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Expect Pac-12 southern chaos in 2015

The Arizona Wildcats can thump their chest all they want … at least for now. They are the Pac-12 South champs until proven otherwise. Just like Arizona State was … before Arizona proved otherwise. Just like UCLA was, before ASU proved otherwise.

Being proven otherwise, however, seems to be turning into an annual tradition in the South, which has had three different winners in the last three years. And if you thought the division was crazy in 2014, hang on, because it might plunge itself deeper into capricious insanity in 2015 and beyond.

"It's anybody's guess," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham when asked to handicap the South next season. "But I have to believe it's one of the toughest divisions in all of college football. It was very close this year, obviously. We had a lot of teams lumped up there at the top. Every year is its own entity and set of circumstances. I can't speak to next year. But right now it's anybody's guess."

The South heads into the postseason with five of its six teams ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25; Arizona (10), UCLA (14), ASU (15), Utah (22) and USC (24). Of course, the North continues to claim the ultimate bragging rights, having won every conference title since the league moved to a divisional format in 2011. This year was no exception with Oregon blasting the ‘Cats in the title game.

But the 2014 season saw a clear power shift within the depth of the conference. For the first time since expansion, the South had a winning record against its northern counterparts, going 15-10.

"The South has definitely resurged," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "Every game against those guys is difficult. Trying to handicap it for next year would be like trying to handicap this year. It's impossible."

Adding to the impossibility is that five of the six teams in the division are likely to return a quarterback with substantial starting experience. Barring any surprise defections, draft declarations or injuries, only UCLA will be without a quarterback with significant time as a starter.

"Once again, that means you are going to see offenses executed extremely well week in and week out," said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team is the only one in the division not ranked in the Top 25. "All the quarterbacks in somehow, someway, have broken records at their school. You're looking at quality players coming back that can score points each Saturday."

Given the Trojans historical success, it seems almost shocking that USC is yet to win a division title. Maybe that changes as the Trojans roster slowly starts to rebuild itself in the post-sanctions era. Maybe not. The trio of previous victors -- all with head coaches who were hired following the 2011 season -- show no indication of slowing down. Plus the Utes are on the rise and Colorado is putting a more competitive product on the field. The Buffs were "in" seven of their nine conference games. Anyone think they are going to be worse next year?

"The thing that can happen is any team in the South can beat any team," MacIntyre said. "I think that's where it's at. We had double-overtime with UCLA and definitely could have won it. We were in there with everyone (in the South) except USC. There's a lot of parity, but there is also high-caliber football."

Meanwhile up North, the divide might be growing. The Ducks will have to find a replacement for Heisman winner Marcus Mariota (oh come on, like it's not going to happen) and we're not exactly sure what we're going to get from the Cardinal. You have to imagine things will be smoother in Year 2 of the Chris Petersen era at Washington, but there will be losses on defense. Shaw pointed to Cal as a team on the rise, but defense will again be a concern. So outside of Oregon, you have to question which North team could do the most damage against the South. Oregon State will have a new coach. Washington State is still rebuilding. The Ducks were the only team up North to be ranked. And even if the Cardinal thump Maryland in their bowl game, the chances of them finishing ranked are slim.

"We've got a lot of guys coming back so I know we'll be in the mix," Shaw said. "But I know this, next year will be as crazy as it was this year. And in the South, I don't know who has the edge. But it's going to be exciting."

That's a safe assumption ... until proven otherwise.