This is not the year a two-loss team makes the College Football Playoff — and even one-loss Washington faces long odds.
The one-loss Huskies stand as the Pac-12’s only reasonable hope for a berth to the College Football Playoff, and their path opened incrementally with the carnage in the Big Ten East over the weekend.
There are several steps of varying likelihood remaining, over and above UW running the table, and one of those steps moves into the spotlight this week: Notre Dame, which visits undefeated Miami, needs another loss.
Problem is, an Irish loss Saturday would increase the chances of zero-loss Miami meeting one-loss Clemson for the ACC title. The winner would assuredly block UW’s path.
A Notre Dame victory would undermine Miami’s playoff push but help the Irish, which finish the season with Navy (home) and Stanford (road). Win both, and the Irish would be a lock for the playoff.
Now, about the Huskies being the Pac-12’s only reasonable hope …
I have been asked about this issue numerous times, and the explanation seems fairly straightforward:
For a two-loss team to make the playoffs — it will happen eventually — those losses seemingly would have to be of the absolute highest quality. In other words, close losses to other quality teams … Like Penn State winning the Big Ten with a one-point loss at Ohio State and a three-point loss at Michigan State … Or Auburn winning the SEC with a close loss at Clemson and a close loss at LSU.
(I don’t expect the Nittany Lions or Tigers to make the CFP this year. Those are just examples of the profile required.)
When a two-loss team sneaks in, it almost certainly won’t be Washington State with a cupcake nonconference schedule and a blowout loss at Cal. It won’t be USC with a 35-point loss at Notre Dame.
For both the Cougars and Trojans, we’re a tick this side of never-say-never. Otherwise, it’s UW or bust for the Pac-12, assistance required.
Fiesta Bowl/New Year’s Six: Washington (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12)
Projected conference champ but not enough schedule juice or devastation in other conferences to create the needed path into the playoff. Fiesta vs. Oklahoma or Penn State wouldn’t be bad.
Alamo Bowl: USC (8-2, 6-1)
Expecting the Trojans to win out in the South but lose the title game to Washington. At 9-3 and ranked in the top 15ish, they would be a scoop-and-score for the Alamo as a first-time participant from the second-biggest TV market.
Holiday Bowl: Arizona (6-3, 4-2)
Current Hotline projections give the Holiday the choice of Washington State (participated last year), Arizona State (participated in 2013), Stanford (never participated but does not have Khalil Tate) and Arizona (does have Khalil Tate).
Foster Farms Bowl: Washington State (8-2, 5-2)
With nine wins and the duo of Mike Leach and Luke Falk, the Cougars easily clear the quality and entertainment bars for the Foster Farms.
Sun Bowl: Arizona State (5-4, 4-2)
Starting with the Sun, bowls must take teams in order of finish. Good folks in El Paso had best hope they aren’t forced into a repeat situation with Stanford (’16), but WSU (’15) and ASU (’15) aren’t much better as options.
Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford (6-3, 5-2)
With Washington, Cal and Notre Dame left and the offense completely out of sync, the Cardinal could fall a long way down the conference bowl lineup. Vegas officials might not complain about having a first-timer with a Heisman candidate.
Cactus Bowl: Oregon (5-5, 2-5)
Expecting Justin Herbert to play in the final two games and Oregon to win both, which would make the seven-win Ducks an easy call for the Cactus.
At-large: Utah (5-4, 2-4)
Utes have three chances to win one game, but that’s really two chances to win one game because the finish includes a trip to Seattle. If they don’t beat WSU at home this week, they must beat CU in the finale.
Not currently projected to qualify: Cal (5-5, 2-5), UCLA (4-5, 2-4) and Colorado (5-5, 2-5)
Eliminated: Oregon State (1-8, 0-6)