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Predicting the Pac-12's Biggest Upsets for 2017

Phillip Lindsay

Phillip Lindsay

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The college football conference with more bizarre late-night happenings than a Crispin Glover talk show appearance never fails to provide memorable, sometimes championship-altering upsets. 

Who can forget Stanford's win at Oregon in 2012, or USC's victory there the season prior – both of which changed the face of the BCS championship. In 2014, Oregon State shocked Arizona State to change the complexion of Pac-12 South. Washington State did likewise when it stunned UCLA late in the 2015 season.

And this only covers recent history. An Arizona defeat of Oregon in 2007 contributed to one of the most unpredictable seasons in college football history – but not before Stanford scored the biggest upset ever at USC that same year.

Pac-12 football never fails to surprise. Don't be caught off guard if the most shocking upset out of the conference comes not from this list – but considering the following a good starting point in projecting some of what's in store out west in 2017.

6. Arizona State over Oregon, Sept. 23

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Does a home victory over an opponent coming off a 4-8 finish count as an upset for a team that finished the previous season 5-7? It does if the latter is Arizona State and the opponent is Oregon. The Sun Devils last beat the Ducks in 2004, with just one matchup decided by single digits in that span. The Oregon routs include a 19-point win late last season, well after the Ducks' season had begun to unravel.

Oregon will have a different look when it comes to Sun Devil Stadium, site of an epic, overtime encounter between these programs in 2015. The same can be said of Arizona State, with Phil Bennett now coordinating the defense and Billy Napier overseeing the offense.

A win here is pivotal for the Sun Devils' season. Expect them to rise to the challenge.

5. Oregon State over Colorado, Oct. 14

College football rankings: Oregon State

Colorado shocked the college football world in 2016, climbing from the cellar of the Pac-12 South to the conference's championship game. The Buffaloes' turnaround was one of the most dramatic ever seen in the league's history, so don't necessarily look for a repeat. However, 2017 Colorado may be seeing the closest 2017 equivalent when it travels to Reser Stadium to face Oregon State.

Head coach Gary Andersen is building something in Corvallis, with the first signs becoming evident late last season. Oregon State closed out the campaign with a rout of Arizona, and an emphatic win over rival Oregon. The two wins give a veteran Beavers squad reason for optimism headed into the new year.

They may well have even more momentum once Colorado comes calling. Oregon State has plenty opportunity for impressive, early-season victories, including two in the non-conference schedule at Colorado State, and a home date with Minnesota. With wins there, the Beavers could realistically be playing for bowl positioning when they see the Buffs.

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4. Oregon over Washington State, Oct. 7

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Oregon

Oregon's early Pac-12 date with Washington State may or may not be an actual upset by this juncture in the schedule, depending how the first month unfolds for both teams. Still, Washington State has won the last two in the series, including an overtime affair when it last visited Autzen Stadium two seasons ago.

The Cougars checked in just outside of the initial Coaches Poll Top 25, while Oregon is aiming to rebuild quickly under first-year head coach Willie Taggart. Taggart inherited a lot of talent, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The Ducks' many weapons in the ground game could present problems for the Washington State front seven, possibly turning this into a high-scoring affair.

3. Stanford over USC, Sept. 9 

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With as much hype has swirled around USC football in the 2017 offseason, anything shy of a perfect regular season is likely to set off much hand-wringing and panic from outside sources. May as well get it out of the way early, and Stanford's a logical candidate.

Since 2007, the Cardinal have won eight of the last 10 matchups against the Trojans, including three straight and four of the last five at the Coliseum. After a 10-win 2016 season some considered disappointing, Stanford looks ready to re-enter the Pac-12 championship race. What better way to set off on that path than with a win over the team deemed the conference's preseason favorite?

2. Arizona over Utah, Sept. 22

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Utah's win over Arizona in Rice-Eccles Stadium last October marked the Utes' first over the Wildcats with Rich Rodriguez at the helm. Utah was winless in the series, dating back to 2011, which coincidentally also is the last time the Utes won at Arizona Stadium. Of perhaps less coincidence, this was the season before Rodriguez arrived.

Both teams will enter this Week 4 matchup on a short week, with both finishing non-conference play the week prior. The transition will be tough, especially for Utah, which must hit the road and be prepared for the Tucson heat – not to mention a multifaceted rushing attack that should be dramatically improved with a cleaner bill of health than it had last season.

1. Colorado over Washington, Sept. 23

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Last December's Pac-12 Championship Game served as an interesting example for just how dramatically a game can shift on a handful of plays. The Colorado defense performed superbly much of the night, limiting the multifaceted Huskies offense.

However, a few turnovers turned a competitive affair into an all-out romp. Washington's lopsided victory may well be a case of just a handful of plays suggesting a much greater gap than actually exists.

Despite being picked to finish fourth in the South in the preseason media poll, the defending divisional champion returns an outstanding offensive core, including multi-dimensional running back Phillip Lindsay and one of the best wide receiving corps in the nation. Washington is undergoing considerable change in the secondary, so seeing that unit early in the season should be a boon for the Buffs.

So, too, is drawing the Huskies at home. This game bears several significant similarities to Washington's early-season trip to Arizona a season ago, when the Wildcats took the Huskies to overtime. The difference? This Colorado bunch is significantly better than 2016 Arizona.

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