Washington overcame the nation’s second-worst strength of schedule (127th out of 128 FBS teams) and was awarded the No. 4 seed in the college football playoffs Sunday, edging No. 5 Penn State in a vote by a selection committee. The Huskies will face No. 1 seed and defending national champion Alabama Dec. 31 at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
“We looked at two conference championship teams. We looked at one-loss Washington against two-loss Penn State,” said Kirby Hocutt, athletic director at Texas Christian who chairs the CPF selection committee. “We talked about strength of schedule. We looked at both teams over 13 games. We considered a variety of metrics.
“As we looked at those key statistics from an offensive standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, from a starting field position differential, the edge was to Washington. You look at turnover margin. Washington ranks first in the country in turnover margin compared to Penn State, ranking 50th. We spent considerable time talking statistical data. For me, the statistical data represents what’s happening on the field each and every week.
“Then, we’re so fortunate to have some former coaches that are very respected and knowledgable sitting around the table. As we looked to our coaches to share their perspective on what they saw on the field, it was determined that Washington is a better football team when compared to Penn State.”
The Huskies (12-1) won the Pac-12 championship Friday night, beating No. 8 Colorado by 31 points. The No. 7 Nittany Lions roared back Saturday night from a 21-point deficit to win the Big Ten title against No. 6 Wisconsin. Penn State had a head-to-head win against Ohio State, but a 39-point loss to Michigan.
“Strength of schedule was always a concern about Washington,” said Hocutt. “Had Washington had a better strength of schedule, the decision would not have been as difficult as it was. But Washington beat top-25 teams in Stanford, Utah and Washington State. And Friday night we saw a very convincing win against Colorado. Those were quality wins. Our goal as a committee was to identify the four very best teams and we believe Washington is one of them.”
Almost as soon as the committee slotted the Huskies into the No. 4 seed, oddsmakers installed them as a 14-point underdogs to the Crimson (13-0), the SEC winner and defending national champion.
Clemson, by winning the ACC Saturday night, jumped to No. 2 and will play No. 3 Ohio State in the other national semifinal, slated for the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, AZ., Dec. 31. The Alabama-Washington winner will face the Clemson-Ohio State winner Feb. 9 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for the national championship.
“We couldn’t be more pleased, and I mean that,” said UW coach Chris Petersen. “That’s an obvious statement but I know how hard it is to get where we are in terms of how well you’ve got to play, and our kids have played really, really well.
“You’ve got to have luck along the way and have the ball bounce your way. So we’re just really thankful and grateful for this opportunity. I think it’s awesome for the school. I think it’s awesome for Seattle and I think it’s awesome for our guys. It was a little nerve-wracking.
“We just really appreciate this moment.”
Petersen was asked if he had seen the sign at Husky Stadium during the season-opening game against Rutgers that said, “We Want Bama!” The sign had wide circulation on the internet last week.
“I didn’t hold up that sign,” Petersen said, laughing. “Sometimes, you’ve got to be careful what you wish for. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Alabama. Everybody knows what they’ve done. It’s a special team and program. This is going to be the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced. All we can do now is be as prepared as we can.”
Alabama and Washington faced one common opponent this year. The Tide trampled USC 52-6 Sept. 3 and the Huskies had their only loss to the Trojans, 26-13, Nov. 12. By the time of USC’s win over Washington, the Trojans had improved dramatically behind freshman QB Sam Darnold. Following that loss, Washington thumped its final three opponents by an average of 44-15.
“We haven’t seem much of Washington,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. “We know they have a very good team. They have outstanding skill players, a great offensive line, a good quarterback, a tremendous defense. Obviously, Washington is going to be a great challenge for us. It’s important that we do a great job of preparing technically for them.”
During an after teleconference, Saban was asked if he was surprised that Washington made the Final Four.
“Not at all,” Saban said. “I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Petersen and what he’s been able to do in his career. This is absolutely not at all a surprise to me. I’d just like to congratulate Coach Petersen on an outstanding season and being selected to play in the playoffs and what a great job they’ve done all season long. It was really fun to watch them the few times I watched them.”
Alabama leads the all-time series with Washington 4-0 dating to 1926. They have twice met on a neutral field, including the most recent meeting in El Paso, TX., in the 1986 Sun Bowl.
Aside from Washington, four Pac-12 schools landed in the committee’s final top 25 rankings: No. 9 USC, No. 10 Colorado, No. 18 Utah and No. 19 Stanford. The Huskies also remained at No. 4 in the Associated Press top 25 rankings released Sunday.
USC overtook Colorado and will represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl Jan. 2. The Trojans will play Penn State. Washington State will play Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl Dec. 27. Pac-12 teams that reached bowls:
|Dec. 27||Holiday||San Diego||ESPN||4 p.m.||Minnesota vs. Wash. St.|
|Dec. 28||Fos. Farms||Santa Clara||FOX||5:30 p.m.||Indiana vs. Utah|
|Dec. 29||Alamo||San Antonio||ESPN||6 p.m.||Okla. St. vs. Colorado|
|Dec. 30||Sun||El Paso||CBS||11 a.m.||N. Carolina vs. Stanford|
|Dec. 31||Peach||Atlanta||ESPN||Noon||Alabama vs. Washington|
|Jan. 2||Rose||Pasadena||ESPN||2 p.m.||Penn State vs. USC|