Real race going on in the South

Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker has led the Wildcats to three straight wins. (Associated Press)

PULLMAN – The race for the Pac-12 North title may effectively end this weekend when No. 2 Oregon visits No. 6 Stanford. But the race in the South division is just starting to heat up.

What looked like UCLA’s division to lose is ripe for Arizona State’s taking, and Arizona and once-forgotten USC are lurking on the fringes of contention.

The Sun Devils lead the pack with a 4-1 conference record, followed by the Wildcats, Bruins and Trojans, all at 3-2.

USC appears to be particularly dangerous, having reeled off three straight conference wins following the firing of coach Lane Kiffin, with just a four-point loss at Notre Dame in that time.

“I can’t give my coaching staff enough credit,” said interim coach Ed Orgeron. “Under an extremely adverse situation, not knowing what the future is going to be, we’ve become one cohesive unit. I’m very proud. It’s been a treat to come to work every day.”

With games remaining against struggling Cal and Colorado, as well as divisional and city rival UCLA, the Trojans could knock the Bruins out of contention and finish Pac-12 play with two losses. To get to the conference championship, however, they’ll need a little help.

If the Bruins win they’ll be in the driver’s seat for the division crown. And if that were to happen and ASU was to lose again, then USC could conceivably end up on top with a win over the Bruins.

With games against both ASU and UCLA, Arizona may be the team with the best chance to control its own destiny. Thanks to improved play from quarterback B.J. Denker, the Wildcats are on a three-game winning streak

They’ll have a chance to show they’re a serious contender against the Bruins, who beat the Wildcats 66-10 last season in Los Angeles.

“I would hope just from a competitor’s standpoint, if you didn’t play well against somebody, you’d want to have another chance, that they’d be embarrassed by the way they played and give it their best shot,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

ASU A.D. leaves for Longhorns

Arizona State athletic director Steve Patterson was hired for the same position at the University of Texas, where he attended undergraduate and law school. With just a 16-15 Big-12 record since the start of 2010, there is speculation that Patterson will look to replace Longhorns coach Mack Brown.

ASU coach Todd Graham would seem to be a natural fit, having coached at both the prep and college level in the state of Texas. However, reports came out on Tuesday that Patterson had agreed with his former school not to hire anyone from ASU.

Still, that may not be a binding agreement and speculation is natural, considering that Graham has already left two jobs – Rice and Pittsburgh – after one season, and the close relationship between he and Patterson.

“He knew of me when I was head coach at Rice and he was at the Houston Texans,” Graham said of Patterson. “He was very instrumental in the search, throwing my name out there. We’ve been a great team.”

Follow WSU reporter Jacob Thorpe on Twitter @jacobthorpesr

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