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Pac-12 South Update: Two team race between UCLA and ASU?

Through five weeks, the Pac-12 South contenders are beginning to separate themselves from the pretenders.

Christian Petersen

The majority of nonconference games are over, meaning the Pac-12 South clashes are beginning to take place. About half way through the season, UCLA is the overwhelming favorite, ranked 12th in the nation.

In the preseason media polls, Arizona State came in second. As of now, the Sun Devils are currently first at 1-1 because the Bruins haven't faced any conference foes. The USC Trojans were the other legitimate contender, but the team hasn't lived up to expectations, which led to the firing of Lane Kiffin after a disappointing 3-2 start.

University of Arizona capitalized on its soft early season schedule by going 3-0, yet couldn't transfer the success over against a quality Washington team.

Relative newcomers to the division, Colorado and Utah, are still sitting at the bottom. Conversely, both have showed signs of life, causing the depth of the Pac-12 to drastically improve.

*Teams listed in order of the standings

Arizona State (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12)

ASU dominated USC 62-41 in their week four must-win encounter. Todd Graham knew the season could hinge on the outcome, and his Sun Devils' showed that sense of urgency on the field. Taylor Kelly guided the offense to 42 second half points and 28 unanswered in the third quarter.

The 62-point ASU outburst set a school record against USC. In addition, Kelly is easily on pace to break the all-time single-season records for most passing yards and touchdowns. Speaking of records, Marion Grice boasts 12 touchdowns which leads all of college football.

Former junior college wide receiver, Jaelen Strong, already accumulated 433 yards and two touchdowns. Because of the breakout performances, Strong has been placed on the Biletnikoff award watch list.

The Sun Devils travel to Dallas, Texas to play Notre Dame in AT&T stadium (Dallas Cowboys stadium). From then on, the rest of the ASU schedule is comprised of Pac-12 match ups.

UCLA (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12)

The UCLA Bruins may be the only Pac-12 South team that possesses legitimate goals beyond winning the division. Coach Jim Mora Jr. and Brett Hundley have the team in position to compete for an at-large BCS bowl game. The Bruins didn't play in week four, which was their last bye of the season.

Hundley wasn't too well known outside of Westwood, but three games later, he could be in the Heisman trophy conversation. The 6-foot-3 quarterback is sky rocketing up potential 2014 NFL draft boards. Between Hundley's dual threat ability, strong arm and leadership, he should be garnering more recognition.

In spite of losing the school's best running back statistics wise, Johnathan Franklin, the Bruins are scoring 52.7 points per game which is third best in the country. The defense, headlined by dynamic linebacker Anthony Barr, isn't shabby either. Opponents are posting a mere 18 points per game against UCLA, putting them at 29th in the nation.

Before experts fully jump on the bandwagon, they need to see the Bruins continue to thrive against better competition. The task at hand gets slightly more difficult in week 5, as they travel to Utah on Thursday night.

University of Arizona (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12)

It's tough to assess the University of Arizona. The Wildcats lost at Washington last weekend 31-13, yet the Tucson natives looked good against inferior foes.

Running back Ka'Deem Carey grants Arizona with an opportunity to win any given game. Carey has rushed for 100-plus yards in 11 of the last 12 games, tallying 431 yards and five touchdowns to date in 2013.

Senior quarterback and new starter, B.J. Denker, isn't getting the job done well enough. Denker has 445 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Since Denker couldn't put together solid numbers against North Arizona, UNLV and University of Texas San Antonio, it's going to be a long year.

Rich Rodriguez and his Hollywood acting will be on the stage at the USC Coliseum.

Utah (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12)

Under the radar, coach Kyle Whittingham has the Utah football program back on track. Acquiring new offensive coordinator, Dennis Erickson, couldn't have worked out much better.

In pass yards, rush yards, and total points scored, the Utes are at least 31st, which is a complete turnaround compared to 2012. Travis Wilson gets lost among the Pac-12's elite quarterback, but that will change. UCLA head coach, Jim Mora Jr., said Wilson reminds him of former ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler.

The comparison makes perfect sense, as both quarterbacks are both tall and athletic for their large stature. Wilson's hard offseason work has turned into 1,118 passing yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. It'll be interesting to see how the offense does against tougher teams.

During week four, the Utes were idle and prepared to host the Bruins on Fox Sports 1 this Thursday.

Colorado (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12)

The extra rest Colorado had going into Oregon State seemed like rust, getting dismantled 44-17. The Buffaloes defense surrendered 414 yards and six touchdowns to Sean Mannion. The struggling unit continues to be an Achilles' heel, allowing 31.7 points per game.

On offense, Colorado can be relatively proud of their performances. 32 points per game should be enough to stay competitive. Wide receiver Paul Richardson, coming off major knee surgery, has come back to form. Richardson has hauled in 26 receptions, 487 yards and five touchdowns.

Coach Mike MacIntyre wants the offense to become more balanced, as they are struggling to run the rock. The Buffaloes are averaging 3.3 yards per carry and barely over 100 yards per game. If the defense can play make some minor strides, Colorado can be more challenging than expected.

The positive outlook looks good in the long run, but for now, Colorado (at home) doesn't have any realistic shot at beating second ranked Oregon.

USC (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12)

Started from the top and now we're here. Get it? The USC football program's decline hasn't been steadily downhill, instead it's more reminiscent of a free fall.

Ed Orgeron inherits Kiffin's mess on an interim basis. According to multiple reports, the top candidates for the full-time position are current Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, Boise State's Chris Peterson and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin.

Regarding the current predicament, the Trojans supposed stout defense got exposed by ASU, allowing 62 points. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, quarterback Cody Kessler may be losing his job any week now. The combination of problems signals nothing but bad news.

USC will attempt to regain its footing on a short week against Arizona.