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Gary Andersen could have been in his fourth year of a rebuilding project at Colorado, rather than being in his second season of struggles at Oregon State.

That's the interesting twist of Andersen's coaching carer, after he was pursued by Colorado and California in December 2012 and announced he was staying at Utah State — before landing at Wisconsin. After two seasons with the Badgers, he moved to OSU. As it turns out, Andersen and the Beavers are two years behind the progress of coach Mike MacIntyre and the Buffaloes in Boulder — or so they hope, anyway.

Colorado is the biggest story in the Pac-12 South this season, being tied for the division lead with Utah at 3-1 as the Buffs visit Stanford this weekend.

The irony is that after Andersen (USU), Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech) and MacIntyre (San Jose State) coached in the final season of Western Athletic Conference football in 2012, Andersen avoided major rebuilding by going to Wisconsin. Dykes and MacIntyre took on major projects at California and Colorado. They've succeeded, with MacIntyre making a huge breakthrough this season after the Buffs went 5-40 in Pac-12 play in their first five seasons of membership.

Dykes admires how MacIntyre and the Colorado administration have worked together, improving facilities and giving him time to build a program. "They showed a lot of faith in Mike, having patience and having a plan and allowing him to work with it," Dykes said.

Stanford coach David Shaw, who was part of Jim Harbaugh's turnaround of the Cardinal, credits MacIntyre with a similar ability of "developing a winning attitude, before you win." The Buffs of ten came close to staging upsets in MacIntyre's first three seasons, including three losses to Utah by seven points or fewer, and now they're "making game-winning plays," Shaw said.

In their last game, the Buffs crushed Arizona State 40-16, holding ASU to 199 total yards. Colorado leads the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing 314.1 yards, and is second in total offense at 515.3 yards.

Trojan revival

USC was 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12 when the Trojans left town last month after a 31-27 loss to Utah. The winning drive led by Ute quarterback Troy Williams may prove critical in the South race, because USC has played its way back into it.

The Trojans have won three games in a row and can hope to finish in a three-way tie with Utah and Colorado, among other possibilities. As quarterback Sam Darnold keeps developing, Rice-Eccles Stadium will become known as the venue of his first start. Darnold has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 1,148 yards and 11 touchdowns in four starts.

USC coach Clay Helton credits Darnold as the player most responsible for USC's turnaround, while praising his staff for not panicking or trying to change everything.

Getting tough

Washington State's defense has gone from being one of the worst in the Pac-12 to the middle statistically. The Cougars rank No. 1 in rushing defense, allowing 104.5 yards, in defensive coordinator Alex Grinch's second season. WSU is 4-0 since Grinch moved from the press box to the sideline during games, following losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State.

The Cougars "really are believing in what they're doing and just playing with a lot of passion and energy," said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, whose team hosts WSU this weekend.

Twitter: @tribkurt —

Pac-12 Power Rankings

1 • Washington (6-0)

Will Huskies become first Pac-12 team to go 9-0 in conference play since 2011 expansion?

2 • Utah (6-1)

Utes dropped to ninth in league in passing yards (224.3) after 42-yard effort at Oregon State

3 • Colorado (5-2)

Buffaloes held Arizona State to 199 total yards

4 • Washington State (4-2)

Washington schools are combined 6-0 in Pac-12 play for first time since 1997

5 • USC (4-3)

Sam Darnold: 11 touchdown passes, one interception since becoming starting QB

6 • Stanford (4-2)

Bryce Love: 129 rushing yards, winning touchdown at Notre Dame in relief of Christian McCaffrey

7 • UCLA (3-4)

Last six opponents have failed to produce 400 total yards vs. Bruins

8 • Arizona State (5-2)

Zane Gonzalez: Field goals of 50, 51 and 59 yards at Colorado

9 • California (3-3)

Bears allowed 777 total yards vs. Oregon last season

10 • Oregon State (2-4)

Beavers lost 52-7 to Washington last year

11 • Arizona (2-5)

QB Brandon Dawkins expected to return next week, following open date

12 • Oregon (2-4)

Ducks haven't lost five in a row since 1996