The 2013 Pac-12 football season is nearing its midway point, and teams are just scratching the surface of conference play. Nevertheless, the road map each must follow to reach the championship game is becoming more clear.
Early indications suggest another home game for the North's representative come December.
The division that produced the first two championship game winners is 10-4. The South is just 2-8.
UCLA is the South's sole unbeaten. Should it win hosting duties, it will have truly earned it in road games against the Pac-12's last two champions, Oregon and Stanford.
Very few of the conference's dozen members are eliminated from contention, though only a handful control their destinies.
Three North teams—Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford—are undefeated to open conference play. However, 3-0 Stanford is the only one to have played teams that factor into the championship race.
The Cardinal's first three conference opponents—Arizona State, Washington State and Washington—are a combined 4-3 against the Pac-12.
Conversely, Oregon beat Cal and Colorado, while Oregon State topped Utah and Colorado. There is isn't a league win between the three.
Opponent win-loss marks won't matter down the stretch since a round robin between the Beavers, Cardinal and Ducks remains.
Still, Stanford has an early advantage with its wins over the Washington programs. The Cardinal put both Washington and Washington State at an immediate disadvantage, but they can still factor into the division's race.
Both Oregon and Oregon State remain on their schedules.
The one-loss Huskies and Cougars need the Oregon teams and Stanford to beat up on one another in their three-game series to ensure everyone in the division has at least one loss.
Should either Washington or Washington State win out, they'll need Stanford to lose two conference games—something the Cardinal haven't done since 2009.
Defending division champion UCLA already has the inside track to represent the South in December's title game.
The Bruins raced ahead by virtue of simply being the only South team without a conference loss. UCLA held off Utah on the road Thursday to start 1-0, and hosts sputtering Cal in Week 7.
Starting in Week 8, though, UCLA's slate gets considerably more difficult with consecutive road games at Stanford and Oregon.
UCLA and Utah are the only South teams to draw both the Ducks and Cardinal out of the North. The Bruins also have the misfortune of playing both on the road.
Still, UCLA could drop those games and remain in control of the South if it runs the remainder of its table.
The same is true for Arizona and Arizona State. Though both sport conference losses, either can claim a championship-game spot by winning out, since both still face UCLA head-to-head.
The rest of the South already needs help.
A 0-2 hole to open conference play has USC in a precarious position. The Trojans must beat Arizona at the Coliseum Thursday to stave off early elimination.
A loss for the Wildcats likely removes them from the equation, but USC's margin for error remains particularly small since one of its losses was to Arizona State.
The Trojans need a perfect 7-0 conference run under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, which includes snapping their four-game losing streak against Stanford.
Then, USC is rooting for at least one more UCLA loss and two more for Arizona State. The Sun Devils hold the tiebreaker over the Trojans.
Utah is eliminated for all intents and purposes. The Utes suffered two heartbreaking losses to quality opponents Oregon State and UCLA, but both games were at home.
A third loss in Rice-Eccles Stadium this week against Stanford means both winning out and the rest of the division losing at least three times. UCLA would need four conference losses for Utah to claim the South in this scenario.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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