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Mailbag: Lights Out Edition

Answering your questions after a memorable win and as we enter hate week

Oregon State v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Does UW still have any hope to make the Pac-12 title game if things break their way? -Maxvroom

Okay, so no one asked but I did the math and that’s not going to waste. Last week things felt a little more realistic for the Huskies to barely sneak in to the Pac-12 title game. Remember that divisions have gone away for the purposes of the championship game. Which means if 2 teams from the Pac-12 South have the best record then they get to go.

That actually hurts Washington’s odds in a pretty substantial way. There are 5 teams still mathematically alive and 3 of them are in the Pac-12 South. If UW just had to win the North then the path would be extremely clear. Washington would just need to win out and then have Oregon also lose either against Utah or at Oregon State. That actually sounds like a semi-plausible scenario. And there’s about a 6% chance of it happening.

Unfortunately Washington needs to not only have all of that occur but also find a way to pass 2 of USC/UCLA/Utah. USC wasn’t able to pull away from Cal but still came away with a win which made it all but impossible that the Huskies can finish ahead of the Trojans (they’d have to lose to Colorado). UCLA seems the most likely team to stumble down the stretch based on their schedule but they already beat Washington so UW loses most of the tiebreakers that involve them. Utah has to play at Oregon but their other two games are near gimmes with Stanford and Colorado at home.

Out of 2,056 scenarios for games involving the 5 remaining contenders I was able to find only 5 where Washington wins the conference. The actual odds are worse than just that though because they’re all incredibly unlikely scenarios so that the actual math says 1 in 20,000. The odds of finishing second in the conference are a little better at only 1 in 300. Still, a near impossibility. If you’re curious though, this is Washington’s best shot.

  1. Washington wins remaining 3 games (at Oregon, Colorado, at Wazzu) to finish 7-2.
  2. UCLA loses to USC and California to finish 6-3 in conference.
  3. Oregon beats Utah then loses at Oregon State to finish 7-2 losing the head-to-head to UW.
  4. Utah loses to one of Stanford/Colorado to finish 6-3 in conference.

In that scenario USC wins the conference going 8-1. Washington and Oregon tie for 2nd at 7-2 and the Huskies have the head-to-head tiebreaker. Then Utah and UCLA both go 1-2 the rest of the way to end up 6-3 and finish tied for 4th. That’s the path, narrow though it is.

Do you think UW can win 2 of 3 final games? -Dawgsfan12

Absolutely. Let’s consult ESPN’s FPI percentages which aren’t necessarily my favorite advanced metric but are readily available for each of the remaining games (and I just used them above for the conference title game math). FPI gives the Huskies a 46.9% chance of winning exactly 2 more games in the regular season and a 10.2% chance of winning out. Put that together and it’s a little better than 57% that Washington finishes the regular season 9-3 or better.

Given that the Huskies over/under for wins in Vegas was 7.5 at the start of the season it seems like that would have to be considered a successful season in just about everyone’s book. I put before the year that winning 8+ games including at least 2 against Michigan State, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington State would be be my bar for success. By winning 2 of the last 3 we automatically get there.

Wondering why we tried to sub after almost every play on offense? Didn’t it allow OSU to also sub and get their defense set? Rather had we run the same crew and a bit more hurry up offense even taking time at the line to call plays we would have kept them on their toes when they obviously were tough to crack? Even after a 10-12 yard run late in 3rd instead of carrying momentum we let clock run out I felt there were missed opportunities with pace. -Dogg 19

I’ll admit that this bothered me as well and my seatmate got to hear my frustrations with it. Especially in the second half the Huskies subbed after almost every play and Oregon State took the opportunity to slowly walk 3 guys onto the field so UW couldn’t snap it until there were at most 15 seconds left on the play clock. Oregon State was definitely at a raw talent disadvantage and in situations like that it’s usually preferred to try to shorten the game as much as possible and hope that a single mistake (like the Penix pick-six) is more likely to be the difference.

The Huskies ultimately had multiple drives that ended up being 15+ plays. However there was no chance to get Oregon State completely gassed along their defensive line because they had the ability to sub out basically any time they wanted.

Based on that behavior it didn’t seem like there was a clear formation that the Huskies thought gave them a distinct advantage. And maybe that was the case. I still like potentially keeping the same personnel stuck on the field by getting to the line and then changing the play if necessary from there. Not doing so seemed like it kept UW from getting into a rhythm but it’s hard to criticize Ryan Grubb too much.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 16 UCLA at Washington Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Is Victor Curne going to transfer after the season? -BeavisJones

I don’t normally like to speculate about players transferring but Curne is one of the ones on my list as moves that would make sense. Curne is a 2-year starter along the offensive line and graded out pretty well per Pro Football Focus each season. It’s reasonable to think that he could be a starting right tackle for a lot of power conference teams across the country. Unfortunately for him, it appears that UW feels set with Roger Rosengarten and that doesn’t appear likely to change in the offseason.

If there’s one thing we can be sure of it’s that the coaching staff will talk through the options with him. The interior of the offensive line are all expected to be graduate after this year with Jaxson Kirkland, Corey Luciano, and Henry Bainivalu. It’s also not impossible that left tackle Troy Fautanu gets feedback that he’ll be an NFL selection and head to the draft. We could see a scenario where there are 4 openings on the Husky offensive line...but the one returner is at his former spot.

Could Curne move inside to guard and win one of those starting spots next year? Sure. Could he flip to the left side and start there if Fautanu leaves? Sure. It could also be that the coaching staff sees him exclusively as a tackle and Fautanu stays which means he’s got almost no shot at a starting job next year (but would be the backup if Rosengarten missed time). If that’s the case then it’d be hard for anyone to blame Curne if he decides to transfer somewhere that gives him a better shot closing out his college career with a starting gig.

I’m not going to share the entire list publicly but I have 7 players on the roster highlighted as likely transfer candidates based on their placement on the depth chart and the likelihood of moving up, including Curne. That doesn’t include the quarterbacks, one of whom would be likely to move on in the event Michael Penix Jr. does come back next year. Something to keep in mind when doing scholarship math with the 2023 recruiting class.

My bestie from the Army is an Oklahoma State fan and he claims that he has it worse than Husky fans in regards to expectations vs results, any opinion on if we are a more tortured fan base? -KPreston

You are wearing some seriously purple-colored glasses if you think Washington is anywhere close to the top of the tortured fan base power rankings. Sure, the Huskies haven’t won a national title in 30+ years at this point. But they made the College Football Playoff 6 years ago. There have been multiple conference championships in the last decade. Last year was a colossal disappointment and some of the Sark years didn’t live up to potential but if you’re judging based on expectations versus results then UW has been middle of the road except for the Willingham years.

I also don’t think Oklahoma State should consider themselves a tortured fan base unless you’re being completely unrealistic. The Cowboys should not be a regular national title contender. Playing in the same conference as Oklahoma in the last decade I find it hard to believe that expectations should be any higher than the 2nd or 3rd best team in the soon to be old Big 12. And sure enough they’ve won 6+ conference games and been ranked in the final top-25 in 60% of their seasons over the last 15 years with a highwater mark of 12-1 and #3 overall back in 2011. You’re really a homer if that’s significantly underperforming your expectations. But I’m sure they view it differently in Stillwater.

Off the top of my head I would put forth the following candidates as tortured (over the past 10-20 years): Miami, Texas, Texas A&M, and North Carolina State. Again, that’s purely comparing expectations to reality. If you want to consider tortured as “never actually good despite occasionally having hope” then there is a long list of programs you could add.

Nix for Heisman, talk of the playoff. Give me a break. Look at their schedule to date. This *ucks team has proven nothing, except to be an embarrassment on the national stage (look at the play by play against Georgia).

All that said, three questions: Why are the *ucks so overhyped and does it matter? Two, what % chance would you give the Dawgs if this game were in Husky Stadium? And three, do you believe in an 8 or 9 game conference schedule, and if 9, should we have one high profile opponent? -bham540

I took out about 300 words of first class homerific ranting to boil it down to the essentials. Let’s talk about the schedule. Oregon so far has scored at least 41 points in every game this season that didn’t come against the #1 defense in the country. They got destroyed by Georgia in the season opener but Tennessee put up 40+ on Alabama and then could barely function on offense against Georgia last weekend. The Vols are still #1 in offensive SP+ after Saturday so I don’t know that there’s an offense in the country that can put up 21+ on Georgia if they’re properly motivated.

There’s no question that Oregon hasn’t played an inspiring slate of defenses so far. By far their toughest spot after week 1 has been going to Pullman against Washington State who is ranked 17th in defensive SP+. It’s worth noting that they only got above 40 points because of a pick-six in the closing minutes so the offense did in fact get held below 40 by itself (although they did put up 600+ yards of offense in that game).

Those are their only games against a team that is ranked inside the top-50 of SP+. Otherwise it’s: 52, 53, 93, 94, 121, and 123. That’s not a very intimidating group of defenses.

But you can make the same argument about Washington’s offense being propped up by poor opponents. You’re replacing 1, 17, 94, and 123 from Oregon’s schedule and inserting 34, 54, 91, and 127 for the Huskies. There are still 3 more teams that will end up being common opponents by season’s end plus of course the game itself on Saturday. For right now though there are 4 teams each has played, both with 2 at home and 2 on the road. Washington has averaged a 37.3 to 30.5 victory across those games. Oregon is at 45.3 to 25.8. That’s a +8 margin on offense and a +5 improvement on defense. Probably not a coincidence that the line is hovering around 13 points right now.

If these teams were playing in a packed Husky Stadium I’d probably give the Dawgs something between a 35-40% chance of winning. It’s probably more like 15-20% with the game being played in Eugene. Not impossible but hard for me to imagine it happening without 1) a friendly whistle, 2) a decisive turnover advantage (3+ edge), and 3) a 100% TD rate in the red zone.

And finally, the difference between an 8 and 9-game schedule depends on the scheduling capabilities and the goal of the program. I prefer a 9-game conference schedule unless you can guarantee that you’re getting another premium opponent to replace it. No thank you to the SEC model of replacing that 9th game with The Citadel or something.

At the same time, if you’re trying to make the College Football Playoff we haven’t seen teams get punished too hard for relatively easy non-conference schedules. If you have an 8-game conference schedule and then have 1 pretty tough non-con plus 3 cupcakes, it doesn’t bite you. If the goal is the Playoff then that’s the way to go. But it’s not best for fan enjoyment (although obviously making the CFP is fun).

Once we move to a 12-team playoff and there being an auto-bid means just win your league and it doesn’t matter as much what you did in the non-con. I still prefer the 9-game just because you feel a lot more like a conference when you play the same teams every year. Only playing half the league every season really diminishes the rivalries that make the sport great.