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Sports >  UW football

What UW’s College Football Playoff rankings snub means for Rose Bowl hopes

Nov. 30, 2022 Updated Wed., Nov. 30, 2022 at 5 p.m.

Washington Huskies wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against WSU during the first half of a college football game on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington Huskies wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against WSU during the first half of a college football game on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The College Football Playoff Selection Committee has some explaining to do.

In the CFP rankings released on Nov. 22, Washington (then 9-2) landed at No. 13, one spot ahead of Utah (then 8-3). The following Saturday, the Huskies earned an impressive 51-33 road win over Washington State (7-5), while the Utes disposed of 1-11 Colorado with a 63-21 road win of their own.

So, when the updated CFP rankings were released Tuesday, they were expected to largely resemble The Associated Press Top 25 poll – which on Sunday slotted UW (10-2) at No. 9 and Utah (9-3) at No. 12.

Instead, the Huskies received a CFP stunner.

A particularly head-scratching segment of said rankings looked like this:

8. Penn State (10-2)

9. Clemson (10-2)

10. Kansas State (9-3)

11. Utah (9-3)

12. Washington (10-2)

For reference, the same section of Sunday’s AP rankings are listed below.

8. Penn State (10-2)

9. Washington (10-2)

10. Clemson (10-2)

11. LSU (9-3)

12. Utah (9-3)

When asked why Utah leapt three spots, inexplicably landing ahead of the Huskies, CFP selection committee chair (and North Carolina State Athletic Director) Boo Corrigan said: “As we looked at it, Utah’s win over Southern Cal as Southern Cal continues to move up as well as the win over Oregon State, a couple of their losses to UCLA and Oregon … I think the other side of it is the Washington loss at Arizona State was surprising to everyone in the room. But when you’re looking at the entire body of work, you’ve got to take everything into account. As we talked about it and talked over those Pac-12 teams in that area, it was a topic of conversation, and that Arizona State loss really stood out.”

Indeed, UW’s 45-38 defeat at ASU (3-9) qualifies as a damaging loss.

But it happened on Oct. 8.

So what changed for the CFP committee between Nov. 22 – when the Huskies were one spot ahead of Utah – and Tuesday? UW’s road win over a bowl-eligible WSU team was undeniably more significant than Utah’s trouncing of a terrible Colorado squad (that the Huskies, by the way, defeated 54-7 one week prior).

Is it possible, then, that the committee simply overlooked the Huskies’ ASU loss in previous rankings? Or has USC’s increasing legitimacy paid dramatic dividends for the Utes?

Corrigan’s rationale clearly centered on quality losses, considering Utah’s three losses came against two ranked Pac-12 opponents (Oregon and UCLA) as well as a road defeat at Florida (6-6). It’s also possible the committee credited Utah for winning a three-team tiebreaker (over UW and Oregon) to face No. 4 USC in Friday’s Pac-12 championship game, though he didn’t cite that fact in his explanation.

But what of quality wins? Utah’s 43-42 home win over perhaps-playoff-bound USC clearly held weight. And yet, UW also picked up a 37-34 road win over a ranked Oregon team that defeated Utah 20-17 the following week.

“It’s part of what we talk about,” Corrigan said, when asked how Washington’s Oregon win and Utah’s subsequent Oregon loss factored in. “Again, from a Washington standpoint, they’ve got a win over Oregon and a win over Oregon State. But when you take in the full body of work as we were looking at it, two really good teams, both of whom had really good wins, and you’re looking for a differentiator as we go through this. And as we did, that Arizona State game really stood out as kind of one that didn’t measure up, if you will, to the other games.”

Which still fails to explain why the ASU loss devastated UW on Tuesday … and not Nov. 22.

But the Huskies have other legitimate gripes. Both No. 8 Penn State (10-2) and No. 10 Kansas State (9-3) have zero wins over Top 25 opponents, while Washington’s resume includes ranked wins over No. 15 Oregon State and No. 16 Oregon. UW is ranked lower than any other two-loss Power Five program, and the only two-loss Power Five program trailing a 9-3 team (let alone two) in the CFP rankings.

The disrespect is undeniable.

But does it matter?

If USC avenges its earlier loss to Utah in the Pac-12 title game on Friday, the No. 4 Trojans should earn a spot in the four-team playoff, and Utah should fall below UW in Sunday’s updated CFP rankings.

Unless, of course, the CFP selection committee still ranks four-loss Utah ahead of two-loss Washington.

But they wouldn’t do that.

Would they?

The answer may determine which program represents the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2. Should USC glide into the CFP, the Rose Bowl will likely invite the next highest-ranked Pac-12 program (as it did in 2016, when UW made the CFP and No. 9 USC earned a Rose Bowl bid over No. 10 Colorado, despite the Buffs playing in the Pac-12 title game).

But the Rose Bowl is not required to adhere to the CFP rankings. Should a 9-4 Utah (which also played in the Rose Bowl last year) somehow be slotted over 10-2 UW, the Rose Bowl could conceivably invite the Huskies anyway. Its selection process states:

“If the next highest-ranked team is in a ‘cluster’ of teams, meaning there is another team or teams from the same conference ranked within several spots of each other, the Tournament of Roses will select the team from that cluster that will result in the best possible matchup for the Rose Bowl Game.

“In a cluster situation, the Tournament of Roses will take into account factors, in no particular order, such as: the last time a team played in the Rose Bowl Game, multiple appearances in recent Rose Bowl Games, head-to-head results, regular season schedule, overall record, opponents played, past playoff or bowl appearances and performance, and historical matchups.”

Should Utah win Friday and earn a Rose Bowl berth, or Utah lose and receive a Rose Bowl invite anyway, Washington’s options would include the Cotton Bowl (less likely) or the Alamo Bowl.

But make no mistake: Washington wants roses.

“We did Utah a favor already,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer joked Monday, referring to the Huskies’ Apple Cup win effectively sending the Utes via tiebreaker to the Pac-12 title game. “We did them a favor and now I don’t feel like I owe anything to them anymore. Selfish-wise, (USC) is certainly a team we’re rooting for.”

Added offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, when asked Tuesday on radio what a Rose Bowl bid would mean: “To be able to come through a season like this – with some of the really, really highs and some of the really, really lows – to be able to finish the season the way we did and put an exclamation point on it by getting back to the Rose Bowl I think would mean everything.

“I’m just thinking about the seniors that will never line up again, like (Henry Bainivalu) and (Jaxson Kirkland) and Corey (Luciano). You’re like, ‘Man, that would be so special, to send them out with a Rose Bowl.’ ”

The Huskies will look for that exclamation point when the updated CFP rankings are released Sunday. For now, they’re left with a question mark.

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