Pac-12 Heat check: Defining moment for Utah and Washington

Throughout the season, Pac-12 reporters Chantel Jennings and Kyle Bonagura will regularly take stock on where things stand in the Pac-12 title chase.

Front-runner in the South: While game-planning for Cal on Saturday, USC coach Clay Helton was also paying close attention to the teams ahead of USC in the Pac-12 South standings: Colorado and Utah. And he said paying close attention included “cheering loud for their opponents.” It didn’t work. USC is going to need some help to win the division, but with four games remaining this is still a very open three-team race. On paper (or your computer screen), Colorado has the friendliest remaining schedule and thus should be considered a slight favorite, but the parity in the conference should prevent any team feeling overly confident about what will happen over the next few weeks. -- Kyle Bonagura

Front-runner in the North: Washington and Washington State remain undefeated in conference play after picking up wins over Oregon State and Arizona State, respectively. The two biggest games remaining for the Huskies are against Utah on the road (Oct. 29) and at home against USC (Nov. 12). The Cougars will need to make sure their offense is functioning well at home against Cal (Nov. 12) and on the road against Colorado (Nov. 19). Ultimately, the front-runner in the North could be decided by the Apple Cup and we at the Pac-12 Blog would want it no other way. Cheers to the possibility of meaningful games in both the Pac-12 North and South during the final weekend of November. -- Chantel Jennings

Player to watch in the South: Utah RB Joe Williams. All he did was rush for a school-record 332 yards against a good UCLA defense on Saturday. Think the Utes are happy he’s back? With the injury problems they’ve had in the backfield, Williams might now be the most indispensable player involved in the division race. The stakes are raised this week against Washington, which has allowed just 3.7 yards per rush this season, the third-best mark in the Pac-12. – K.B.

Player to watch in the North: Cal QB Davis Webb, because he could have an impact on the South’s title race this weekend when the Bears play USC. The Trojans are third in the Pac-12 South and with the amount of chaos that could happen with Colorado and Utah, USC knows it still is within swinging distance. But it needs to get through the Bear Raid offense first. The Trojans have given up 11 passing touchdowns and have only intercepted quarterbacks seven times this season, but Webb will be a passing challenge the likes of which they haven’t seen this season -- C.J.

Game to watch in the Pac-12: Washington-Utah

Why for Utah? As Utah continues to win, the fashion in which it does is reason for some skepticism. The Utes’ four wins by one score are tied with Clemson for the most in college football this season. That’s good company to keep, but it also doesn’t indicate they’ve been dominant by any means. Of course, that ultimately doesn’t matter -- only the results do -- but it does help explain how a 7-1 team can be a double-digit underdog at home, where it has been a conference-best 10-1 over the past two seasons. A win against Washington would vault the Utes into pole position in the conference and into the College Football Playoff discussion. -- K.B.

Why for Washington? Because the Huskies need to prove they’re worth their ranking. Yes, Washington has beat the teams it's supposed to beat (and beat them badly), and when a team is overrated, typically they play down to their competition. We haven’t seen that, or really any deficiencies, out of this Washington team. But, the truth of the matter is that the Huskies don’t have a good win yet this season. Who have they actually beaten? (And please don’t say Oregon and Stanford... it isn’t 2012.) I think Washington is a very good team. I think they could be in the College Football Playoff. I also think that they need to prove that against a worthy adversary. Utah is just that. Washington is really the Pac-12's only shot at the playoff and it's hardly a lock even if the Huskies go undefeated. If they lose this one, the door is very open to the idea that the Pac-12 is out for the second season in a row. -- C.J.