Here’s a primer on what it will take in the season’s second half for the Huskies, idle this weekend, to earn their first CFP berth.
The Washington Huskies’ road to the College Football Playoff is paved in gold. It’s flat, fresh and straightforward:
Win and you’re in, the road signs read.
It is that simple.
Whom to impress
The College Football Playoff committee is composed of 12 members who will meet once a week starting at the end of October.
The committee’s first ranking of 2016 is to be released Nov. 1. Here are the 12 members:
Kirby Hocutt (chair): Texas Tech AD
Barry Alvarez: Wisconsin AD
Jeff Bower: former Southern Mississippi coach*
Herb Deromedi: former Central Michigan coach*
Tom Jernstedt: former NCAA vice president
Bobby Johnson: former Vanderbilt coach
Jeff Long: Arkansas AD*
Rob Mullens: Oregon AD
Dan Radakovich: Clemson AD
Condoleezza Rice: Stanford professor/former Secretary of State
Steve Wieberg: former USA Today college reporter
Tyrone Willingham: former UW/Stanford/Notre Dame coach
And yet it is, of course, not that simple at all.
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In their perfect first half of the season, the Huskies have turned heads near and far. They’re the shiny new sports car in the neighborhood everyone wants a peek at. They’re 6-0, ranked fifth in the polls and, yes, in the driver’s seat racing toward their first Pac-12 championship since 2000.
Still, they’re only halfway there, and the journey promises to have a few roadblocks. Here’s a primer on what it will take in the season’s second half for the Huskies, idle this weekend, to earn their first CFP berth:
The CFP, now in its third year as the successor to the Bowl Championship Series (good riddance), matches the top four teams in two national semifinal games, with the two winning teams then meeting in a national championship game.
At this point, ESPN projects Washington as the No. 4 seed in the playoff, with a semifinal matchup against No. 1 Alabama at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson are projected to play in the other semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. Both games are scheduled for New Year’s Eve.
The CFP championship game is set for Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla. This being college football, there figures to be much chaos before then.
Playoff teams are selected by a 12-person committee, which will release its first set of rankings Nov. 1. Among the committee members are former Washington coach Tyrone Willingham and current Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, who saw up close the Huskies’ 70-21 destruction of the Ducks in Eugene a week ago.
The committee has outlined five criteria that distinguishes “among otherwise comparable teams by considering:”
1. Winning a conference championship
2. Strength of schedule
3. Head-to-head competition
4. Comparative outcomes of common opponents (“without incenting margin of victory”)
5. Other relevant factors, such as key injuries
Play along here: If the Huskies do win their final six games and then win the Dec. 2 Pac-12 championship game — which would make them 13-0 — they’re a lock to earn a playoff bid. They would have criteria No. 1 covered.
“If they go unbeaten, they’re in. There won’t be any question about it,” said George Schroeder, a USA Today college football writer who participated in a mock playoff selection recently hosted by the CFP.
Things would get muddled should the Huskies trip up somewhere along the way. “If they lose once,” Schroeder said, “it’s going to get iffy.”
In that scenario, UW would likely be one of several one-loss teams under consideration by the committee, which would then make criteria No. 2 the probable tiebreaker, of sorts. And in that scenario, UW is vulnerable.
Through six weeks, the Huskies’ strength of schedule ranks 36th nationally — well behind the other five (Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Texas A&M) top playoff contenders at the season’s midpoint, according to ESPN.
In out-of-league play, Rutgers was UW’s lone Power 5 conference opponent — the Huskies won the season opener 48-13 — and Rutgers might be the worst team in the Big Ten.
“That,” Schroeder said, “is a problem (for UW).”
Six games remain on the regular-season schedule for the Huskies: three at home, three on the road. Yogi Roth, an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks, expects UW to win them all.
The Huskies’ Oct. 29 trip to Utah looms as the most challenging game left, Roth said. The No. 21 Utes, at 5-1, are the only other team in the Pac-12 ranked after six weeks.
The Apple Cup in Pullman on Nov. 27 also is shaping up to be a classic showdown that could decide the Pac-12 North champion.
More than anything, though, Roth said the one thing the Huskies will have to guard against are the issues many highly-ranked teams face: complacency.
“I honestly think the biggest challenge is being 18 to 22 years old — and (maintaining) the focus that’s necessary week in and week out,” he said. “… Getting up and remaining focused every week when everybody tells you how sweet you are. And, again, that’s the first time (in this position) for this program and these kids in a really long time. It’s kind of like, when they get in the facility they can lock the doors and not do interviews — or whatever the principles are — but it’s when they get out, what are the principles? What’s the focus like? The nutrition, the sleep — all the little things in late November that allow you to play your best.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue (for the Huskies), but that is the biggest element that exists.”
If there’s a debate within the CFP committee involving UW late in the season, one other element that could factor against the Huskies is the strength of the Pac-12 this season. Relative to recent years, the perception is the Pac-12 is “down” this season.
Two years ago, in the inaugural CFP, a one-loss Oregon team got in as the No. 2 seed. Last year, the Pac-12 champion — two-loss Stanford — was left out.
The Huskies have outscored Oregon and Stanford 114-27 the past two weeks.
Washington opened the year with 60-1 odds to win the national championship, according to Bovada. In June, those odds improved to 30-1.
This past week, they were at 6-1 — which gave UW the third-best odds of anyone in college football, tied with Clemson and behind only Alabama and Ohio State (both 5-to-2).
The Huskies are indeed squarely in the CFP conversation — go ahead, dream big — and ESPN gives them a 67.9-percent chance to win the Pac-12 title. Do that, and the Huskies have a great shot at their first playoff appearance.
Win out and they’re in for sure.
A loss or two before the end of the regular season? Well, the Rose Bowl has never been a bad consolation.
|Strength of schedule|
|The Huskies’ strength of schedule ranking sags well below the other top contenders for a CFP berth:|