Pac-12 football leaders face major trials on the road

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In a Pac-12 South Division that has been characterized by underachievement in 2018, this weekend’s No. 19 Colorado at USC matchup may provide some insight on who will be taking the division.

The Buffaloes are 5-0, already matching their win total from last season, but it’s been more of a product of their soft schedule than anything else, as they have yet to face a ranked team.

Their opponent’s combined record thus far is 5-17, with its only respectable win coming at home against Arizona State last week.

On the flip side, USC (3-2, 2-1) has fallen on the road twice but to two solid teams in now-No. 9 Texas and Stanford, who was ranked No.14 before being upset by Utah last week. The Trojans may not have the sparkling record that the Buffaloes do, but they have faced adversity that their opponent has not.

The Buffaloes will likely face resistance for the first time at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the Trojans have won their last 18 games in a row. History is not on their side either, as Colorado is 0-12 against USC all-time.

The winner of the matchup takes the top spot in the Pac-12 South and will likely stay there because of the lack of competition. Utah (3-2, 1-2) may be the only viable challenger left.

Don’t be fooled by the Utes’ two losses  — they have come against the two Washington schools, both of which have been formidable all year. No. 7 Washington (5-1, 3-0) has won five straight games, and Washington State (5-1, 2-1) saw a game-tying field goal blocked by USC in the last minute of the Cougars’ upset bid.

Utah just upset Stanford 40-21 to knock the Cardinal out of the AP Poll and, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, is favored to win all seven of its final games, including its upcoming home game against Arizona.

The rest of the Pac-12 South, however, is on the low. UCLA has fallen to 0-5, its worst start since 1943, and the Bruins are not favored in any one of their games for the rest of the season. Oregon State, long-time punching bag of the Pac-12, may have a shot at escaping the basement this season.

The two Arizona teams have not been impressive either. Arizona State (3-3, 1-2) had its five minutes in the sun after an early upset against Michigan State, but that win has now depreciated as the Spartans have not lived up to expectations, exemplified by their loss to Northwestern last week.

The Sun Devils’ single conference win came against the Beavers, one of the weakest power-five teams in the country. Whether Bryce Love is active or not, it’ll be an uphill battle when Arizona State hosts Stanford on Saturday

Arizona’s high hopes on Khalil Tate and its potent offense coming into the season have been dashed in a truly bizarre manner. Tate’s role as a dual-threat quarterback last season has shifted to that of a heavy pocket passer, which has put nowhere near the pressure on defenses the Wildcats were capable of last season.

It’s important to consider that Tate has been battling through an ankle injury and could provide glimpses of newfound explosiveness later this season, but Arizona, at the rate it’s going, will not be competing for the Pac-12 South title.

In the much more nationally relevant North, No. 17 Oregon will be hosting No. 7 Washington on Saturday. The Huskies lead the Pac-12 North, and a win would give them the inside track to the Pac-12 Championship Game on Nov. 30.

An Oregon win could bring the Ducks back into the race for the division title, but it would need Stanford to lose somewhere along the way.

Oregon and Washington lead the conference in total offense and total defense, respectively. Washington is coming off a concerning performance against winless UCLA, in which the Huskies escaped Southern California with a seven-point victory.

Meanwhile, the Ducks should be fully rested after a bye week, eager for arguably their biggest test of the season.

Washington has owned Oregon in the past two seasons: The Ducks were dispatched from Seattle last season 38-3, and the year before that, they were pummeled at home, 70-21. This season, the Huskies will not be putting up anything near 70 points if the offense’s performance up to this point is any indication of their outlook. Washington will likely be unable to take advantage of Oregon’s unimpressive defense in a hostile environment.

If the Ducks can put up points on the stifling Husky defense, it should be able to reverse history in front of a home crowd.

Armen Aprahamian writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @armnhammer_.