Gold: How is Washington only No. 5? And what has to happen for the Huskies to make the Playoff?
So far, the Washington Huskies have done everything humanly possible to put themselves in position for their first — and the Pac-12’s first — College Football Playoff appearance since 2016.
The Huskies easily disposed of a feisty nonconference schedule with ease, dispensing of potential threats Boise State and Michigan State as if they were mere hiccups on the way to success. Then came a blowout over Cal and a bit of a scare at Arizona, which they overcame, 31-24, before delivering a knockout blow against No. 8 Oregon last Saturday by way of a Michael Penix Jr. game-winning touchdown pass with less than 2 minutes to go.
Penix has been nearly flawless, leading the Heisman race halfway through the season, while Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and a banged up Jalen McMillan have thrived. The Washington running game, left for dead once news of starting running back Cam Davis’ season-ending injury broke, has been better than anticipated, averaging 119 yards per game with 13 touchdowns. Add that to a passing game averaging a nation-leading 425 yards per game, and you’ve got the nation’s top offense. The defense has been good but not great, but certainly good enough for a CFP berth. Despite facing an onslaught from teams trying to fight from behind, the Huskies’ pass defense efficiency ranks 3rd in the league and they lead the league with 8 interceptions. They rank in the league’s top 4 in net yards per punt and punt return average.
Aside from a surprisingly anemic pass rush and way too many penalties, they’ve just about checked every box.
And yet the Huskies still find themselves on the outside of the CFP race looking in, only moving up to No. 5 in the rankings this week, and only because of a win over top-10 Oregon and No. 6 Oklahoma’s idle Week 7.
No. 1 Georgia and No. 4 Florida State sandwich 2 of the 3 Big Ten powers — No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Ohio State — with No. 7 Penn State looming large.
Despite boasting the top conference in college football, the Pac-12 is once again in danger of being jilted.
But it doesn’t have to end up this way.
Something big is about to go down in the B1G (Ohio State plays Penn State on Saturday; Michigan still plays both). Georgia looks fallible, particularly with Brock Bowers sidelined. The Seminoles have a comparatively weak 2nd-half schedule, with just 1 currently ranked opponent left (No. 16 Duke, which heads to Tallahassee this weekend), and even that makes the Sooners’ schedule look bad. Oklahoma has no ranked games left, and with Texas in the rear view mirror, has no marquee games remaining on the regular-season schedule.
All of that puts Washington in a good spot. Assuming, of course, they somehow emerge unscathed from a no-good November that includes No. 18 USC, No. 14 Utah and No. 12 Oregon State in successive weeks, not to mention the always-heated Apple Cup showdown against previously-ranked Washington State in Week 13.
Get through that, and the Huskies won’t need an ounce of help.
But they could sure use some.
Here’s a look at where that help may come from …
Step 1: Penn State or Ohio State blows out the other Saturday
A 6-3 slugfest between the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes in Columbus would do the Huskies few favors.
They need one of these teams roughed up, tail between their legs. Penn State looks better than it has in years. Ohio State looks worse than it has in years.
A Nittany Lions win almost certainly would send them above Washington in the rankings, if not 3rd than certainly 4th. An Ohio State win would solidify the Michigan game as the de facto B1G title bout.
Washington needs 1 of these 2 teams down for the count after this weekend.
Step 2: Florida upsets Georgia in Week 9
At 5-2 and coming off a 41-39 win at South Carolina, the Gators are getting a ton of buzz, as is starting quarterback Graham Mertz. They certainly appear to have righted the ship after a 24-11 Week 1 loss to Cam Rising-less Utah.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are coming off 2 lackluster showings in the past 3 weeks and coping with the loss of their Heisman-contending tight end. The loss of Bowers really can’t be overstated.
After facing Florida in Jacksonville in Week 9, Georgia has back-to-back home games against No. 20 Missouri and No. 13 Ole Miss before heading to No. 17 Tennessee in Week 12. There could be a loss in there for the mighty Dawgs.
Step 3: Duke takes out Florida State Saturday or North Carolina in Chapel Hill in Week 11
The Seminoles kicked off their year with a season-defining upset of No. 5 LSU, a 45-24 win that left no doubt, and they haven’t really slowed down yet. The Tar Heels are coming off a momentous 41-31 win over No. 25 Miami that sent them up to No. 10 in the rankings.
They don’t play each other this year.
That means it’s up to Duke to knock off one of their ACC foes. And the 5-1 Blue Devils could do it.
Much depends this week on the return of Riley Leonard, but he should be fine when the Blue Devils head to Chapel Hill in Week 11.
Step 4: Michigan and Penn State cannibalize each other in Week 11
If the Nittany Lions succumb to the Buckeyes this weekend, you can bet they’ll be fired up to play spoiler against the Wolverines come Week 11.
Michigan has yet to play a ranked team and likely won’t until they head to State College, but they’ve been absolutely dominant against whoever they have faced.
Topping that defense will be tough, but James Franklin might be up to the task.
Step 5: Ohio State and Michigan cannibalize each other in Week 13
Of course, there is just as good a chance that the B1G boys on the block are undefeated when they meet in the regular-season finale.
If that happens, the B1G worry is that both teams get in, leaving potentially one spot for the likes of Washington, Florida State and Oklahoma.
And that’s precisely why Washington needs some help, even if it has put itself in tremendous position.