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College football predictions: Paul Myerberg picks Arizona ahead of ASU

USA Today's Paul Myerberg is a lot more cautious of the Sun Devils and a bit more optimistic about the Arizona Wildcats' upcoming season.

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Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

It was the big question during Pac-12 Media Days in Los Angeles: What do the Arizona Wildcats have to do to beat the Arizona State Sun Devils? Coach Rich Rodriguez's answer was simple enough.

Be the better team.

There are a few reasons why Todd Graham has beaten Rodriguez in the first two Duel in the Desert meetings between them. There's a reason it's a topic of conversation, so much so that one mailbag question to ESPN's Pac-12 Blog a few weeks back posited that RichRod's job could be on the line if he loses to ASU again -- no matter the Wildcats' overall record.

But few people expect Arizona to leapfrog ASU this year, especially with a myriad of unknowns including the quarterback and running back positions. The Sun Devils were picked 18th in the Amway Coaches poll and a good deal of predictions have placed them around that No. 20 range.

USA Today's Paul Myerberg, however, sees things differently. In his preview series countdown, he ranked Arizona State 47th and Arizona 26th.

Let's take this one at a time. Graham's team is indeed rebuilding an entirely new defense having lost the likes of defensive tackle Will Sutton, Devinbacker Carl Bradford and cornerback Osahon Irabor, among others. Offense shouldn't be a problem with perhaps the most dangerous quarterback-receiver one-two punch in the Pac-12 (Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong) and enough team speed to satisfy an SEC elite.

The Wildcats' issues are obviously more scattered, but likewise bets will be hedged on the offense being plenty productive and defense using speed rather than strength.

Maybe the separation in Myerberg's mind -- his previews actually read equally optimistic about the rivals' offenses and equally concerned regarding the defenses -- comes in that Jeff Casteel's defenses have typically overachieved. A little bit of depth and enough returning players should line the Wildcats up for a major step forward, perhaps.

UCLA is the clear pick to win the Pac-12 South, but there should be a strong push from ASU, Arizona and USC to make things murky in the middle of the pack. What the league and its media entities hope for is a regular season finale between Arizona and ASU perhaps answering RichRod's simplistic analysis of the rivalry in the last two years.

Myerberg might have to wait until the head-to-head matchup to be proven correct or not. Will Arizona finally be the better team?