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Arizona football: Improving against Pac-12 South rivals is pivotal for Wildcats to reach new heights

To continue to compete for Pac-12 Championships, Arizona will need to improve against Pac-12 South rivals

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In the past three years, Rich Rodriguez has led Arizona to three 8+ win seasons, a Pac-12 South Championship and a Fiesta Bowl appearance. Not bad. He has amassed 26 wins in three years. going 9-0 in non-conference play, 7-5 vs. the Pac-12 North, 8-7 vs. the Pac-12 South, and 2-2 in championship/bowl games.

The last three years, Rich Rodriguez was able to pull off a top-10 upset and reach seven wins in the regular season. We saw it in 2012 with USC, and in 2013 and 2014 against Oregon.

But it's no longer who can Arizona beat, it's who can beat Arizona.

He's now a victim of his own success, elevating the program to higher expectations. In just a matter of three years, an eight win season might be considered a disappointment to some. The expectation is certainly nine wins, with 10 wins seeming very manageable for the staff, considering the progression of the team, talented incoming recruits and unconditional support.

The Pac-12 South is now known as one of the toughest divisions in all of college football, rivaling the SEC West. With four other South teams ranked for a large portion of last season -- thanks to the steady improvement of Arizona and Utah -- there's been a shift in power. The Pac-12 South has proved to be far superior to the Pac-12 North.

But for Rich Rodriguez to elevate Arizona Football to another level and continue to compete for Pac-12 Championships, it's imperative to improve against Pac-12 South opponents -- particularly Arizona State, UCLA and USC. In his three years at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez holds a 2-7 record vs those three schools, beating No. 9 USC in 2012 and No. 13 ASU in 2014 for the Pac-12 South.

We know that Arizona can beat Colorado, and things don't seem to be getting much better for the Buffs. Utah is now starting to reap the benefits of the Pac-12, with an emergence in recruiting and better feel of the conference. Arizona State and Arizona will ultimately be neck and neck going forward as long as Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez are both present. USC will be a top dog, hauling in unprecedented talent, but the question mark lies on Steve Sarkisian and his ability to coach. Jim Mora has put UCLA back on track, bringing in top talent and competing for Pac-12 Championships.

The Pac-12 South is on a completely new level, and for Rich Rodriguez to continue to gain the respect from across the nation and compete for Pac-12 Championships, beating the Pac-12 South rivals will be pivotal for this program.

Arizona has a great chance to repeat as Pac-12 South Champs, and the way the Pac-12 North is looking, a Pac-12 Conference Championship doesn't seem unrealistic either. This is a big year for Rich Rodriguez and his team to prove that last year was no fluke, and that Arizona is here to stay as a power in more than just the Pac-12.