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Week 5 Pac-12 title heat check: North vs. South

Can Washington's run defense slow the always-impressive Christian McCaffrey? Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

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. With all teams with at least one Pac-12 game under their belts, here’s an updated heat check of the conference.

Frontrunner in the South: There really isn’t one, so, for this week, we won’t pretend there is. Four teams -- Utah, Arizona State, UCLA and (gasp!) Colorado -- are all worthy of consideration. Here’s why:

  • Arizona State: Eventually, the Sun Devils’ lack of defense is going to cost them, but 4-0 is 4-0 and they’re really fun to watch. Games against the Los Angeles schools the next two weeks should be telling.

  • Colorado: The Buffaloes’ win against Oregon stands as the best win by a Pac-12 South team thus far. Coach Mike MacIntyre says the goal is a Pac-12 title and after four games, that doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibilities.

  • UCLA: The Bruins are just a couple of plays from being 4-0 and a Top 10 team. The running game is in shambles, but close losses at No. 9 Texas A&M and at home against No. 7 Stanford shouldn’t be cause for much concern.

  • Utah: The Utes have won 16 of their last 19 dating back to 2014 and are 4-0 to start the year. Kyle Whittingham continues to prove he’s one of the best coaches in the country and Utah should be favored in at least its next three games. -- K.B.

Frontrunner in the North: It’s between Stanford and Washington and guess what, that debate will be solved this weekend. There’s a big part of me that wishes this game were being played later in the season to allow for both of these teams to gel a bit more before facing off, but there’s something exciting about knowing that one of these two teams will get a chance to grab a hold of the North in the second full weekend of Pac-12 play and then spend the next seven weekends of the fall attempting to play King of the Hill. It’s one thing to get to the top. It’s tougher to stay there. Could a team like Washington or Stanford really stave off attacks for the next two months? -- C.J.

Player to watch in the South: Utah QB Troy Williams is officially on our radar. That’s what happens when you engineer a 93-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to beat USC. For most of the game, the Utes were content to keep the ball on the ground, but Williams showed it doesn’t always have to be that way. -- K.B.

Players to watch in the North: Luke Falk and Gabe Marks. Washington State is 1-2 and going through a myriad of issues off the field. But (and this is an important BUT), Washington State hasn’t started conference play yet. Meaning that: On the field, the Cougs’ slate is clean and they’ll have a big opportunity against Oregon this Saturday in the Palouse. In order to notch a big win and keep themselves in the inner circle for the North, the Falk-Marks connection is going to have to be strong against an improved Oregon secondary. Falk has completed a Pac-12-best 74.1 percent of his passes this fall, but Washington State is lagging in big plays. Only 11 of Falk’s passes have gone for 20-plus yards. -- C.J.

Game to watch in the South: Arizona State at USC, Saturday (5:30 p.m. PT, Fox). A lot of USC fans -- most? -- are already in panic mode and it’s easy to understand why. A loss to Arizona State would likely push even the most optimistic supporters past their breaking point. -- K.B.

Game to watch in the North: Stanford at Washington, Friday (6:00 p.m. PT, ESPN/WatchESPN). This game is going to propel one of these two teams into the driver’s seat for the North and everyone else is going to be playing catch up. In-game match up to watch: Can Washington’s run defense -- which showed some flaws against Arizona -- slow the always-impressive Christian McCaffrey? The Huskies have allowed just 1.3 yards per rush inside the tackles and 3.4 yards per rush outside the tackles while McCaffrey’s clip is at 5.3 yards per rush inside and 5.9 yards per rush outside the tackles this season. -- C.J.