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The PAC-12 Teams We All Overlooked

Maybe the conference isn't so top-heavy after all.

Another week in the always exciting and unpredictable college football season has come to a close. And it could not be more clear that three teams in the PAC-12 have emerged as surprise contenders.

Well, maybe not contenders for the title, but they've definitely challenged the national sentiment that USC and Oregon are the only real competition in the conference. The PAC-12 went 3-0 against the Big Ten this weekend to prove that its as tough a league as any, and not one of those victories came from the Ducks or the Trojans.

If going undefeated against its fellow Rose Bowl conference wasn't enough, it was 24th-ranked Arizona, 22nd-ranked UCLA, and unranked Oregon State that beat 18th-ranked Oklahoma State, 16th-ranked Nebraska, and 13th-ranked Wisconsin.

Pretty dang impressive, huh? And somehow each of the three teams have been completely overlooked in the seven months leading up to conference play. Maybe it was because Rich Rodriguez's defense looked incredibly fragile and 'Zona scraped out a week one overtime victory over Toledo. Or perhaps it's because we've grown accustomed to having substantially low expectations for an Oregon State team with back to back losing seasons. Or it could be that UCLA has been consistently outshone by its bigger, bossier Los Angeles brother USC. And while it still appears that Oregon and USC will have control of their respective divisions, these three underdogs plan on making the road to the PAC-12 title a little more difficult than expected.

Arizona Wildcats

Arizona didn't just beat 18th ranked Oklahoma State, it launched an outright offensive assault against the Cowboys. The final score (59-38) was more than just a slice of revenge for the Wildcats, who had lost two games in two years to OSU. It was a warning to the rest of the PAC-12 South: Matt Scott and his offense are here to compete.

After struggling to defeat Toledo last week, Arizona had something to prove in the seemingly lopsided matchup on Saturday. And the Wildcats proved it. Scott threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another on his own. More importantly, the Wildcats did not turn the ball over while Cowboy freshman quarterback Wes Lunt threw three interceptions and running back Joseph Randle gave up a first quarter fumble.

Question marks undoubtedly remain with the Arizona defense after giving up 600 plus yards in its upset. But with running back Ka'Deem Carey scoring three touchdowns and the offense's 30 unanswered points through two quarters, Arizona's strategy will be to force opponents keep up with its offense.

Arizona kicks off its conference schedule against the most explosive offense in the country in Eugene on September 22nd. The defense definitely needs improving to stay relevant early on in the season.

Oregon State Beavers

The Beavers faced the overrated (No. 13) Wisconsin Badgers and battled it out to come away with one of the most surprising upsets of the week. The low scoring affair in Corvallis revealed much about the Beavers maturity since last season. Sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 276 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. In the same game last year, Oregon State turned over the ball three times.

Wisconsin, led by touted senior running back Montee Ball, gained only 35 rushing yards against the OSU defense. In the same game a year ago, the Badgers thrashed the Beavers 35-0 and it was Oregon State who only garnered 32 yards rushing. The unscheduled week off and the rowdy home game atmosphere assuredly contributed to its success, but there is no question that this Oregon State team is drastically different from the past two.

The next couple of weeks will be include some interesting tests for Oregon State as it faces fellow rising stars UCLA and Arizona. October brings much lighter competition in Washington, Wazzu, BYU, and Utah. The Beavers round out the season against ASU, Stanford, Cal, and ultimately at home against Oregon. They could easily have a nine win season and give themselves a shot at their first bowl game in three years.

UCLA Bruins

The buzz in L.A. this past saturday night was all about Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley after his offense clinched an impressive victory over No. 16 Nebraska. The redshirt freshman threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns in his second career start and seemed much improved and matured since they faced Rice one week ago. The game was an offensive free-for-all, totaling 1,092 yards between both offenses.

The most impressive takeaway from the game, however, was UCLA's ability to stay in it until the end. Instead of fading in the 4th quarter, the Bruins battled out of a mid-quarter tie, forced a safety, and scored a late game-clinching touchdown.

Jim Mora could potentially lead his Bruins to a 10-win season with the fairly uncompetitive crowd in the PAC-12 South. Most people originally looked at the cross town matchup set for November 17th and figured it'd be a similar result to the 50-0 massacre from a year ago, but the Bruins appear to be a much stronger opponent this time around.

Another week of college football kicks off this Friday as Washington State takes on UNLV. Unpredictability ensues, but one thing is for sure; the PAC-12 is not just a two team league.