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Utes have more comfortable edge in South Division after weekend of mayhem in Pac-12

Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42), top and Utah Utes defensive back Javelin K. Guidry (28) team up to crush UCLA Bruins quarterback Wilton Speight (3) during the University of Utah versus UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California,
Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42), top and Utah Utes defensive back Javelin K. Guidry (28) team up to crush UCLA Bruins quarterback Wilton Speight (3) during the University of Utah versus UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — This past weekend couldn’t have worked any better for a Utah football team that is improving week by week as it vaults up the national rankings.

The Utes, who jumped from No. 23 to No. 16 in both the AP and Coaches polls on Sunday, hit the 40-point mark for the fourth straight week — all in the month of October — with a 41-10 throttling of UCLA at the Rose Bowl Friday night to move to 6-2 on the season and 4-2 in Pac-12 play.

Then the Utes sat back and watched mayhem ensue in the Pac-12 as none of the other favorites won games on Saturday. Of the six games played over the weekend, the only one that went according to script was Utah’s comfortable victory, and a couple of the upsets were absolutely shocking.

While Washington State’s last-minute 41-38 win at Stanford was just a mild upset, what can you say about lowly Cal beating No. 15 Washington 12-10 or Arizona State knocking off USC 38-35, the Trojans' first home loss in 19 games dating back to 2015. How about Arizona crushing No. 19 Oregon 44-15 and an abysmal Oregon State team, which had lost four Pac-12 games by an average of 30 points, coming back from a 28-point second-half deficit to beat Colorado in Boulder?

The results left Utah in terrific shape on its quest for a South Division title with two of its main threats, USC and Colorado, each taking their third loss in Pac-12 play. While Utah improved to 4-2, all five of the other teams in the South have three losses, with USC and Arizona at 3-3 and Colorado, Arizona State and UCLA at 2-3.

Next up for the Utes is Arizona State Saturday afternoon in Tempe. The Utes have only beaten the Sun Devils twice in Pac-12 play, winning in 2015 at home and 49-26 in 2016 in Arizona. Last year, the Sun Devils came to Salt Lake and whipped the Utes 30-10.

Now the Utes can almost coast to the title with a chance to win the South even with a loss in one of their last three games. The Utes hold the tiebreaker over USC, Arizona and UCLA, although if they lose to either Arizona State or Colorado, they would need one of those two teams to lose another game.

ASU plays UCLA at home next week and finishes with road games at Oregon and Arizona, while Colorado has road games at Arizona and Cal and a home game against Washington State besides the Nov. 17 game against Utah.

After next week, the Utes return home to play Oregon before going to Boulder to play Colorado in the Pac-12 finale. On Nov. 24, Utah will play rival BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah is the only school in the South Division never to play in the Pac-12 championship game. This year’s game will be played Nov. 30 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Washington State has the inside track in the North Division with a 4-1 record, while Washington is 4-2 and Stanford 3-2.

UTE NOTES: Saturday’s game kicks off at 2 p.m. MDT and will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. … The last time the Utes were ranked as high as No. 16 was the second week of November 2016, when the Utes moved up to No. 11 before a loss to Oregon. … Utah has not only scored more than 40 points in four straight games, it's won by an average of 24 points. … The Utes rank first in the nation in rushing defense (74.6 ypg), second in red zone defense, seventh in total defense (286.4 ypg), 15th in scoring defense (17.2 ppg) and 17th in passing efficiency defense. … Utah ranks 48th in the nation in total offense (425.9 ypg), while quarterback Tyler Huntley ranks 39th (257.4 ypg).