Balanced across the board, battle for Pac-12 rages on

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After weeks of infighting among the Pac-12, the conference only holds two spots in the fickle AP poll. Both Washington schools lead the way, with No. 8 Washington State (8-1, 5-1) as the frontrunner with any slim hope the conference has in reaching the College Football Playoff.

The Cougars travel to Colorado this week in search of their ninth-overall and fifth-straight win.

The Buffaloes, who are on a four-game losing streak, have been trending downward hard after starting the season 5-0. If Colorado doesn’t show major change this Saturday at home, it will likely pick up its fifth loss, and the once certain idea of a bowl berth will be very much in question.

No. 25 Washington (7-3, 5-2) and Arizona (5-5, 4-3) will sit out this week with byes. Arizona has given itself a chance at the Pac-12 South division, as its position below Utah and USC is solely based on head-to-head losses to each.

Utah (6-3, 4-3) and USC (5-4, 4-3) have a chance this weekend to take the lead in the Pac-12 South.

The Utes welcome the Ducks to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, with hopes to leapfrog the Trojans. The biggest hurdle for Utah, though, is probably going to come from within.

After losing starting quarterback Tyler Huntley last game to a broken collarbone, the Utes will be starting redshirt freshman Jason Shelley. Last week, the Utes found themselves down by 1 point in the fourth quarter, but Shelley and the offense were unable to put anything on the board in the final quarter.

Utah has to hope that the young quarterback can put that behind him this weekend.

The visiting locker room will be occupied by an Oregon team coming off of a blowout over UCLA, which put an end to a two-game losing streak that included a 44-15 insult from Arizona.

Shelley has plenty of competition in the Ducks’ Justin Herbert, who consistently makes tough throws into tight windows and is the key cog of a potent offense that currently averages 37.2 points on 443.0 total yards per game.

In Los Angeles, USC will host Cal at the Coliseum for a chance to bolster its top spot in the division.

The Trojans came out on top of the Beavers over the weekend with the help of quarterback JT Daniels, who was back from an early exit because of his concussion in their previous game against Arizona State.

USC’s most important weapon for its clash with Cal will be running back Aca’Cedric Ware, who tore up Oregon State’s defense for 205 yards on the ground.

While Cal ranks 21st in the country in total defense, its ability to stop the run has been its weakness, giving up 175.7 yards per game. If the Bears can slow down the Trojans’ run game, their defense may be able to carry the pedestrian offense in the same fashion as the Bears’ 12-10 upset of then-No. 15 Washington two weeks ago.

Though an appearance in the playoff from the Pac-12 seems highly improbable, the conference has 10 out of 12 teams with at least five wins and could theoretically have 10 teams finish the season bowl-eligible.

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