Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 South in 2013?

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Can Arizona State top UCLA for the division title?

<p> Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 South in 2013?</p>

The power in the Pac-12 is clearly titled to the North Division, which should have Oregon and Stanford ranked among the top-10 in most preseason polls.

The South Division lacks a top-15 team but four squads will be in the mix for the conference title.

UCLA is the back-to-back champion of the South Division. Arizona State and Arizona are headed in the right direction under second-year coaches, while USC has far too much talent to be finishing 7-6 each season.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 South in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
UCLA would be my favorite in the South, but we learned last year the Bruins can’t beat Stanford. Never mind defeating Oregon and Stanford in back-to-back weeks. What might be the best team in the South could be out of it by the end of October thanks to a brutal schedule. By default, the pick is Arizona State, the fewest major flaws and a team with a solid coach, no matter what you think of Todd Graham. As long as an early season schedule which includes a road trip to Stanford and games against Wisconsin and Notre Dame don’t take their toll on Arizona State. The Sun Devils are the pick here.


Kyle Kensing, Editor at SaturdayBlitz.com, (@kensing45)
Arizona State is primed for a run to the South division crown, and a Pac-12 championship appearance. The Sun Devils became the odds-on favorite for me when tackle Will Sutton eschewed the NFL draft. He is one of the best defensive lineman in the country and sets the tone for the No. 2 sacking defense last year. Linebacker Carl Bradford is another potential All-American keying the defensive side, while dual-threat quarterback Taylor Kelly settled into his role by season's end.

ASU put up a surprising 38.4 points per game -- only Oregon was more prolific among Pac-12 teams. Perhaps most importantly, the Sun Devils look like the only South team without glaring questions marks: USC is still paper thin, UCLA must replace its record-setting running back, and Arizona is replacing star quarterback Matt Scott while trying to solve its defensive woes. 
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
UCLA is the back-to-back champion of the Pac-12 South and returns most of its core, so it’s hard to pick against the Bruins. However, I think UCLA will be dethroned this year, as Arizona State is my pick to claim the division title in Todd Graham’s second season in Tempe.

The Sun Devils nearly won the South Division last year but a 45-43 defeat to UCLA in late October was just enough for the Bruins to play Stanford in the conference championship. Graham made a big difference in Tempe last season, as Arizona State cut down on the bad mental mistakes that plagued this team under Dennis Erickson and ranked in the top 30 of total offense and defense. Both units are in great shape for 2013, as the offense returns quarterback Taylor Kelly, one of the nation’s top running back duos in Marion Grice and DJ Foster, along with an offensive line that returns three starters. The defense has room to improve, but this unit can only get better with Will Sutton turning down the NFL for one more year in Tempe, along with the return of seven other starters.

In addition to the returning talent on both sides of the ball, Arizona State’s schedule is very favorable. Yes, the Sun Devils have to play at UCLA, but the other teams in contention for the South title – USC and Arizona – both come to Sun Devil Stadium. Also, Arizona State does not play Oregon in crossover play and hosts Oregon State and Washington in games with the North Division. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
An argument can be made for either California team (UCLA, USC) or either Arizona team (Arizona, Arizona State) to win the Pac-12 South this season. That's what happens when a team like USC, which was pretty much everyone's preseason national champion last fall, goes 7-6 and ends up in the Sun Bowl, not the BCS title game.

Can UCLA make it two division titles in a row for second-year coach Jim Mora Jr.? The Bruins have the quarterback in Brett Hundley, but gone is running back Johnathan Franklin and several other starters on both sides of the ball. Then there's the schedule, which is pretty brutal. Of the four South teams mentioned, UCLA is the only one that has to play both Oregon and Stanford from the North. And both of these games are on the road, as is a non-conference tilt with Nebraska and divisional games against Arizona and USC.

Speaking of the other team from Los Angeles, USC is trying to pick up the pieces from last season's debacle, but will have to do so without quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods, among others. Talent has never been an issue for the Trojans, but if last season showed us anything, it's that talent's not enough. I expect Lane Kiffin's crew to be better in 2013, but not division champion-caliber.

Out in the desert, Rich Rodriguez has Arizona fans excited about football thanks to a high-octane offense powered by the nation's leading rusher in 2012, Ka'Deem Carey. Quarterback, however, is a bit of a question mark with the departure of Matt Scott and even though every starter returns on defense, this is a unit that has a long ways to go (last in the Pac-12, No. 118 in the nation in yards allowed in 2012). Don't be surprised to see the Wildcats involved in a bunch of high-scoring affairs this fall.

No, my pick to reign supreme in the South is the Sun Devils. Todd Graham appears to have something brewing in Tempe and it could all come together in 2013. The offense is led by quarterback Taylor Kelly and a collection of productive backs and receivers. The defense has All-American lineman Will Sutton and seven other starters back. The Sun Devils were second only to Stanford last year in the Pac-12 in total defense and could be even better this season if they can improve against the run (182.9 ypg, 10th).

Arizona State will get a chance to show how good they are early with Wisconsin coming to Tempe on Sept. 14 followed by consecutive games against Stanford (road), USC and Notre Dame (both home). If the Sun Devils can navigate this part without too much difficulty, they should be in good shape as the sledding gets much easier with both Arizona and USC at home. I think Arizona State, true to its nickname, will "rise" to the occasion in 2013 and finish atop the Pac-12 South standings.

 

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