No. 4 Huskies to play No. 1 Alabama in the first national semifinal at the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.
The Washington Huskies are playoff bound.
They had to sweat it out, but the Huskies (12-1) were selected the No. 4 seed for the College Football Playoff on Sunday morning and will play No. 1 Alabama in the Peach Bowl.
It’s No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State in the other national semifinal, to be played at the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona.
It’s the Huskies’ first national playoff berth in the three-year history of the CFP.
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After much discussion for the first 30 minutes on ESPN’s selection show, the top three teams — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State — were announced, and then there was another short debate about who would be No. 4.
Finally, the Huskies were announced.
“It was a little nerve-wracking. I think you guys drew it out a long as you possibly could,” UW coach Chris Petersen said a short time later on ESPN.
The Peach Bowl is scheduled for a noon PT kickoff on Dec. 31 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The two semifinal winners will play for the national championship in Tampa on Jan. 9.
On Friday night, the Huskies won their first Pac-12 championship since 2000 with a 41-10 victory over Colorado in Santa Clara, Calif.
There was much public debate about whether Washington, ranked No. 4 by the CFP committee last week, would lose its place in the top four based on Penn State’s victory in the Big Ten championship Saturday night. The case for Penn State (11-2) was it won what is widely regarded as the best conference and handed Ohio State its lone loss.
The Huskies have been knocked all season for an out-of-conference strength of schedule that ranks 127th out of 128 FBS teams. UW defeated Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State — all at home — in September.
CFP committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said the committee spent “considerable time” on Saturday night and again Sunday morning debating Washington vs. Penn State at No. 4.
“Because of Washington’s strength of schedule, their margin for error was very slim. I think our discussions and our decision would have been much easier if Washington would have had a stronger strength of schedule,” Hocutt said in a conference call.
The Huskies’ resume features a 44-6 rout of then-No. 7 Stanford, a 31-24 victory at then-No. 17 Utah, a 45-17 rout of then-No. 23 Washington State and Friday’s Pac-12 championship romp — “a very convincing” victory, as Hocutt described it.
UW’s lone loss was a 26-13 defeat at home to a USC team ranked No. 10 by the CFP this week. Penn State (11-2) lost at Pittsburgh and had a 39-point loss to Michigan.
“As we looked at those key statistics from an offensive standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, from starting field position differential, the edge was to Washington,” Hocutt said. “You look at turnover margin, Washington ranks first in the country in turnover margin compared to Penn State, ranking 50.”
Former UW coach Tyrone Willingham is one of five former coaches on the 12-person CFP committee.
“As we looked to our coaches to share their perspective on what they saw on the field, it was determined that Washington was the more talented team,” Hocutt said.
Washington is 0-4 all-time vs. Alabama. Their last meeting was at the 1986 Sun Bowl, where Alabama won 28-6. They also played in 1978, 1975 and at the 1926 Rose Bowl, won by the Crimson Tide 20-19.
“It’s certainly the biggest challenge we’ll ever face,” Petersen said. “We’ve got nothing but respect for those guys.”
Alabama, the defending national champion, is in the CFP for the third year in a row.
“Fortunately the Seahawks are here in town, maybe they’ll scrimmage us to get us ready,” Petersen joked.
The game against Alabama will be a reunion of sorts for the Huskies and former UW coach Steve Sarkisian, who has been working as an offensive analyst for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide this season.
Former UW assistant Tosh Lupoi is also the Alabama coaching staff.