Somewhat surprisingly, the undefeated Washington Huskies debuted at No. 5 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season.
Most analysts seemed to think UW, at 8-0, would debut at No. 4, the same ranking it holds in the AP Top 25 and coaches polls. But the No. 4 spot instead went to Texas A&M (7-1), the only one-loss team in the initial top four. Alabama debuted at No. 1, Clemson at No. 2 and Michigan at No. 3. Each is unbeaten.
The top four teams in the final rankings released on Dec. 4 will advance to the national semifinals, with the No. 1 seed facing the No. 4 seed, and No. 2 facing No. 3. New rankings will be released each Tuesday until that date.
Washington’s strength of schedule has been criticized all season, and it didn’t impress the CFP committee, either, as committee chairman Kirby Hocutt confirmed afterward during an interview on the ESPN telecast. Hocutt, the athletic director at Texas Tech, noted that Texas A&M has defeated four teams with records of .500 or better, while the Huskies have only two (Utah and Stanford). Famed sports data guru Jeff Sagarin ranks UW’s strength of schedule 69th in the country, compared to Texas A&M’s ranking of 23rd.
The Huskies, though, are undefeated, and have won six of their eight games by a margin of 24 or more points. But the Aggies’ only loss was on the road to No. 1 Alabama, 33-14, and they have a victory over No. 9 Auburn.
Regardless, the prevailing thought from pundits seems to be that if the Huskies continue winning and finish unbeaten with a victory in the Pac-12 championship game, they will be in the top four come selection Sunday. But it appears unlikely that Washington can lose a game and still make the playoff.
“I still feel like the ball is in their court,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said during the telecast. “They still control their own destiny. If they take care of business, they will be fine.”
The CFP committee favors teams that win their conference championship, and because such data does not yet exist, it’s difficult to currently project how it might impact the final rankings. Assigning meaning to Tuesday’s rankings, then, becomes somewhat futile.
Three other Pac-12 teams were included in the initial rankings: Colorado at No. 15, Utah at No. 16 and Washington State at No. 25. Utah is the only top 25 team the Huskies have beaten this season.
Their most challenging games are still ahead of them. After a trip to California this weekend, the Huskies host USC before facing Arizona State and then traveling to Pullman to face WSU in the Apple Cup.
Potential victories over the Trojans and Cougars would likely enhance UW’s playoff profile, as would a potential victory over the Pac-12 South champion — perhaps No. 15 Colorado or No. 16 Utah — in the league championship game. So a 13-0 record would require a handful of victories that might be viewed favorably by the CFP committee.