Ridiculous question, or reasonable one?
What if Washington fans should root for UCLA on Friday night, and if the Bruins lose, pull for Oregon the next day? A Bruins or Ducks win, after all, would ensure that the Huskies be kept out of the Pac-12 Championship Game regardless of what happens in the Apple Cup.
Perhaps that sounds more like flagellation than it does fandom, but I’ve heard this point brought up by multiple people over the past few days. The idea is if 12th-ranked UW (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) beats Washington State (7-4, 4-4) in Pullman, it ensures itself a 10-2 record and a very plausible shot at a New Year’s Six bowl — most likely the Cotton. There is even the possibility that the Huskies slide into the Rose Bowl — still dripping with prestige — should USC win out and reach the College Football Playoff.
What would derail these destinations, of course, would be a loss in the Pac-12 title game, which would hand the Huskies defeat No. 3 and likely drop them out of the top 15. It’s probably not something on the forefront of most Washington die-hards’ minds at the moment — not after what happened at the hands of the Cougs on Montlake last year — but it isn’t something to dismiss entirely.
Could there be a benefit to avoiding a 13th game until bowl season?
It’s doubtful many expected the Huskies to be in this position before the year began. Not after a 4-8 finish in 2021 that was underscored by the firing of coach Jimmy Lake. To already nab nine victories in the ensuing season — one of which came on the road vs. then-No. 6 Oregon — makes 2022 a success no matter what happens against WSU on Saturday.
But what if Washington were to play in the Cotton Bowl? That would make 2022 a true achievement for the Huskies. When you think back to the Chris Petersen era not so long ago, there were the two Pac-12 titles that resulted in a trip to the College Football Playoff and Rose Bowl — but there also was that 10-win team in 2017 that found its way into the Fiesta Bowl between those league championships. That was the bridge year that solidified Petersen’s legacy as an all-time great Husky coach, and reaching a similar bowl would be a hell of an opening-year statement for new coach Kalen DeBoer.
Moreover, if the Huskies were excluded from the Pac-12 title game — the most likely scenario even with a win over Washington State — there is a chance they could squeeze into the Rose Bowl. The feeling is that if USC wins out and Georgia is able to topple LSU in the SEC Championship Game, the Trojans would advance to the CFP and allow another Pac-12 team to compete in Pasadena.
That trip has always been the goal for Washington if the CFP is out of the mix, and it would upgrade the season from special to spectacular. And if USC were to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, it’s almost impossible to think a three-loss Ducks team would get the nod to the Granddaddy of Them All over a UW squad to which they lost.
These are scenarios you think about as a Washington coach or player or fan who not only wants to end the season on the highest note possible but signal to the country that the Huskies are on the rise. The program has made that case already, to be sure, but falling short in the conference title game would likely spur a slide to a lesser bowl and scrape much of the shine off the season. But that’s only if they fall short.
My thought is that every Husky fan alive should be pulling for Cal to beat UCLA and Oregon State to beat Oregon. You know DeBoer is doing so. Asked if he was rooting for the Ducks against Utah on Saturday, which kept UW in the conference-title hunt, he stated the obvious.
“Oh yeah. We’re still selfish in all of this, right?,” DeBoer said. “We need to do what’s best for us, and at the time that’s what was best for us.”
When you suit up, you play to win. And when you keep winning, you try to play for championships. That’s what the Huskies want and what their fans should want as well — especially knowing they can beat anyone in this conference.
But if you are a member of the Husky faithful, don’t let the outcomes of other games dictate your mood Saturday. A win over Washington State solidifies 2022 as a premier season — and puts the Huskies in prime position going forward no matter what.