SEATTLE – The road to the College Football Playoff just got a little bumpier for the Washington Huskies.
The undefeated Huskies debuted at No. 5 in the CFP committee’s first top 25 poll of the season released Tuesday – one spot behind one-loss Texas A&M.
The CFP committee has Alabama No. 1, followed by Michigan, Clemson, Texas A&M and then Washington. Texas A&M’s only loss was at Alabama.
Washington (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) is ranked No. 4 in both the AP and coaches’ polls. Texas A&M is No. 7 in both of those polls.
CFP committee chair Kirby Hocutt, in an ESPN interview, said Texas A&M has the edge “right now” based on its four victories over teams with a .500 record or better, compared to just two such victories for the Huskies (against Stanford and Utah).
The Huskies’ nonconference schedule included blowout victories over Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State. That, coupled with what some see as a “down” year for the Pac-12, gives UW a strength of schedule ranked No. 69 nationally.
“If you’re Washington right now, just take a huge breath,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said during the unveiling of the CFP poll. “Just relax. Because I still feel like the ball is in their court. They still control their own destiny. If they take care of business, they will be fine. But it is shocking to see an undefeated Washington – coming off their best win of the year on the road in a tough place to play against Utah – and now be sitting behind a team with one loss.”
The Huskies’ November slate should give their overall strength of schedule a boost. Starting Saturday in Berkeley, Washington closes out the regular season at California, vs. USC, vs. Arizona State and then in Pullman for the Apple Cup.
Washington State, at No. 25, is the only team left on UW’s schedule that is ranked by the CFP committee.
WSU, winners of six straight games, barely nudged into the AP poll at No. 25 after last weekend’s tenuous win over Oregon State. The Cougars were the top team in the “others receiving votes” category in Week 9, meaning they moved up just one spot after their win.
But the Cougars are ranked in the three major polls for the first time all season.
The popular thinking is if the Huskies win out – including a win in the Pac-12 title game – they will get one of four playoff berths. But if they slip up somewhere along the way, even if they rebound to win the Pac-12 championship, they’re chances of a playoff berth are slim.
“Washington is still in a very, very good position if they win out,” Herbstreit said. “Now, if they lose all bets are off and the Pac-12 is left out of this playoff.”
From a national perspective, the Huskies are coming off their most important victory of the season, 31-24 at then-No. 17 Utah on Saturday, a win many said “legitimized” the Huskies’ top-four ranking.
Utah is ranked No. 16 in the CFP committee poll. Colorado, at No. 15, is the other Pac-12 team in the CFP rankings.
The committee will release its rankings each Tuesday leading up to its final four-team playoff selection on Sunday, Dec. 4. There figures to be plenty of shakeup before then.
In 2014, for example, only one team (Florida State) ranked in the top four of the CFP’s first poll that season wound up in the playoff at the end of the year. Oregon was No. 5 in that first poll in 2014 and ended up playing in the national-championship game.
In 2015, the CFP’s top four in Week 10 were Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama. Of those four, only Clemson and Alabama survived to remain the top four in the final CFP rankings.
In its third year of existence, the playoff pits the top four teams into two national semifinal games – this year to be held at the Fiesta and Peach bowls on Dec. 31. The two semifinal champions will then meet in the CFP national championship game in Tampa Bay, Florida, on Jan. 9.
The Spokesman-Review’s Jacob Thorpe contributed to this report.
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