. All rights reserved.)


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