The Pac 12 is as deep as it has ever been and that has infused some extra intrigue into the early conference matchups as they help to define who has a shot at winning the conference title. The UCLA Bruins are two-time defending Pac 12 South champions, but were preparing themselves for a run at that position from a number of tough teams that have been chasing them. With a Thursday night showdown with the Utah Utes, however, UCLA is in a position to put a strangle-hold on the division with a win.
UCLA has started the season strong, looking every bit as dominant as many thought they would be early on. Brett Hundley has continued to develop as a quarterback, the offensive line has come together quickly and the running game has been a pleasant surprise. That doesn’t even address the great play that Jim Mora has gotten from his defense, who have been physical, opportunistic and disruptive in the early going.
Now, they kick off their conference schedule against a Utah team that has looked dangerous so far. The offense is creating big plays and the defense has been good enough to keep the team in some shootouts. Kyle Whittingham would like to get his program up out of the cellar of the division where they’ve been locked in since joining the conference. There’s no quicker way to get into the mix of things than to beat the team at the top.
But UCLA will be ready for the Utes. Mora has instilled a focus and drive into the Bruins that will not allow them to walk into Salt Lake City without being ready to handle their business. And if they can come out victorious on Thursday, UCLA will be in a position to run the Pac 12 South for a third straight year. If the Bruins play up to their potential and handle Utah, there will no doubts who rules the division in 2013.
UCLA’s position is helped out by the slip-ups of their closest competition. This summer, the USC Trojans, Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Wildcats were pegged as possible contenders for the top spot in the South. Already, USC has dropped two conference games and fired their head coach, ASU got run off the field against the Stanford Cardinal and Arizona was exposed on the road by the Washington Huskies. They all have serious flaws that UCLA can exploit to secure their third straight trip to the conference title game.
They say you’re the champ until you’re not the champ. With a win Thursday against Utah, UCLA will only tighten its grip as champions of the Pac 12 South.