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USC's recovery would be one of the biggest stories of the Pac-12 football season, except the revival may have started too late.

The Trojans need considerable help from opponents of Colorado and Utah in order to repeat as the Pac-12 South champions. The Buffaloes and Utes, meanwhile, know they'll claim the title if they win their last three games — including the rivalry contest Nov. 26 in Boulder.

Those schools also have to cheer against USC this weekend. That's because they need Washington, which hosts the Trojans, to make the College Football Playoff and keep an avenue to the Rose Bowl open for the South winner.

The Rose Bowl will select a Pac-12 replacement if the conference champion is in the Playoff — and is obligated to pick the next-highest-ranked team in the final CFP standings. So the Utah-Colorado winner could lose to Washington in the Pac-12 title game and go to Pasadena, as long as the Huskies remain unbeaten.

USC is Washington's biggest test, along with the Huskies' Nov. 25 trip to Washington State. The Trojans (6-3) have won five straight games since a 31-27 loss at Utah on Sept. 23, when Ute quarterback Troy Williams led a 93-yard drive for the winning touchdown.

Washington coach Chris Petersen labeled USC "completely different" from September, saying "the really good teams improve as the year goes on, and they're one of those teams."

USC quarterback Sam Darnold proved to be a discovery vs. Utah, but there's more to the Trojans' rise than just his development. "I've always believed it's a big man's game," said USC coach Clay Helton, citing the Trojans' run-stopping ability and pass protection as key components.

Helton also said the Trojans "gained a lot of confidence" in a losing effort at Rice-Eccles Stadium, having prepared well and played well in a tough environment. He hopes that experience will help USC at Husky Stadium, in front of 70,000 fans.

Saturday's atmosphere is what Petersen was hoping to restore when he arrived in Seattle. "When it's filled up at capacity, it truly is the greatest setting in college football," Petersen said.

Getting hot

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, from Logan High School, completed 22 passes in a row vs. Arizona during a 32-of-35 day as he threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns. Washington's Jake Browning was 19 of 28 for 378 yards and six touchdowns at California last weekend.

Add it up, and the future Apple Cup contestants were 51 of 63 for 689 yards and 10 scores, with no interceptions.

WSU's offense is designed for a high completion percentage, but Falk's 91.7 mark was exceptional — a Pac-12 record for 30-plus attempts. "It's funny, I didn't notice it at the time," WSU coach Mike Leach said of Falk's streak. "We were just kind of playing efficiently."

Leach credited improved pass protection for Falk's success. "Luke, if he's got plenty of time, is a pretty dangerous guy," he said.

Trendy picks

As this season has unfolded, a couple of themes have emerged: Colorado can't be this good and Oregon can't be this bad.

Those are the oddsmaking trends, anyway. Colorado is 8-1 vs. the point spread, according to analyst RJ Bell, a record topped only by Temple (9-1). At the other extreme, Arizona is 1-8 and Oregon is 1-7-1.

This week, Colorado is favored by 15 points at Arizona and Oregon is a three-point underdog vs. Stanford.

Twitter: @tribkurt —

Tribune Power Rankings: Pac-12 football

1. Washington (9-0) • Jake Browning: 38 touchdowns, four interceptions in last 12 games.

2. Utah (7-2) • Utes are one of five teams to make every CFP ranking over past three seasons (Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State).

3. Colorado (7-2) • Buffaloes' defense has created a takeaway in a nation-leading 22 straight games.

4. Washington State (7-2) • Cougars are 6-0 in conference play for first time since 2002.

5. USC (6-3) • Sam Darnold effect: Trojans have topped 500 total yards in each of five straight wins.

6. Stanford (6-3) • Christian McCaffrey alert: Next three opponents rank 107th or worse in rushing defense.

7. Arizona State (5-4) • Troy Williams alert: Sun Devils allowed 297 passing yards by Utah's Travis Wilson last season.

8. California (4-5) • Bears allowed 66 points to Washington, matching Alabama's total vs. Cal in 1973.

9. UCLA (3-6) • Bruins' biggest margin of defeat is 10 points.

10. Oregon (3-6) • Ducks' run of 11 winning seasons in serious jeopardy, even before Utah trip.

11. Oregon State (2-7) • Gary Andersen's two-year record 4-17 overall, 1-14 in Pac-12.

12. Arizona (2-7) • Wildcats' last seven-game losing streak came in 2004, starting with Utah.