Even if the Huskies manage to survive the rest of their schedule, the cupcakes will doom them in the eyes of the playoff committee.
TEMPE, Ariz. — A second trip to the College Football Playoff? Not happening this season. A chance to improve upon last year’s loss in the semifinal? That disappeared.
With the worst performance in the Chris Petersen era, Washington lost to Arizona State 13-7 in front of the whole country Saturday night. And when it comes to the Huskies’ chances of playing for a national title, well, the Sun Devils stuck a fork in ‘em.
Maybe this seems like a stuck-in-the-moment overreaction, but the optics on this loss are bad. Condescending as ESPN’s “cupcakes” stunt was last week, the argument was valid.
The playoff committee isn’t going to reward a one-loss team that played one of the weaker nonconference schedules in the country. Especially a one-loss team that crept into the playoffs last year with an equally flimsy nonconference slate.
Using last season against this year’s Huskies might not be fair, but it will likely be the reality. The committee doesn’t want to encourage soft scheduling going forward, and barring a complete collapse by several other schools at the top of the rankings — it would be tacitly doing that by putting UW in the final four.
But after watching that game Saturday, I’m not sure the quality of Washington’s previous opponents even matter. Because based on the quality of their future opponents, I don’t think they can go the rest of the season unscathed.
Sure, Tempe has been a brutal road trip for the Huskies for most of this century, but ASU — a 17-point underdog — wasn’t supposed to be the foe that gave them their first L. Entering the game with the 11th-worst defense in the country, the Sun Devils looked like the ’85 Bears vs. UW.
Midway through the second quarter, Washington (6-1, 3-1 in conference) had 20 yards of total offense, and just eight passing yards from quarterback Jake Browning, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year. They finished with 230 yards on 48 plays, good for 4.79 yards per play.
It would be one thing if the Huskies’ seven points was the result of bonehead turnovers or shoddy officiating. But this was simply an incessant failure to move the ball.
“We need to get a fire lit under the offense’s ass,” said Browning, who seemed far more angry than he was sad after the game. “Because the defense played lights out. We gotta play better.”
Do you really think an offense capable of such inertia can win out? That it can go through UCLA, Stanford, Oregon, Utah and Washington State — all of which have been in the AP Top 25 at one point this season — and then beat the Pac-12 South champ?
The odds of that lie between slim and none, and are probably closer to the latter.
Of course, Saturday’s defeat doesn’t fall on the offense alone. Not when the special teams unit had a punt blocked and missed field goals from 27 and 21 yards. And not when coach Chris Petersen decided to lean on that unit when his team desperately needed seven points.
Down 13-0 in the final minute of the third quarter, the Huskies had it fourth and 2 from the ASU 4. But instead of attempting to make it a one-score game, Petersen called for a field goal, which resulted in a clank off the right upright.
Petersen said he thought finally getting on the scoreboard might give his team a boost it had lacked all night long. But a touchdown in that situation would have altered the game immensely.
Instead, ASU didn’t feel that one-score pressure that tends to prompt mistakes.
What’s done is done now, though. And truth be told, the Sun Devils (3-3, 2-1) simply outplayed the Huskies Saturday. They deserved that win, and UW will have to live with the result.
After the game, UW players were visibly dismayed — particularly receiver Dante Pettis, who was fighting back tears.
“It sucks. Any loss sucks. It doesn’t matter how much we’re favored by, if you lose a game it’s tough, especially at the way we’ve been playing,” Pettis said. “We’ve been playing at a pretty a high level. Today wasn’t up to our standard. We know that. They executed game plan and we didn’t execute ours.”
It’s not as if the Huskies can’t still have a proud season. They can win the Pac-12 North, and maybe even the conference championship.
But the chance to win a national title? That’s going to have to wait.