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Coach David Durden has spent most of the season downplaying the hype surrounding the Cal men's swimming team's status as a favorite to win the national championship come March.

However, if the squad continues to have the kind of success it has seen thus far, it's going to be a lot harder for the Bears not to buy in.

No. 1 Cal (2-0) will host a pair of dual meets this weekend at Spieker Aquatics Complex, taking on No. 8 USC (6-1) today at 5 p.m. and Cal State Bakersfield (6-1) Saturday morning.

This will be the first competition for the Bears since being ranked first in the nation in the coaches' poll last week. Cal had been ranked No. 4, but dominated both Arizona State and then-No. 2 Arizona to grab the top spot in the rankings.

"I look at the polls as coaches giving our team a compliment," Durden said. "We're going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts."

That isn't to say the Bears are complacent with just being highly ranked.

"There's no real significance in it," Durden said. "It doesn't get you a better seed in the tournament, it doesn't get you a better bowl game, it doesn't give us a regional site to compete in."

Cal plans on treating the upcoming pair of meets as a sort of practice for NCAAs.

During the dual meet season, teams rarely compete in an evening meet, and then have to race again the following morning, which is how championship meets are typically formatted.

The squad will have its "prelims" tonight, where it will face off with a talented USC squad, led by All-Americans Clement Lefert and Patrick White. Lefert is the defending Pac-10 champion in the 200 freestyle (1:33.75) and competed for France in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The Bears defeated the Trojans (158-136) and Cal State Bakersfield (112-81) in 2010. Durden didn't want to run up the score once it became apparent that Cal would win both meets. He entered his last swimmers as exhibitions in both meets, making them ineligible to score.

"It shouldn't necessarily be a challenge to win the meets, but the way we do it will define success for us," senior Nathan Adrian said.

After facing off with USC, Cal will then have a quick turnaround tomorrow morning when it takes on the Roadrunners in the "finals." Though Bakersfield doesn't have the level of talent that the Trojans do, having such a short time in between meets will be a test for the Bears.

Durden also plans to have his swimmers emphasize one main event this weekend in order to further simulate NCAAs, where athletes typically only swim one or two events, but have to do so on very little rest.

"It will be tough, but it's just dependent on how we take it as a team," Adrian said. "We have to use it as practice for big meets, when you're tired on that third day and you're ready to give up."


Connor Byrne covers men's swimming. Contact him at [email protected]

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