As we start to look down the stretch of the 2015 season, here are a few things to keep an eye on as we head toward Halloween and beyond.
1. Can Utah run the table? The Utes have amassed an impressive résumé so far, with victories over Michigan, Oregon, Cal and Arizona State, among others. But there are plenty of tough games ahead, including this week against USC and back-to-back trips to Seattle and Tucson before the Utes wrap up the season at home against UCLA and Colorado. ESPN's FPI metrics give Utah a 28.4 percent chance to win the conference and a 3 percent chance to win out. What the FPI doesn't account for, however, is the Pac-12 virus, an unpredictable program so chaotic that hackers fear to tamper with it.
2. Nothing is settled: The Utes have a two-game lead (in the loss column) in the South. The most surprising thing about that isn't necessarily that it's Utah, it's that anyone has a two-game lead in the South. There's still time for teams to catch up. Same with the North, where Stanford (4-0 in league play) is ahead of one-loss Washington State and Cal teams, with two-loss Oregon next. Stanford still has four games to play against North teams. Which leads us to ...
3. The Big Game could be huge: It's been a while since the Big Game has had as much impact as it could have in 2015. Chances are Cal will be bowl-eligible by then and, potentially, still in the thick of the Pac-12 North title chase. Would make for fantastic drama to see the NorCal schools in the spotlight with the division on the line.
4. Heisman chatter: The preseason buzz around the Pac-12 was that Utah's Devontae Booker and USC's Cody Kessler would be the league's top candidates. Booker should still be in the conversation, but Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Oregon's Royce Freeman should be as well. However, given the well-deserved attention LSU's Leonard Fournette is receiving, it's going to be tough for a running back to leap him -- any running back. McCaffrey, who leads the nation in all-purpose yards by a wide margin, might have the best shot.
5. Respect the unexpected: Who is it going to be this year? Last year it was Arizona State tripping up against Oregon State and UCLA tanking at Stanford that threw the South into a funk. The year before that, the Cardinal shocked the Ducks, only to be shocked by the Trojans, while the Ducks were getting shocked by the Wildcats. Late-season, self-inflicted, rear-end kickings are the norm in the Pac-12. Plan accordingly.
6. The Battle for L.A.: While the rest of the conference bathes itself in schadenfreude over the collapse of Troy and the struggling Bruins, this Nov. 28 game still has huge ramifications. For starters, it could mean a bowl berth. And if things break right, it could still be for the South -- although a lot of things need to fall into place for that to happen. Still, recruiting implications and pride matter. Clay Helton is still auditioning for a full-time gig and Jim Mora would love to make it four in a row over a fourth different USC coach.
7. Getting Territorial: Just as the showdown between the L.A. schools still carries significance, the Nov. 21 Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State is important. Right now the teams have matching 2-2 records in conference play. And while Utah has a head-to-head over the Sun Devils, the Utes still have to play the Wildcats. We saw last season when UCLA tripped up in its finale against Stanford that the South Division title defaulted to the winner of this game.
8. 0-for-conference? We've seen teams go winless in conference play before. Colorado did it last season. California was blanked in 2013. It happens. And Cal, by the way, should serve as a lesson in patience for folks in Boulder and Corvallis. As fate (and scheduling) would have it, Colorado and Oregon State, both still winless in conference play, meet this week. Someone has to win -- meaning the other will have to look elsewhere for a league victory in 2015.
9. Apples, anyone? This year's Apple Cup, set for Nov. 27, could be/should be outstanding. Washington State (which, of course, prevailed in overtime in 2012 to avoid a winless conference season) is averaging 35 points per game so far. Washington's defense, despite a huge talent drain from the 2014 edition, continues to be tops in the league in most categories. Bowl placement/eligibility could be on the line. And let's face it ... rivalry games are just more fun when both schools are competitive.
10. 1,000-yard rushers in bloom: Bold prediction time ... the Pac-12 will have at least eight players with 1,000 yards or more rushing. Freeman (997), McCaffrey (844) and Booker (783) are almost already there. Nick Wilson and Paul Perkins are banging on the door of 700 yards. Myles Gaskin (498) is almost at the halfway mark through six games. That's six. The other two could be quarterbacks. We can expect to see more of Arizona's Jerrard Randall (534), and Oregon State's Seth Collins (486) is always one panic-inducing leap away from breaking a big one. Even bolder prediction: Freeman and McCaffrey will get to 2,000 yards. Booker has an outside shot with extra games (and yes, I'm including potential postseason games. The NCAA counts them, so shall I).