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Look who’s leading the Pac-12: Cal and Arizona

DENVER — Surprise, Arizona is leading the Pac-12 South standings.

Even bigger surprise, California is on top in the North.

Raise your hand if you thought those two programs would be out front before the season began.

Sure, it’s still way early, but the Wildcats (5-0, 2-0), who went from unranked to No. 10 this week, and the Bears (4-1, 2-1) are on track to meet in the title game on Dec. 5, if they each take care of business.

Of course, that’s much easier said than accomplished in this unpredictable, anything-tends-to-happen-including-Hail-Mary-passes conference.

“There’s so much parity in the league,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, whose team was picked to finish last in the North in a preseason media poll, while the Wildcats were picked fourth in the South. “Every Saturday is going to be an adventure.”

Especially last weekend for the Bears. Jared Goff threw for 527 yards and five touchdowns and yet Cal still had to hold on to beat Washington State, 60-59. That’s because Cougars QB Connor Halliday broke the NCAA passing record by throwing for a Madden video game-esque 734 yards and six scores.

Nothing comes easy in this quarterback-driven league.

“There are no gimmes,” Dykes said. “It’s such a tough league. It’s frustrating for everybody.”

Dykes can say that because his only conference loss was against Arizona last month — on a desperation heave where receiver Austin Hill brought down a 47-yard pass in the back of the end zone.

That was one of a few successful Hail Mary passes around the league. The results have shaken up the conference standings.

USC could be at the top of the South had it not been for Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong plucking a 46-yard TD pass out of the night sky for an improbable 38-34 win.

“Throughout the course of the season, there are going to be a lot of close games,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

In other words, don’t read too much into anything just yet, especially with all the upsets occurring all over the country.

“All the polls are nice for the fans, but they’re all going to be presumptuous,” Rodriguez said. “The power-five conferences have so much more parity than they’ve ever had. There’s so much more that’s going to happen over the next six or seven weeks.”

Still, it’s been a nice ride for Rodriguez this season, especially after being run out at Michigan after going 15-22 in three seasons. He doesn’t think he’s all that different of a coach now than he was when he was with the Wolverines.

The biggest change? Easy, Rodriguez has been given time and freedom to turn things around.

“People say, ‘Well, you weren’t the right fit at Michigan,’” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes, people see what they want to see. That, to me, is kind of silly.

“If you’ve got a plan and a program you want to put in place, and you’re allowed the time to install that and see it through, then it will be the right fit.”

Rodriguez has been keeping tabs on what’s happening with Brady Hoke, the coach who replaced him at Michigan and has now fallen under scrutiny.

“We thought we fought through it all, and had we had a chance to see it through in the fourth or fifth year, thought we had a chance to compete for a championship,” Rodriguez said of his Michigan days. “Didn’t happen. Didn’t get to year four. That was unfortunate.

“But we’re going to get to year four at Arizona.”

HAIL MARY, REVISTED: Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre’s father, George, a longtime college coach himself, was once beaten early in his career on a Hail Mary play. Mike MacIntyre said he never heard the end of it growing up. That’s why the Buffaloes practice defending the desperation play at least twice a week.

“I feel like we’re pretty prepared for it,” MacIntyre said.

Then again, so did Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian.

“We hadn’t been a part of one in a long time. All of a sudden, two in two weeks,” said Sarkisian, whose team also caught one before the halftime gun against Oregon State.

NOTES AROUND THE PAC-12: MacIntyre was fined $10,000 by the league for his conduct toward officials following the Buffaloes’ loss to Oregon State on Saturday. ... Washington State coach Mike Leach said he will never welcome cameras into the locker room for his postgame speech. “We share nearly everything else with the outside,” he said. “Players and coaches need to be able to focus on their business.” ... Stanford coach David Shaw wasn’t surprised to see Halliday throw for 734 yards. “It was only a matter of time,” Shaw said, referring to the Cougars’ pass first and often offensive system.

Arizona is 5-0 and Cal 4-1. It's early, but they are on track to meet in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5. AP PHOTO