It’s a good sign. Obviously, a lot of people (particularly the announcers of the UW/Cal game last week) felt that Ohio State – by way of their smashing Nebraska – would leapfrog Washington to take the #4 spot. While Nebraska did fall 9 spots to 19 with the loss (already making the victory less impressive, as the committee realizes maybe they overrated the Cornhuskers, and probably the Big 10 in general), what this tells me is that the committee really put a lot of thought – and therefore a lot of credence – into their original rankings last week. They had Washington ranked ahead of Ohio State last week, and one semi-impressive victory – however lopsided it was – wouldn’t overly sway them.
I also think they’ve started to come around on the Pac-12 as a whole. I’m sure catching all the flak they did for snubbing Washington last week didn’t hurt, but look at the Top 25 this week compared to last:
- Washington at 4 (up from 5)
- Colorado at 12 (up from 15)
- Utah at 15 (up from 16)
- USC at 20 (up from unranked)
- Washington State at 23 (up from 25)
I’m blown away by a couple of these. For starters, Colorado – a 2-loss team – is practically in the top 10. They got beat pretty soundly in Michigan, and their only conference loss is to USC (another ranked team, I’ll get to in a moment). When you look at the schools they’ve actually beaten, though, the argument starts to fall apart. They have wins over both Oregon schools (terrible), Stanford (incredibly mediocre), ASU (awful) and UCLA (probably the biggest disappointment in the conference). When you factor in the other two non-conference cupcakes they played, while they manage a decently impressive strength of schedule, they still don’t have an impressive win to their name. On the one hand, you like that the committee likes them, because if they keep winning, they’ll grab a couple of impressive wins along the way. Meeting Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game – if they win out – would be akin to beating another Top 10 team (which you’d have to figure they’d be, if they beat both Wazzu and Utah at home in their final two regular season games). But, including their game on the road in Arizona this Saturday, I could see Colorado losing any or even ALL of those games. A Colorado collapse bodes poorly for Washington’s chances, so let’s hope that doesn’t come to pass.
The other surprise is obviously USC, who I talked about a little bit on Monday (not surprising: the committee being wary of moving Wazzu up too high, considering they’re due to Coug it at any point). As I noted before, their only bad loss was to Stanford, but this has been a different team since Sam Darnold took over at quarterback. Granted, Washington will be his first REAL test, but I’m not going to complain one bit. ESPN Gameday is here this week, and now they’ve got a matchup of two Top 20 teams. USC might not be ranked again after this week, but it beats the alternative of beating an already-unranked team.
So, what does this mean for Washington? Only good things. As I said, Colorado winning out is probably our best opportunity to maintain our Top 4 status, as they would likely be the highest ranking team we’ll have beaten when it’s all said and done. But, if it comes to pass that Wazzu wins out, that still means we go for an impressive road win in the Apple Cup, followed by either a rematch with Utah, or a game against Colorado anyway. Either way, that’s back to back ranked opponents as our final two games.
Now, where are the pitfalls?
Well, obviously, let’s start with Ohio State. They have a couple of games against mediocre opponents in Maryland and Michigan State. Then, they host #3 Michigan over Thanksgiving weekend, which will be set up as the game of the year for all intents and purposes. Michigan will come into that game off of their own sets of duds against Iowa and Indiana, so truly this will be the last important game for one of these teams. Now, obviously, if Michigan beats Ohio State (and doesn’t flub up along the way), that helps the Huskies. If Ohio State beats Michigan, obviously Ohio State would pass Michigan, and then the question becomes: how far does Michigan fall?
The one thing going for Washington in THIS scenario is that if Michigan loses, they also miss out on a chance to play in the Big 10 Championship Game. Ohio State would play either Wisconsin, Nebraska, or Minnesota (all with 2 losses). One would THINK that the Buckeyes would roll through that game, but what happens if the impossible takes place, and a team with 2 losses beats Ohio State in that game, giving the Buckeyes 2 losses, while Michigan is sitting back there with one? Or, for that matter, what happens if Ohio State wins the championship anyway, but Michigan’s 1-loss record still keeps committee members up at night?
Michigan would have wins over ranked opponents Colorado, Penn State, and Wisconsin, and their only loss would be to the Big 10 champion, who you figure would be in the top 3. An undefeated Washington team would have wins over ranked opponents Utah, maybe Wazzu, maybe Colorado (or maybe Utah again), with an outside shot at USC somehow climbing back into the rankings. That doesn’t look nearly as good, even though we’d be undefeated in this scenario (and particularly if we have 2 wins against Utah, because that would mean Colorado fell apart, and that would mean the Pac-12 would look inferior again). I can legitimately see a scenario where Ohio State and Michigan both make it, and it sickens me.
I know Louisville is going to scare some people, but I just don’t see it. Unless the committee is REALLY jonesing for surefire Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in the playoffs, a 1-loss Louisville team would make a mockery of the whole system. They have one semi-impressive win over Florida State, and they lost to Clemson. There’s no point in having two ACC teams in the playoffs with all the talent in the SEC, Big 10, and in Washington. Sorry.
Wisconsin’s in at 7, has already beaten Nebraska, and has Minnesota left on its plate; one would think they’d have the inside track to be the team that plays against Ohio State or Michigan in the Big 10 Championship Game. In theory, you could see the Badgers mucking things up if they won out – because how do you keep the Big 10 champion out of the playoffs? But, they’ve already suffered regular season losses to both Michigan and Ohio State. If, for instance, Wisconsin beat Ohio State in the title game, both teams would still have 2 losses, and you’d figure Wisconsin would have the edge over the Buckeyes, but you’d still have Michigan with just 1 loss. In that scenario … I dunno. Seems like Michigan would get the nod, and they’d have a tough decision to make between Wisconsin and Washington.
I’ll skip over Texas A&M, thanks to their loss to Mississippi State (after all, once bitten, twice shy) and head on to Auburn at #9. Auburn has 1 loss in the SEC. They play in the same division as Alabama, who has 0 losses. BUT, they play one another – in Alabama – over Thanksgiving weekend. Given Alabama’s schedule and talent level, you have to think they’ll be undefeated going into that game. Auburn just needs to get through a road game in Georgia and you figure they’ll be right there with 1 loss heading into the Iron Bowl. If Auburn upsets Alabama there, then goes on to win the SEC Championship Game (over what looks like a pretty sub-par Florida team), you’ve got Auburn as a lock to make the Top 4, and what do you do with Alabama? How do you keep them out?
I’ll tell you how: you don’t. The SEC could very well hog two of these spots, leaving the other two for what will certainly be an undefeated Clemson team (Pitt, Wake, South Carolina), the winner of the Big 10, and Washington. In that scenario, short of the Huskies beating a Top 10 Colorado team, I find it hard to believe Washington is going to get preferential treatment, undefeated or not.
God dammit, I just made myself sick about this all over again! Why doesn’t that surprise me?