Washington hopes to ride Pac-12 title to playoff berth
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Washington coach Chris Petersen is happy to let others do the politicking and lobbying when it comes to the College Football Playoff.
He believes what the fourth-ranked Huskies do on the field will speak loud enough. Washington has its final chance to state its case tonight in the Pac-12 championship game against No. 9 Colorado.
“I have confidence that the powers that be will get these things right,” Petersen said. “I felt that way when I was at Boise and they usually did. We’ll see how this plays out.”
Things are looking good for the Huskies (11-1, No. 4 CFP) after they moved up a spot in the playoff rankings this week. One more win and they will likely make the semifinals in Petersen’s third season at the helm. Washington had not reached double figures in wins for a season in the 13 years before Petersen’s arrival.
But Petersen has built Washington into a power just like he did at Boise State when he led the Broncos to seven straight double-digit win seasons and two BCS bowl games.
“I expected to be good from the second we got here,” he said. “I think that’s what players expect, I think that’s what coaches expect, and when it’s not like that, you’re frustrated as all get-out and trying to figure out why it’s not right. With that being said, we all know it takes some time to develop a program and how you’re going to do things.”
Mike MacIntyre had a much tougher turnaround task with the Buffaloes (10-2, No. 8 CFP). Colorado was 25-61 in seven seasons before MacIntyre arrived from San Jose State.
But he methodically rebuilt the program to where it is now a surprise participant in the Pac-12 title game with an outside chance of making it to the playoff with a win over the Huskies and some help elsewhere.
“I just think a lot of people on the outside didn’t expect us to be here,” quarterback Sefo Liufau said. “They want UW for playoff implications or anything like that. Basically the most important thing is what we want in the locker room and we want to win.”
Here are some other things to watch:
BIG TIME QBS: Both teams rely heavily on their quarterbacks. Washington’s Jake Browning was selected as the top offensive player in the conference after throwing for a school-record 40 TDs and only seven INTs. Browning ranks fourth in the FBS in passing efficiency (181.6). Colorado’s Liufau wasn’t quite as efficient but was almost as effective despite missing time with an ankle injury. He threw for 2,150 yards and 11 TDs and ran for 481 yards and seven scores.
DOMINANT DEFENSE: The game features the top two defenses in the conference with both the Huskies and Buffaloes allowing just 4.7 yards per play. They are both led by their secondaries with Washington’s Budda Baker and Sidney Jones making first-team all-conference and Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson earning second-team selections.
TAKE IT AWAY: Both teams have thrived on turnovers this season. Washington led the nation with 30 takeaways and a plus-18 turnover margin. Colorado was second in the Pac-12 at plus-10 in turnovers.
ON THE GRASS: The Huskies will play their first game of the year on natural grass. The playing surface at Levi’s Stadium has had issues with footing over the years but has been better this season. With the 49ers having been on the road last week, the field should be in good shape.
“I shouldn’t say it doesn’t bother us (because) we’re the only team in the country that hasn’t played on grass this year, I think,” Petersen said. “But the grass is good, so it’s like people talking about going to Utah and playing in the altitude. I think it’s completely overrated. As long as it’s not a muddy field, we’re good to go.”
HOMECOMING: The game will be a homecoming of sorts for MacIntyre, who got his first head coaching job in 2010 at nearby San Jose State. He took over a two-win team and helped lead the Spartans to an 11-2 record his final year.