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The fog clears from Washington’s path to the playoffs

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There is still a long way to go, but things are looking up.

TCU v Iowa State
Gary Patterson still has a shot at the playoffs, but his team did themselves no favors by losing to Iowa State.
Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

There were many questions surrounding UW’s line of sight to the playoffs following their depressing 13-7 loss to ASU three weeks ago. We took great pains at the time to reassure Husky fans that there were, indeed, several viable paths for UW to get into the final four, even if the risk of not making it in was still a clear and present danger. Few fans were mollified.

Then Week 9 happened.

Several teams competing with UW to build up an impressive enough resume to qualify for the playoffs suffered critical setbacks. Let’s recap those key results that affected UW’s playoff hopes:

#4 TCU lost to #25 Iowa State by a score of 14-7

#14 NC State lost to #9 Notre Dame 35-14

#16 Michigan State was upset by Northwestern 39-31

and the big one ...

#6 Ohio State defended their home turf in beating Penn State 39-38

Other than the fact that (I’m guessing) two B1G teams scored 39 points in the same weekend, the chaos of the weekend was predictable, if not intoxicating.

In the context of UW’s 44-23 drubbing of UCLA, I think it is fair to say that UW’s playoff prospects improved considerably in Week 9. In fact, if UW wins out, FiveThirtyEight projects UW with an 81% chance of getting in. Those are decent odds if Washington wins out.

You might be wondering how anybody could project a one-loss UW with such favorable odds. Let’s attempt to sort out the mess of scenarios for you by taking a look at this by conference.

SEC

Alabama had a BYE week and is on a clear path to the SEC championship. They do have one game left of interest - at Auburn to close the season.

Southern Miss v LSU
Ed Orgeron’s LSU Tigers could really screw up the playoffs for UW if they upset Alabama next week.
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Georgia reinforced their upstart status by blowing out Florida in the Swamp. They also have a road trip to Auburn in a few weeks to go along with their rivalry game against Georgia Tech to end the season.

Unless Auburn wriggles their way into the discussion - and this is a longshot given they already have two losses - Alabama and Georgia seem destined to meet in the SEC championship. This will probably be viewed by the committee as a play-in game for the playoffs with the loser being excluded. It would be a HUGE stretch for the committee to put the loser of that game in the playoffs.

There is one bizarro situation that is plausible. Should Alabama lose to LSU next week and then end up not going to the SEC championship as a result (LSU would have to run the table), the idea of a the SEC champ plus Alabama being selected becomes very possible. We’ll have to watch that one.

ACC

NC State got hung with their second loss of the season while undefeated Miami barely squeaked by a subpar opponent (again). In fact, if you look at Miami’s record, you’ll find that they’ve won each of their last four games against marginal competition without the benefit of scoring more than 27 points.

It hasn’t been pretty.

In fact, nothing about the ACC is pretty right now. I predicted a week ago that the ACC could easily get left out of the playoffs. I’m starting to think that this might materialize.

NC State still leads the Atlantic despite having two losses. If they beat Clemson at home next week, they will have a pretty easy walk to the Atlantic title. That’s a big if, to be sure. However, statistically speaking, S&P+ gives them a 40% chance to win. That’s definitely in the ball park.

Miami doesn’t pass the eyeball test in any way. UW will stack up nicely against Miami based on strength of schedule and stats if Miami wins the ACC as long as they drop a game along the way. The ‘Canes have Virginia Tech and Notre Dame upcoming. Our ideal scenario is that they lose to VT, beat Notre Dame and then lose to a two-loss NC State in the ACC championship (this would assume that VT loses one more along the way).

It’s a long-shot, but not unheard of. In fact, if any team not named Clemson wins the ACC, there is a really good chance that UW’s resume will look better.

Big 12

The Horned Frogs not only let themselves get beat, but they lost in the same ugly fashion (14-7, no scores in the second half) as UW did when they got beat by ASU. That result is an equalizer on the resume and makes a one-loss TCU team, if they win the Big 12, at best a toss-up compared to UW.

TCU v Iowa State
Has any team created more chaos in the CFP race than Iowa State?
Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

But there are many other moving parts in the Big 12. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are still major factors. And now we have to consider Iowa State as they also only have one conference loss (two overall). Here are the notable opponents left on each contender’s schedule:

TCU: Texas (11/4), @ Oklahoma (11/11)

OKST: Oklahoma (11/4), @ Iowa State (11/11)

OU: @OKST (11/4), TCU (11/11)

ISU: @ West Virginia (11/4), OKST (11/11)

Notice that they all play their most significant competitors in the next two weeks. That’s kind of cool.

The reality here is that every single one of these teams is one-loss team. While all but OKST actually control their own destiny in terms of making it to the Big 12 championship, there is a pretty good chance that nobody is going to make it out of the Big 12 with less than two losses. If any do, they will probably have earned their trip to the playoffs.

Big Ten

Losses by both Penn State and Michigan State set up the exact Big Ten scenario that I thought we’d see. Ohio State is a clear favorite now. They do have a home game against Michigan State in a a few weeks. Assuming they win that, they’d have to lose two other times for Penn State to jump them. That seems very unlikely.

Let’s assume for a minute that Michigan State is no longer a threat to win the East (they still are, but let’s just imagine they are not). The only thing we have to look at is whether or not a non-division champion, one-loss Penn State could jump a one-loss UW who would theoretically win the PAC and have played an extra game.

It would be very hard to see that scenario play out. I know that it happened a year ago with Ohio State jumping the Nittany Lions, but it is important to remember that Penn State had two losses then. I don’t want to say it is impossible for Penn State to get in if their only loss is by one point to the Buckeyes on the road, but it is close to it if they don’t get some help along the way.

We also have to mention Wisconsin here. They have had a ridiculously easy schedule all season - the best team they’ve played is Florida Atlantic - and they close with Indiana, Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota. They might go the whole year not playing a ranked team. Obviously, if they win the B1G, they will go to the playoffs. They will also put a second loss on whomever they beat and, thus, eliminate any second B1G team scenario.

If they lose the B1G championship, their schedule isn’t strong enough to jump a one-loss conference champion from any conference.

PAC 12

We do need to mention that WSU got creamed by Arizona while USC dominated ASU. These are the teams in the PAC (other than Stanford) who still have a lot to do with UW’s resume should they run the table and play in the PAC 12 championship.

USC v Arizona State
Look who is back in the PAC 12 championship picture.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

WSU’s loss is relatively harmless. It would have been nice for them to be higher ranked by the time the Apple Cup comes along. But they’ll likely still be in the top 25 and, in truth, there isn’t much difference between 15 and 25 in the eyes of the committee.

Stanford is an interesting situation. It was an “ugly win” against OSU. However, they close the season against Notre Dame. If they are able to handle the Irish in that rivalry game, it would bolster an assumed win by UW over them in Palo Alto.

As for the South, who the hell knows? USC took the first big chip by whipping ASU. They get the ‘Cats next. If they lose, then they need to hope that Arizona falls to ASU as losses to either of the Oregon schools seems unlikely. If the Trojans win, you may as well book them for Santa Clara.

While UW’s dream scenario of ASU making it in is still alive (they would need Arizona to beat USC and then have USC lose to either Colorado or UCLA in order to even force the tie breaker), it looks very bleak as of now. It’s probably of no concern as either of USC or Arizona will be similarly ranked. I would think UW fans would prefer to see USC. I know that I would.

Projecting the College Football Playoff

Here are my projections for the College Football Playoff after thoughtful and completely sober considerations of the possible scenarios:

(1) Alabama (13-0) - I see them running the table all the way through the SEC championship. Sorry for blowing your minds with that projection.

(2) Ohio State (12-1) - I like tOSU to finish the season strong. The signature win over PSU will carry them to the two seed.

(3) Washington (12-1) - obviously, I’m projecting UW to win out. In fact, there isn’t a team in the race other than Wisconsin that projects as favorable a schedule in the final three than UW.

(4) Notre Dame (11-1) - I’m projecting Notre Dame to wreck Miami and for NC State to beat Clemson next week. There might be a little “hope” in that projection, but it isn’t that much of a stretch. If it happens, the ACC and Big 12 are both out of the playoffs. Notre Dame, without a conference championship, gets the four-seed.

Next in:

(5) Oklahoma (11-2)

(6) NC State (11-2)

(7) Penn State (11-1)

The only pick in there that might be questionable is my forecast for Clemson. They are right there with the Big 12 bird’s nest as the biggest wildcard in CFP math right now (at least from a UW fan perspective).

Let’s suppose all of my other calculations work out except that Clemson beats NC State and goes on to win the ACC. If this happens, I suspect UW drops to the four seed and bounces Notre Dame out. But this is not a for-sure by any means.

You have to look at the Irish’s full schedule. They have left two easy home games (Wake Forest and Navy) and two difficult road tests (Miami and Stanford). UW’s best (plausible) scenario is that ND beats Miami but loses to Stanford. No question. However, if ND runs the table as I suspect they will, the committee will then be comparing their eleven-win, difficult schedule with UW’s twelve-win, easier schedule. I know people will jump on issues like “bias” and “cupcake” scheduling in projecting doom here. However, the committee really cares about that twelfth win. It could go either way.

That’s where my head is at right now. How are you all seeing the playoff picture roll out? Leave your thoughts below.