Even though the Auburn loss was just one game, it’s shifted the entire dynamic of the season.
Week one of college football didn’t go well for the No.6-ranked Washington Huskies.
A clash with No.9-ranked Auburn that could’ve made for a strong opening statement instead ended in a close loss that, by most accounts, the Huskies probably should’ve won. Even though that defeat came against one of the country’s best teams on what was basically a home game for their opponents, it will come back to haunt Washington as the season goes on.
To most, the Huskies just became the latest in a long line of Pac-12 teams that haven’t been able to hang with the sport’s elite – namely, the Big 10 and SEC.
The same sentiments were there when they were slated to face off against Alabama in the CFP two years ago, and again seemingly confirmed when the Dawgs appeared wholly outmatched in the game. Oregon had to hear it after Ezekiel Elliot and Ohio State ran over the Ducks in the inaugural CFP title game.
Now if the Huskies had won, it’s unlikely that the narrative would be dropped. Still, a Pac-12 team coming out and punching a top-10 SEC opponent in the mouth would be a tough thing for the playoff selection committee to ignore.
As things stand however, they’ll likely have to contend with that characterization all season long.
Moving forward, the Huskies have almost no margin for error – another loss functionally eliminates them from a spot in the CFP. They don’t face another ranked non-conference opponent, and the only two ranked teams on their schedule are Oregon and Stanford.
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Oddly enough, it would probably benefit them if the Ducks and the Cardinal are undefeated when they meet in weeks seven and ten, respectively. Were that to be the case, the Huskies could potentially pick up a pair of marquee wins and likely lock up the North division.
Of course, facing a 6-0 and 9-0 teams could prove difficult, even for a team as talented as Washington. But regardless of the outcome of said games, being forced to rely on your divisional rivals having terrific seasons is a less-than-ideal situation to be in.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, even going undefeated for the remainder of the year and picking up the conference title could prove fruitless. Even if Oregon and Stanford are both top-15 teams, neither of them has great a strength of schedule either.
Though you could argue that the whole argument over schedules is blown out of proportion – particularly given that much of it is luck of the draw based on how teams fluctuate from year to year – it’s been used to keep teams out of the playoff in the past and isn’t likely to stop doing so this year.
As if all of that wasn’t enough to contend with, the Huskies (and the rest of the conference) have another fun year of #Pac12afterdark to look forward to. Though ESPN regularly trots stats that claim having late kickoffs actually increases viewership, there’s little doubt that playing games after a huge portion of the fanbase is either A) asleep or B) done watching football after doing it all day isn’t doing the Pac-12 any favors. Obviously, the committee wants teams in the playoff that a large swath of fans can get excited about. It’s tough to get pumped about a team you’ve only seen in highlight reels.
When the Huskies entered the season ranked so highly, there was always going to be a high bar to meet. They could still make a run, of course. Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and the other powerhouses could choke and give Washington an opening. But maybe that’s what makes the path forward so tough – the Huskies no longer have a simple “win and you’re in” proposition. They have to play their absolute best football, and hope for a lapse from someone else.
And you can be sure that’s not where a team with this much talent wants to be.