5 Reasons Washington Will Make the College Football Playoff
Though Washington lost to USC at home, they’re still on track to reach the College Football Playoff. Here are five reasons they’ll make the playoff field.
If we were still in the BCS era, Washington would have effectively played itself out of a chance to compete for the national championship when they lost to the Trojans at home in Week 11. But no team with a chance of winning a Power Five conference is truly out of the hunt until the final College Football Playoff rankings are released after Championship Weekend in December.
This week Washington came in at sixth in the CFP rankings, slotting in behind Louisville in the race for one of the four spots in the semifinal games. With three weeks left until the postseason field is locked in, there is still a lot of football to be played. Washington is still in the thick of the playoff race, despite last week’s loss, so let’s dive in and look at the five main reasons why Washington will be prepping to play in the semifinal at either the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
1. Washington has a Heisman hopeful at QB
Jake Browning struggled against Southern Cal, completing fewer than 50 percent of his passees and throwing multiple interceptions in a game for the first time this season. This is more likely an anomaly than a harbinger of things to come for the sophomore quarterback, who remains in the top three nationally in passing efficiency even after the loss. Browning has more touchdown passes than any Power Five quarterback, trailing only Toledo’s Logan Woodside in the stat.
The Huskies quarterback has thrown for over 2500 yards and 35 scores at this ponit of the season, and he’s also shown an ability to scramble with four rushing touchdowns in 2016. Browning is in the hunt for a ticket to Manhattan to attend the Heisman presentation next month. While he is not among the frontrunners for the trophy, Browning provides Washington with one of the most important ingredients of any championship team — strong play from the quarterback position.
2. Washington has a balanced offense
The key for Washington is that its offense isn’t entirely predicated on getting big games from its start quarterback. Browning has benefitted from a strong receiving corps that includes John Ross, who has recovered from a 2015 sidelined by two knee surgeries to become one of the most dangerous receivers in college. Ross has more touchdown catches than any Power Five receiver, only one behind Louisiana Tech’s Carlos Henderson.
The Huskies also have a 1,000-yard rusher in Myles Gaskin, a powerful back who helps keep defenses honest. He isn’t much of a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, but Gaskin has shown an ability to make defenses miss in the open field and keep the chains moving. Put it all together and Washington ranks fifth nationally in scoring as they pile up an average of just under 45 points per game.
3. Washington has a stifling, opportunistic defense
Of course, lots of teams can score points at the college ranks. Washington, like any championship-caliber program, has managed to pair their offense with one of the best defenses at the FBS level. With a strong front seven featuring All-American candidate Joe Mathis and a secondary led by Sidney Jones, teams have found it hard to gain much momentum against the Huskies throughout the year.
Washington ranks in the top 20 in points allowed, giving up only 336.8 yards per game to opponents. Only Utah has been better at snagging turnovers than the Huskies, who have racked up a dozen fumbles as well as another dozen interceptions. Combined with the offense’s propensity for protecting the football, Washington is first nationally in turnover margin. The end result has been a stifling defense that allows just 17.9 points per game, good enough to feature in the top ten of the FBS rankings.
4. Washington plays in the deepest conference in the nation
While the SEC West is the deepest division in college football, no league has been better from top to bottom in both division than the Pac-12 this season. Sports Reference’s SRS numbers rate the Pac-12 as the best conference in the country. Among the computer ranking systems, Jeff Sagarin and Kenneth Massey rate the Pac-12 South and the Pac-12 North right behind the SEC West as the second- and third-best divisions nationally.
And Washington, even after losing to USC, remains the deepest and most dangerous team in the Pac-12. Their weaker non-conference schedule is mitigated by playing against such a tough conference slate. As long as they manage to win out against Arizona State, Washington State, and whoever emerges from the Pac-12 South, the College Football Playoff committee would have to work serious mental gymnastics to leave out a 12-1 champion from a top-three Power Five league.
5. Washington has one of the best coaches in America
The ace in the hole for Washington is their head coach, Chris Petersen. For years at Boise State, Petersen had to be absolutely perfect just to get his team into a major bowl game. Three times while with the Broncos, a loss dropped Petersen’s team from consideration for a lucrative appearance to an afterthought postseason matchup. Now that he is coaching a Power Five team, Petersen is no longer instantly doomed to lower-tier bowl status just because of a solitary loss.
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With a second chance for the first time in his coaching career, Petersen is sure to have his team motivated and ready to finish the rest of the schedule strong. After the USC loss Petersen kept things in perspective, saying during his Monday press conference, “If you’re just so disappointed because of this loss with all this football left to be played then you’re in the wrong locker room and you haven’t been hearing a word that we’ve been talking about.” He will be sure that every Washington player is on the right page moving forward, and that they do what is necessary to get into the College Football Playoff.