As the Pac-12’s only one-loss team, Washington State represents the conference’s best chance of making the College Football Playoff. The No. 14-ranked Cougars picked up their biggest win of the season last week against Oregon, and they’ll have the opportunity for two wins over ranked opponents in as many weeks when they travel to No. 24 Stanford in Week 9.
The Pac-12 has been left out of the College Football Playoff in two of the four years since the sport’s national champion started being crowned through the four-team tournament. Since a two-loss team hasn’t made the playoff in its albeit brief history, Washington State would likely have to run the table for the Pac-12 to have a shot at being represented in a College Football Playoff semifinal.
Here’s how Washington State could potentially make the College Football Playoff.
Assuming that the Cougars would have to go 12-1 (by winning the rest of their regular season games and the Pac-12 Championship) to even have a shot at making the playoff, they would pick up wins over No. 24 Stanford, No. 15 Washington and potentially No. 23 Utah (again) before the end of the season.
There are currently 13 teams ahead of Washington State in the AP Top 25 Poll, so – hypothetically – if the playoff selection committee has the Cougars ranked in the same spot in their initial rankings, Wazzu would have to jump at least 10 teams to make the playoff.
It’s safe to assume a 12-1 Washington State team that wins the Pac-12 would jump at least seven teams currently ahead of it in the rankings: at least two Big 12 teams, at least three SEC teams, UCF, and Ohio State or Michigan.
Here’s the breakdown and rationale for each.
- Texas, Oklahoma and West Virginia are all ranked ahead of Washington State. West Virginia still has to play both the Longhorns and Sooners, which means at least one of those three teams is guaranteed to suffer a second loss. If the Mountaineers win at least one of those matchups, then two of the three teams will suffer a second loss prior to a Big 12 Championship. Texas is 4-0 in Big 12 play, while Oklahoma and West Virginia (and Texas Tech) are 3-1, so there’s a good chance two of the three aforementioned Big 12 teams will play for the conference championship, where one will inevitably take another loss.
- Next up, the SEC. Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky are all ranked ahead of Washington State and even if the conference puts two teams in the playoff like last season – which would likely require a pair of teams to lose no more than one game each – Washington State would still jump three teams from that group. Georgia and Florida play this week. Alabama and LSU face off in Baton Rouge the week after that, as do Georgia and Kentucky. The losses will come.
- The committee proved last year that even if UCF goes undefeated, a one-loss power conference champion would be ranked ahead of the Knights. In fact, five two-loss teams, including three that weren’t conference champions, plus a three-loss team were ranked ahead of UCF in the committee’s final rankings last season.
- Then, the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State showdown in Week 13 will finish with at least two losses and will likely be eliminated from the Big Ten Championship hunt, meaning a 12-1 Washington State team would be ranked ahead of the Buckeyes or Wolverines.
If we can safely assume Washington State would pass seven of the necessary 10 teams by winning out, they would also need help in the form of other playoff contenders losing, too.
For starters, it would benefit Wazzu if only one SEC team makes the playoff, whether it’s an undefeated Alabama team, a one-loss LSU team or a one-loss SEC East team that wins the conference championship.
Notre Dame is the wildcard in the playoff picture, given the Fighting Irish’s independence. One loss might be all it takes to keep them out of the playoff. There are currently no ranked opponents left on Notre Dame’s schedule, which means a loss in any of its five remaining games could be considered a “bad loss.”
Lastly, having a two-loss team win a Power Five conference championship could go a long way for Washington State’s playoff hopes, whether it’s Clemson getting upset in the ACC Championship, the Big 12 cannibalizing itself or a two-loss Big Ten West team winning the conference championship.
We’re not saying Washington State will make the College Football Playoff, we’re just saying there’s a chance.