November is here, yet the Pac-12 South race is no more clear than it was at any point in September.
Arizona State and USC both won on the road in weeknight, road contests against opponents from the North. UCLA and Arizona won in the conference's only Saturday games.
As a result, the Sun Devils remain atop the divisional standings in the loss column, with just one blemish. Right behind them are the Wildcats, Bruins and Trojans, all with two losses.
Any of the four could realistically finish at No. 1, and a multiple-team tie isn't out of the realm of possibility.
- Nov. 9 vs. UCLA
- Nov. 16 vs. Washington State
- Nov. 23 vs. Oregon
- Nov. 30 at Arizona State
While Arizona faces UCLA and rival Arizona State, the Wildcats do not technically control their destiny. By virtue of its Oct. 10 loss at USC, Arizona needs a Trojans loss in addition to a perfect finish.
The latter is unlikely. While the Wildcats get three home games, UCLA and Oregon present bad matchups in that stretch. The same is true for the Sun Devils, as is evident in Arizona's 0-3 record against those teams a season ago.
- Nov. 9 at Utah
- Nov. 16 vs. Oregon State
- Nov. 23 at UCLA
- Nov. 30 vs. Arizona
Head coach Todd Graham has been adamant about changing certain tendencies from the moment he was hired to lead Arizona State. He's made undeniable progress in some facets, but one that persisted in his first campaign was the team's late-season struggles.
Last year tied Arizona State's best November record since 2008, and the Sun Devils were still just 2-2. In the last four Novembers, they're 4-12.
It's strangely fitting that in order to take the next step in Graham's building of the program, Arizona State must traverse a challenging November.
- Nov. 9 at Arizona
- Nov. 16 vs. Washington
- Nov. 23 vs. Arizona State
- Nov. 30 at USC
UCLA's remaining slate is a catch-22. The combined record of its remaining four opponents is 23-10, with all four several games above .500.
That's the most daunting of the four South contenders' schedules. However, the Bruins are in prime position to repeat as division champions. The formula is as simple as win out.
- Nov. 9 at Cal
- Nov. 16 vs. Stanford
- Nov. 23 at Colorado
- Nov. 30 vs. UCLA
Interim head coach Ed Orgeron is undefeated in the Pac-12 since taking over for ousted Lane Kiffin, a meaningful fact given that he's led the Trojans over 6-2 Arizona, 6-3 Oregon State and a Utah team that beat Stanford.
USC faces the weakest of the four contenders' schedules by virtue of its dates with 1-8 Cal and 3-5 Colorado. However, home dates against rivals Stanford and UCLA are daunting. USC needs to win those games and have front-running Arizona State lose twice.
The Push to the Podium Is on for Leonard Williams
Anyone following the Pac-12 recently knew about USC defensive end Leonard Williams. In 2012, he earned the conference's Defensive Freshman of the Year award.
He's even better this season. Williams is a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player, and with good reason. He shares the team lead for tackles with linebacker Hayes Pullard at 56, and his 11 tackles for loss are most among all Trojans.
Orgeron said on last week's Pac-12 coaches teleconference that he expects Williams to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
"He's actually getting better every game," Orgeron said.
Williams made good on that assessment Friday with a blocked field goal on Oregon State's opening drive, which set the tone for USC's 31-14 win.
Cal Has Hope for Its Future
For its myriad struggles, Cal could have understandably folded its tent. The Golden Bears have rolled out one of the nation's most inexperienced lineups against one of the most difficult schedules in college football, and coming into last Saturday's showdown with Arizona, they had lost six straight games by an average of 27 points.
While Cal fell short against the Wildcats, 33-28, the narrow gap was a rare positive in a trying first season for head coach Sonny Dykes.
True freshman quarterback Jared Goff played his best game since the Week 3 loss to Ohio State, throwing for 289 yards and four touchdowns. Three of Goff's scoring strikes were to fellow freshman Kenny Lawler, a promising young wide receiver whose career will be linked closely to Goff's for the immediate future.
One of Lawler's touchdown grabs Saturday was arguably the Pac-12 play of the week.
Washington State's Bowl Drought Is Perilously Close to Reaching a Decade
After opening the first half of its schedule at 4-2, Washington State appeared headed to snapping the conference's longest bowl drought. The Cougars last went to the postseason in 2003.
However, Arizona State visited the Palouse Thursday and brought with it far more tricks than treats. The 55-21 drubbing was Washington State's third consecutive loss, dropping the Cougars below .500.
Washington State hasn't just lost in this skid, either. Its average margin of defeat in this run is 28.7, a figure that would be considerably higher if not for the Halloween candy-like empty calories it gobbled up late against Oregon.
The Cougars must win two of their last three, only one of which is at home. Their Martin Stadium date with 4-4 Utah looks like the most winnable, but Arizona and rival Washington loom large.
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