Why Washington should be a playoff lock with a Pac-12 title
By now, you’ve probably heard that the College Football Playoff committee released its final poll of the regular season on Tuesday. And while most fans expected the controversy to surround Ohio State and Penn State, the committee – whether it intended to or not – seems to have created a different controversy altogether.
That’s because when committee chair Kirby Hocutt was interviewed by ESPN (and then later on a conference call with reporters), he continually skipped right over the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes and made a point to reference something else: that the gap between No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Michigan was miniscule.
Move over Penn State and Ohio State, there’s a new controversy sheriff in town! That’s right, with Hocutt’s repeated comments about the margin between No. 4 and 5, it led many to assume that the Buckeyes are safely in the final four and that if any team gets bumped out of the final four, it’d be Washington, not Ohio State. The obvious speculation is that Michigan — or maybe even the Big Ten champion — would knock out the Huskies.
Only time will tell whether the Huskies end up in the final four, but their candidacy shouldn’t even be a debate. With a win in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night on FOX, Washington should be in the playoff. No questions asked. No debate. The Huskies should be headed to Atlanta or Glendale.
Let’s start by looking at the big picture. Assuming that Washington wins Friday, it’d be a 12-1 Pac-12 champion. The Huskies would have three wins over Top 25 teams (Colorado, Stanford and Utah) and another (Washington State) that was ranked when the Huskies played it.
They’d also have one fewer loss than either Michigan or the Big Ten champ, and that sole loss to USC is better than either Michigan falling at Iowa or Penn State’s stumble at Pitt. The fact that Washington did it in a league with nine conference games (as opposed to the ACC and SEC, which have just eight) should be factored in as well. So, too, should the fact that the Huskies have one fewer loss than any of the three teams they’re competing with (Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin).
Some would argue that Washington’s resume still pales in comparison to Michigan’s. The Wolverines have three wins over Top 10 teams (Wisconsin, Penn State, Colorado), and Penn State would have wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State with a Big Ten title. Many would also point to Washington’s abysmal non-conference schedule, where the most “challenging” game was a laugher against Rutgers.
As for the Pac-12 schedule, how can we blame Washington for the fact that the league is bad? And even if the Pac-12 is down, the Huskies beat virtually every big name in the league those three Top 25 teams.
But let’s look at the Huskies’ schedule, which has been a sticking point with fans. After all, shouldn’t we punish the Huskies for playing a lousy Rutgers team out of conference? And shouldn’t we give a school like Michigan the benefit of the doubt for scheduling a Top 10 team in Colorado?
Actually, no. Frankly, that’s some of the dumbest logic I’ve ever heard.
Ultimately, using out-of-conference scheduling as a benchmark for handing out playoff berths is a bad idea. Let’s remember that most out-of-conference games are scheduled years in advance, and it’s impossible to project out how good your opponent will be by the time you meet on the field. Yet somehow, teams are still judged by those out-of-conference games years later.
For example, Washington scheduled this year’s game with Rutgers back in 2014. For some perspective, Chris Petersen had just taken the job a few months before, and at the time it looked like a solid matchup for U-Dub. No one was worried about the playoff; heck, the first playoff hadn’t even been played yet. Instead, it was a matchup between a really good Washington team (coming off a nine-win season) and a respectable Rutgers club. The Scarlet Knights had just finished a 6-7 season and gone to a bowl game.
From the opposite perspective, there are Colorado and Michigan. That game was scheduled all the way back in 2012. At the time Colorado was coming off a 1-11 season and had just hired Mike MacIntyre. The Wolverines were coming off a respectable 8-5 season under Brady Hoke. Heck, it was so long ago that Jim Harbaugh was just finishing his first season in San Francisco at that point.
And now we’re using that game – scheduled during Barack Obama’s first administration – as a measuring stick to put Michigan in the playoff?
It’s absolutely preposterous and just one more reason that so little surrounding the College Football Playoff makes sense.
But there is one thing that makes perfect sense: Washington’s spot in the four four.
With a win Friday, the debate should be moot.
Washington should be in the playoff, no questions asked.
In the first minute of his teleconference Hocutt has twice emphasized the small margin between No. 4 Wash & No. 5 Mich. FWIW.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 30, 2016