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Pac-12 football review: Arizona Wildcats emerge from the South scrum

It was anybody's division to have. Except Colorado.

The most important detail in this photo is the mustache right up front.
The most important detail in this photo is the mustache right up front.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

In the end it's Arizona that will play in Levi's Stadium for the right to plunge the college football world into further chaos. And I suppose they deserve it, or at least there aren't any teams from the South that deserve it more. But the margin all year long was razor thin. And to demonstrate just how close it was, consider what would happen if we alter certain results:

  • If USC knocks down ASU's Hail Mary, USC wins the South.
  • If Nelson Agholor doesn't step out of bounds against Utah, USC wins the South.
  • If Ka'imi Fairburn hits a 50 (or 55) yard field goal against Utah, UCLA wins the South.
  • If Taylor Kelly is more effective, or if Mike Bercovici doesn't throw a 4th quarter pick, maybe ASU beats Arizona and wins the South.
  • If Utah doesn't turn the ball over 4 times, maybe they beat Arizona and win the South.
  • If Cal knocks down Arizona's Hail Mary, there would be a four way tie at 6-3, with UCLA earning the tie-break title. Which . . . I guess if you want to find a silver lining, at least that fiasco ruined UCLA's season?
You can change the outcome of at least one game each for UCLA, USC, Arizona State and Utah to come up with a scenario in which that team takes the South. Maybe it takes a crazy tie-break, but it still counts. And it's really tough to argue that any of the five teams were significantly better or worse than the other four.

Arizona 42, Arizona State 35

Todd Graham replaced Taylor Kelly with Mike Bercovici, who came in to provide pretty much identical production but with a crippling 4th quarter interception to boot. That allowed Arizona to hold on despite 123 penalty yards that played a major role in keeping the game close.

Meanwhile, in an ongoing theme, ASU has lived and died by the blitz. The Sun Devils managed four sacks, all of which helped lead to punts. But they were burned when Arizona picked up a 6 man blitz on Samajie Grant's 69 yard touchdown pass, and looked to be burned on a run blitz on Nick Wilson's 72 yard run.

Stanford 31, UCLA 10

Even when Stanford stood at 5-5, there was this sneaking suspicion that Stanford was actually pretty good. Or, at least, much better than a .500 team. Three of the losses were by 3 points in games that Stanford gave away via mistakes and/or horrible in-game coaching. Those losses are still in the standings, but two straight dominating wins over California rivals are a reminder that the Cardinal still have plenty of talent. Stanford fan, meanwhile, will bemoan a season that could have been (should have been?) a triumphant 10-2 with another New Years bowl awaiting.

As for UCLA . . . it's a bitter end for Brett Hundley. I'm never going to be surprised when a team fails to score against the Stanford defense, but UCLA's defense put in a pretty poor shift to ensure the blowout. Kevin Hogan finishing 16-19 passing, for 234 yards?

Oregon 47, Oregon State 19

There's nothing at all surprising about this game, but I will say this: What does it say about Oregon that this is so routine. That they can so consistently blow the doors off of every team that isn't up to the task?

It feels right that Arizona won the South, if only because they were the only team to prove Oregon mortal so far this year. I doubt they do it again, but at least we're going to see two teams play, knowing that either side is capable of winning.

USC 49, Notre Dame 14

In the self-loathing bowl, Seven-win-Sark became Eight-win-Sark, which I think makes sense. Moving from Washington to USC should earn a coach an extra win, just based upon talent and prestige alone. And it's fitting that USC ends its bizarre, topsy-turvy season by following up its single worst performance with perhaps its best.

This column is nominally about the Pac-12, but since I have the chance and Notre Dame plays at least two Pac-12 teams every year: how about that Irish collapse? Four losses in a row, and their best win was a home win over Stanford. Join a conference you arrogant, schedule-ruining, past-living-in weirdos.

Dear Cody Kessler: Please go pro. It's time to turn the reigns over to a different quarterback to extend USC's win streak over Cal.

Utah 38, Colorado 34

And thus Colorado ended their season 0-9 in Pac-12 play, with an average margin of defeat of 15 points and an 0-4 record in games decided by one possession. Colorado was bad, but not so bad that they deserve the winless tag in the way that other recent 0-for-conference-play teams earned it.

Remember a few weeks back when we detailed how Utah could win the South in a five way tie at 6-3? As it turns out, we were only one game away. Granted, it was the most important game in the formula: Arizona's big win over Utah last week. But still, it was in the realm of possibility! For as much trouble has Utah has had, they were one game away from a Division title.

If Utah can find a quarterback and somehow replace the production of Nate Orchard, they could be a solid contender in the South next year. I'm certainly thrilled that Cal will be playing them rather than Colorado next year. Sigh.

Washington 31, Washington State 13

This game went exactly how most everybody probably expected, which means that it was just as grizzly and depressing as you would expect. Washington State never really had a chance against a strong UW front seven, and while Cyler Miles isn't great, he's plenty good enough to carve up Wazzu's defense.

Washington State's post-season blood-letting has already begun. Mike Leach has now fired his special teams and defensive coordinators. Keep on deflecting the blame, pirate captain! DEFLECT DEFLECT DEFLECT!

Next Week


Arizona vs. Oregon at Santa Clara, 6:00, Fox

Way back when Oregon lost to Arizona the first time, the Ducks were dealing with injury issues. Of course, now there are different injury issues, and Arizona is the first team Oregon has faced that might actually be able to exploit some of them.

Am I trying to talk my way into thinking this could be a close game? Sure. But RichRod has played Oregon tough enough times for there to be some optimism. Go Wildcats! And Yellow Jackets and Tigers, while we're at it.