For the Huskies or Cougars to make the playoffs, there would have to be a confluence of events occurring that make it possible, and that makes this whole scenario a decided longshot. But longshot is a far cry from no shot.
What Husky football fans really want to be told is that they still have a playoff chance — and better than the one-out-of-a-million odds that made Jim Carrey so gleeful in “Dumb and Dumber.”
With their excruciatingly timed bye, the faithful has had nearly two weeks now to stew about Washington’s hopes of returning to the College Football Playoff. You can’t soft-play how harmful the defeat to Arizona State was to that cause — though not as harmful as Washington State’s thrashing by Cal was to the Cougars.
But I’m here to tell you that Washington isn’t done yet. Nor, for that matter, is Washington State. It’s no lock for either, even if they win out (which obviously would entail knocking their rival out of contention in the Apple Cup). There would have to be a confluence of events occurring that make it possible, and that makes this whole scenario a decided longshot.
But longshot is a far cry from no shot.
We all know what the Huskies and Cougars have working against them. The Pac-12’s reputation was already flagging even before USC was throttled last weekend by Notre Dame — a major blow to the conference’s playoff aspirations. We don’t have to rehash Washington’s weak nonconference schedule, though it’s actually starting to look slightly better than it once did. Rutgers is 2-2 in the Big Ten, and Fresno State is 5-2 with a victory over the same San Diego State team that damaged the Pac-12’s reputation by beating both Stanford and Arizona State. Washington State’s best nonconference win was over Boise State, which is also 5-2 with a win over San Diego State.
If you want to talk cupcakes, check out, say, undefeated Wisconsin, which hasn’t yet played a team with a winning record. And the Pac-12 needs to hammer home the point, yet again, that their ninth league game is like the equivalent of a tough nonconference foe, considering the extreme balance in the middle of the conference.
Working against Washington is also the fact that the Huskies made it somewhat controversially into the playoffs last year and then lost 24-7 to Alabama — though not as bad a defeat, in retrospect, as Ohio State suffered to Clemson in the other semifinal (31-0). SEC-centric radio host Paul Finebaum, in an admittedly theatrical fashion, was probably speaking for many when he said recently of Washington, “Get them out of my sight. Last year they wiggled their way into the playoff with an embarrassing nonconference schedule, and they’re not going to do it this time.”
But the Huskies and Cougars don’t have to win over Finebaum. They have to win over the 13-member CFP selection committee, which releases its first playoff rankings Tuesday.
How can they do that? All the Huskies and Cougars can control, of course, is winning the remainder of their games, which is essential. Beyond that, it would help immensely if Notre Dame won out — until it played Stanford on Nov. 25. For this scenario to work, Stanford must beat Notre Dame, providing not just a damaging second loss for the Irish, but also giving the Pac-12 the signature win it desperately needs. Both Washington and WSU still have Stanford on its schedule.
Also beneficial for Washington would be if Arizona State ran the table to take a 9-3 record into the Pac-12 title game, where the Huskies could avenge their only loss. Or, conversely, if USC won out (which would mean beating Arizona State), enabling the Huskies or Cougars to vanquish a 10-2 Trojan team that still has a prestigious name.
Of course, none of this will matter if a few things occur, such as four other Power Five teams remaining unbeaten. History says that won’t happen, but the Huskies and Cougars would be hurting even when juxtaposed against certain one-loss teams, like Notre Dame, Penn State and/or Ohio State, or even Alabama. The Pac-12’s nightmare scenario is for unbeaten Georgia to hand Alabama its first loss in the SEC title game, thus paving the way for two teams from the same conference to make it to the playoffs for the first time. If Notre Dame also won out, that would leave four Power Five conferences vying for one remaining spot, which wouldn’t bode well.
So what the Huskies and Cougars need most of all is chaos. And the good news is that chaos is what college football does best. Just look back at the recent period in which, in a short span, Oklahoma lost to Iowa State, Clemson lost to Syracuse, Washington State lost to Cal and Washington lost to Arizona State.
Logic says that more upsets will come, and for the Huskies and Cougars, the more the merrier — as long as they keep winning. History says it’s just as much of a near-certainty that two-loss teams will be left out of the playoffs as it is that undefeated teams will make it. Although it’s hard to imagine the SEC and Big Ten not producing a playoff team, there’s certainly wide-open paths for chaos in the ACC and Big 12. The Cougars’ loss to a mediocre Cal team could still sink them, but at 12-1 it would be hard to bypass them for a two-loss team.
In fact, Pac-12 Network analyst Yogi Roth believes that Washington and Washington State are still in control of their fate.
“I do think if they win out, they’ll get in,’’ he said. “I really do.”
Roth is aware, of course, that if Notre Dame keeps winning, and Alabama, Penn State and Miami (or TCU, or Georgia, or Wisconsin) remain unbeaten, all bets are off. But he thinks the Pac-12, which now really means Washington and Washington State, is being written off far too prematurely.
“I do think the argument of the Pac-12 will pick up,’’ he said. “It’s quiet now because the biggest brand in the West, USC, got smoked, and the last time they saw UW play they were upset by an ASU team that’s not one of the more well-known programs. What’s picking up steam is Stanford with Bryce Love — and both Washington and Washington State still play them.”
One more proviso, Roth says: Don’t put much stock in the first CFP rankings. It rarely resembles the one that matters: The last one. Which, against all odds, could possibly still include Washington or Washington State if they manage to post a 12-1 record.
So, yes, I’m telling you there’s a chance.