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Predicting the Pac-12's Biggest Upsets in 2016

Sefo Liufau

Sefo Liufau

An oft-echoed sentiment around Pac-12 country suggests that any week, just about any team in the conference can beat the rest. Though Oregon State faced some hard times in Gary Andersen's first season at the helm, going winless in the 2015 league slate, and Colorado's faced some lean years since joining five years ago, the coming campaign should be the most tumultuous.

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Related: Official 2016 Pac-12 Football Preview Podcast

No one team stands clearly above the rest of the field heading into 2016, which makes for an atmosphere conducive to upsets.

Predicting Upsets by Conference: ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC

Teams that may not be in the Pac-12 championship hunt will play central roles in shaping the conference's title chase. With two home, November dates against contenders from both the North and South, Colorado's positioned as the most impactful, upset-minded team of 2016.

However, with unprecedented parity, the chance for upheaval on a weekly basis very much exists.

8. Arizona over Utah, Oct. 8

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is a perfect 4-0 against Utah since arriving in 2012. Although last season's overtime win for the Wildcats marked the closest outcome between these teams in the last four years, it might have been the biggest statement in the series. The 2015 Utes were Kyle Whittingham's best since joining the Pac-12, while last year's Wildcats were Rodriguez's worst since coming on the scene.

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Utah benefits from home-field advantage, though the last meeting at Rice-Eccles Stadium went to Arizona in a 42-10 decision. The Utes should be better equipped to slow Arizona's quick-strike offense this time around, but the Wildcats' scheme continues to vex Utah year after year.

7. Oregon State over Cal, Oct. 8

Oregon State needs to get off the schneid in conference play under Andersen. Here's the Beavers' best opportunity.

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Cal made strides in 2015, getting to a bowl game for the first time under head coach Sonny Dykes, and its eight wins marked a program-high since '09. However, losing quarterback Jared Goff and the top six pass catchers from last season's lineup puts the Golden Bears in a tough spot, reshaping the look of their "bear-raid" offense.

Cal may not be fully up to speed when it visits Reser Stadium right near the midway point of the campaign, presenting a young Oregon State bunch a prime chance to score a much-needed win.

6. Stanford over Notre Dame, Oct. 15

No team in this cross-country rivalry has won back-to-back installments since 2010-11, Brian Kelly's first two years taking over after the failed Charlie Weis experiment at Notre Dame.

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Related: Notre Dame’s 10 Best College Football Rivalries

Since a 2012 installment decided in overtime, the home team has won each meeting by an average margin of 4.8 points. The trend would suggest 2016 is Notre Dame's year to win another nail-biter, particularly coming off the heartbreak of losing a College Football Playoff-denying contest on Thanksgiving weekend last year.

However, in this October clash of potential Playoff contenders, Stanford's offense should be adequately adjusted to a new quarterback, and the always-stout Cardinal defense should hold Notre Dame in check just enough to survive another classic. 

5. Colorado over Washington State, Nov. 19

Wide receiver Gabe Marks half-joked at Pac-12 media days that Washington State should invest in an indoor playing venue, as cold weather hindered the effectiveness of an air-raid offense.

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Late-season conditions in the Rocky Mountains could prove just as effective as an experienced Colorado defense is in slowing Washington State's potent passing attack. When the Cougars visit Boulder on the regular season's penultimate weekend, conditions should be downright bone-chilling. More importantly, Washington State will be visiting a team head coach Mike MacIntyre should have playing for bowl game positioning.

With senior quarterback Sefo Liufau back behind center, leading one of the Pac-12's most experienced rosters, Colorado should end a postseason drought that dates back to 2007. This late-season, home contest could be a must-win for the Buffs to make that goal a reality.

4. Washington over Oregon, Oct. 8

Would a Washington win over Oregon be an upset by the Las Vegas definition? Maybe. As far as preseason predicted order of finish, the Huskies are expected to finish ahead of the Ducks in the Pac-12 North.

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However, when one side has dominated a rivalry as thoroughly as Oregon has for the last 12 years, you better believe drought-ending win counts as an upset. Such a victory doubly qualifies if it's on the road, as is the case for Washington's visit to Autzen Stadium.

While the talk of a Pac-12 championship and perhaps even a College Football Playoff berth might be premature, 2016 should be the year in which Washington finally sheds itself of the albatross that is the Oregon losing streak. The Huskies fought fiercely last season in Seattle, but fell just short. Invading Eugene with a more veteran squad, as well as one of the best defense in the Pac-12, Washington should do just enough to quiet the quacks of its fiercest rival.

3. Arizona over Washington, Sept. 24

There's a reason the Iditarod is run on the frozen tundra of Alaska, and not the Sonoran Desert terrain of Arizona. Huskies are bred for cold weather, and the same logic has applied to Washington football for about a decade.

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Washington's loss at Arizona State last November continued a losing skid in the Grand Canyon State, which dates back to 2006. The Huskies beat the Wildcats in Tucson in September that year, but are a combined 0-8 since 2007 in trips to either Arizona or Arizona State.

The Huskies' visit to Arizona Stadium this season presents the Wildcats with a revenge opportunity. Arizona's Halloween night thrashing sustained at Husky Stadium marked the nadir of the worst season since Rodriguez's arrival as head coach in 2012.

2. USC over Stanford, Sept. 17

Sandwiched between a run of four straight Stanford wins from 2009-12, and the Cardinal's two-game streak, built over the course of last season, USC snatched back-to-back wins from its in-state counterpart in 2013 and '14. The Trojans also led both of the previous two meetings as late as the third quarter.

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The USC-Stanford series has grown into one of the conference's most exciting, and at times, unpredictable. And while it lands early on the calendar, a sense of desperation could factor in for the visiting Trojans, who will be just two weeks removed from a Week 1 date with Alabama. Should USC fall to the defending champion Crimson Tide, a very real possibility of slipping to 1-2 looms, with another road date to follow just six days later at Utah.

Expect a defensive slug-fest, one in which the Trojans take advantage of Kevin Hogan's absence at quarterback and load up the box against 2015 Heisman Trophy finalist Christian McCaffrey.

1. Colorado over UCLA, Nov. 3

Colorado may not be ready to contend for a divisional title just yet, but the Buffaloes will shake up the South race in its final month. No game is more tailored for just such a scenario than this one.

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Since MacIntyre came to Colorado in 2013, the Buffs have made strides every year. A measure of their improvement has been playing South divisional competition much closer, and no Colorado near-misses have been tighter than UCLA's wins in 2014 and '15.

The Buffs took the Bruins to double overtime in 2014 before falling, 40-37. They led late last season at the Rose Bowl, and were driving with an opportunity to win at the game's end. With MacIntyre boasting his best and most experienced team yet, look for Colorado to get over the hump against UCLA.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.