Four real: Washington leaps past Florida State at No. 4 in College Football Playoff rankings

Michael Penix Jr., left, and No. 4 Washington carry the hopes of a College Football Playoff berth and rewriting the postseason narrative for the resurgent Huskies. (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – In 2016, the Washington Huskies clinched the Pac-12’s second College Football Playoff berth in three years, with a talented young squad yearning for a chance to prove themselves.

Washington was silenced in its conclusion that season, losing 24-7 to No. 1 Alabama and further supporting the narrative that the Pac-12 doesn’t belong in the title conversation.

And now, seven years after their premature playoff exit and the Pac-12’s last appearance, the Huskies have another chance to avenge their school’s reputation by securing a CFP berth.

Washington (11-0, 8-0 Pac-12) moved up in the CFP rankings for the first time this season Tuesday, jumping to No. 4 after its close 22-20 win at Oregon State last Saturday. The Huskies host cross-state rival Washington State (5-6) this Saturday.

The Huskies have not been ranked inside the top 4 since the final rankings of their storied 2016 season, when they were ranked No. 4 in the playoff after defeating Colorado 41-10 in the Pac-12 Championship.

The recipe for success in 2023 is oddly familiar to their last run: a head coach only a few years into his tenure paired with a group of talented stars ready to lead.

In 2016, after two straight seasons with bowl game berths, Chris Petersen entered his third season as head coach following a 44-31 win over Southern Miss in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

He created a consistent offense built around his star sophomores, quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin.

Browning, recently named the starting quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, threw for 3,430 yards and a staggering 43 touchdowns that season, only eight fewer than the rest of his college career touchdowns combined.

He also had some help on the ground to keep the offense balanced, with Gaskin scoring an additional 10 touchdowns on the ground with 1,373 rushing yards.

Gaskin and Browning helped lead Washington to the highest-scoring offense in the conference with 41.8 points per game, a production level this year’s Huskies have rivaled all season.

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Washington coach Kalen DeBoer, in his second year at the helm, has the Huskies in a position that felt like a fever dream in 2021, when they finished 4-8.

His impact on this team in a short time has lifted the program from struggling in the Pac-12 to prominence, accelerated by one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country.

Michael Penix Jr. has maintained elite status throughout the season and has the third-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy at +650, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, slipping behind former ASU and current LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels (-110) and Oregon quarterback Bo Nix (+125).

Penix Jr. was limited to 162 passing yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for a score, last Saturday against Oregon State (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12).

The pouring rain at Reser Stadium played a factor and at one point led to Penix Jr. not throwing a pass in the game for over an hour.

Luckily for him, the rushing attack managed to keep the Huskies going, led by running back Dillon Johnson’s 89 yards on the ground. Johnson has 879 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year, which has helped alleviate some of the weight on Penix Jr. throughout the season.

One of the main talking points of this year’s Huskies team has been its defense, which gave up 33 points to Stanford (3-8, 2-7 Pac-12) but stood strong against an excellent Beavers offense. Washington limited Oregon State to one score each quarter, in massive part due to junior corner Jabbar Muhammad, who had two interceptions and a fumble recovery on Saturday night.

CFP selection committee chair Boo Corrigan said that the committee has seen the progress made by the Huskies defense over the last two games, which is part of the reason why they jumped No. 5 Florida State (11-0, 8-0 ACC) in the rankings.

“Their defense has come around, and has played well the last six quarters,” Corrigan said. He admitted that the committee still has its worries about Washington due to unconvincing results over Stanford and Arizona State.

The Seminoles beat North Alabama 58-13, scoring 58 consecutive points after falling behind early, 13-0. The real story however was the injury to quarterback Jordan Travis, who suffered a serious leg injury early in the game. Travis recently went to social media to confirm that his college career is over after the injury, leaving Florida State without one of its key pieces.

Corrigan dismissed questions to the committee about if the injury to Travis was one of the reasons why the undefeated Seminoles fell out of the top four, confirming the change had “everything to do with Washington.”

He explained a team’s ranking is not based on how an injury will impact a team. The Seminoles now travel to take on the Florida Gators, who are 4-1 at home this season, with plenty of eyes on them to see how they will adapt without Travis behind center.

Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) remained at No. 6 in the rankings after its first-half explosion in a 49-13 win over ASU at Mountain America Stadium. The Ducks will have an opportunity to improve their resume against Oregon State, with a win confirming their rematch against the Huskies in the Pac-12 Championship.

There remains an unusual amount of mystery in how the rankings will fall with only two weeks of action left before the selection committee submits its final list.

Within the fog of uncertainty for Washington, in the final attempt to avenge its 2016 loss and finally achieve a win in the College Football Playoff, one thing remains clear:

Win the final two games of the regular season and there’s a chance to rewrite the legacy of not only Washington football but for the entire “Conference of Champions.”

College Football Playoff Selection Committee Rankings – Nov. 21, 2023

Georgia (11-0) (-)
Ohio State (11-0) (-)
Michigan (11-0) (-)
Washington (11-0) (+1)
Florida State (11-0) (-1)
Oregon (10-1) (-)
Texas (10-1) (-)
Alabama (10-1) (-)
Missouri (9-2) (-)
Louisville (10-1) (-)
Penn State (9-2) (+1)
Ole Miss (9-2) (+1)
Oklahoma (9-2) (+1)
LSU (8-3) (+1)
Arizona (8-3) (+2)
Oregon State (8-3) (-5)
Iowa (9-2) (-1)
Notre Dame (8-3) (+1)
Kansas State (8-3) (+2)
Oklahoma State (8-3) (+3)
Tennessee (7-4) (-3)
NC State (8-3) (NR)
Tulane (10-1) (+1)
Clemson (7-4) (NR)
Liberty (11-0) (NR)

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jesse Brawders expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in educational studies. Brawders is a freelance esports commentator.