- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Yesterday we looked at face plant games in both divisions. Today, we focus on the positives and the signature wins that either propelled a team to greatness or -- at the very least -- salvaged a season. Or provide a single moment in which to smile. Here's the South Division. Kevin will cover the North later today.
Arizona: The obvious answer is the 39-36 win over USC on Oct. 27. But I don't think so. That was a perfect trap game for the Trojans, and the Wildcats were coming off a strong showing in a overtime loss at Stanford and a dominant whipping of Washington. To me, it was the 59-38 win over No. 18 Oklahoma State in Game 2. Why? Well, who saw that coming? Most folks thought the Wildcats' first season with coach Rich Rodriguez was going to be a tough slog, and the tight win over Toledo in the opener didn't change many minds (we certainly had no idea how good the Rockets would end up being). Further, there was history. The Cowboys had stomped the Wildcats in the 2010 Alamo Bowl and the second game of 2011 by a combined count of 73-24. Beating Oklahoma State got that monkey off the program's back, provided some momentum for Rodriguez, and gave the Pac-12 a nice nonconference win over the Big 12.
Arizona State: If you review the totality of the Sun Devils season, it comes down to this: They beat teams they should beat (other than Missouri) and lost to better teams. Still, everyone in the state knows full-well what Arizona State's signature win was. Any idea, Tucson folks? Of course, it was the 41-34 victory over the Sun Devils' good friends from down south in the Territorial Cup. That would be enough, but how it went down put an exclamation point on the moment. Arizona led 27-17 entering the fourth quarter, but the Sun Devils rolled up 24 unanswered points in the fourth to take the game in style. While Arizona had more impressive wins than the Sun Devils did in 2012, Arizona State and new coach Todd Graham won the state championship. And that's huge.
Colorado: Hmm ... what's it going to be? Hmm ... this is a tough one. Alright. Enough. Buffaloes fans, I've noticed that you guys have actually been tougher on your team than I have (though Utah fans win my "Handwringers of the Year" award). When a team goes 1-11, it narrows the choices on "signature wins." But the truth is the 35-34 win at Washington State was a good one. The Buffs were as unimpressive at 0-3 at that point as a team could be. They were down 31-14 early in the fourth quarter. It seemed like time to wave the white flag. I know I stopped paying attention until my Coug friends started going nuts on Twitter. Colorado scored three touchdowns in the final seven minutes, including a 4-yard, fourth-down run from quarterback Jordan Webb in the final seconds. It was a thrilling finish and suggests mental toughness from the Buffs. Alas, there would be no more positive moments over the next eight games.
UCLA: 38-28. I don't really need to say more. If you are a UCLA fan, that number is likely already burned into your Bruins soul. My guess is right now you are either seeing in your minds eye Johnathan Franklin dashing 29 yards for the score that iced the game or Anthony Barr smacking USC quarterback Matt Barkley from behind to end it with authority. You want meaning? The victory won the South Division for UCLA outright. The victory took revenge for a 50-0 defeat in 2011. The victory ended a five-game losing streak in the series. And the victory signaled that the Jim Mora Era in Westwood is going to heat this one up again. As a neutral observer, I'm psyched that this rivalry looks to be regaining its legs as one that is nationally meaningful.
USC: The Trojans might be the toughest team to do in the Pac-12. Any suggestions? USC lost just about every meaningful game it played this year: Oregon, UCLA and Notre Dame, most notably. There are two choices: The 24-14 win at Washington and the 38-17 win over Arizona State. Those are the Trojans two wins over conference teams with winning records. The Arizona State game was decisive, but the Trojans had five turnovers, including three Barkley interceptions. The Washington game is probably the best choice, though coach Lane Kiffin shut down the offense and played to his defense. Still, my guess is neither is terribly memorable for Trojans fans.
Utah: A season is never a total wash if you beat your arch-rival, and Utah did that. Further, it beat BYU 24-21 with perhaps the oddest finish of any game this season. First, officials put time back on the clock after a third-down incompletion, which allowed BYU to attempt a 51-yard field goal. It was blocked by Star Lotulelei, and time expired. But the officials decided to throw a flag over fans rushing the field, a moment of absolute officiating buffoonery. BYU got another shot to force overtime from 15 yards closer, but the attempt clanked off the left upright, and the officials decided not to flag the Utes fans for being too darn happy. Though I bet they thought about it.