As USC gets it in gear, yes, title-game talk is possible

Q: Is Arizona State a contender in the Pac-12 South? With Utah seemingly falling off a bit, seems like they are USC's main challenger.

Braden Wolf

A: Contender? Arizona State is leading the Pac-12 South!

Todd Graham seemed like such an odd hire. He was reviled in Pittsburgh, leaving after one year, and came to Tempe with more baggage than Paris Hilton on Rodeo Drive.

Arizona State has been one of this year's surprises. Guess which team has the fewest penalties in the Pac-12, with only 21 in five games?

OK, we know Dennis Erickson and Vontaze Burfict both left the same season, but this is quite a discipline upgrade.

Arizona State averaged 79.8 penalty yards per game last year, worst in the Pac-12.

Suddenly, ASU is No. 7 nationally, allowing only 31 yards per game. In weight-loss terms, that's like losing a tire around your waist.

I don't know how ASU is doing it. The Sun Devils pulled off a shocking win over USC last year but lost five straight to end the year at 6-7.

I do think the Sun Devils can challenge USC in the South. Arizona State is 4-1 and already leads the division at 2-0 with impressive wins against Utah (37-7) and Cal (27-17). The Sun Devils crushed Illinois and lost at Missouri by only four.

"We needed that success for these guys to believe in this crazy stuff we're doing," Graham said after last week's win against Cal. "We haven't done anything yet. But I know that we're going to get better and better and better."

Taylor Kelly, the redshirt sophomore from Idaho, has exceeded expectations. At No. 16 nationally, he was the highest-ranked Pac-12 quarterback entering play this weekend.

Arizona State is off this weekend, plays at Colorado next Thursday and then hits the prove-it section with home games against Oregon and UCLA followed by games at Oregon State and USC.

We should know more then.

Q: Do you foresee Oregon or USC losing before they face each other in November?

James Bravo

A: Let's go to the schedule card:

USC plays at Washington, hosts Colorado, then plays at Arizona.

You would think Washington would be USC's toughest test of the three considering the Huskies recently defeated Stanford, the team that beat USC.

Oregon hosts Washington on Saturday, then plays at Arizona State and hosts Colorado.

I'm giving Oregon the win over Washington because the game is in Eugene, but at Arizona State could prove one of the Ducks' toughest tests of the season.

So I say there's a good chance USC and Oregon won't lose before they meet Nov. 3 at the Coliseum, but it's certainly not a lock.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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