CFP is set: Where UW Huskies are going, who they’re playing

Dec 3, 2023, 9:38 AM | Updated: 2:47 pm

UW Huskies CFP Michael Penix Jr...

Michael Penix Jr. of the UW Huskies reacts after a first down against WSU on Nov. 25, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

For the second time in the history of the College Football Playoff, the UW Huskies are in – and it’s quite the storyline as they look for their first CFP victory.

Pac-12 ends on high note, but future is daunting for WSU, OSU

Washington is No. 2 in the rankings and heading to the Sugar Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans against No. 3 Texas. The decision is set after a weekend of conference championship games where the Huskies delivered the first of two big upsets that boosted their standing, and it makes for a huge rematch against the Longhorns, who the Huskies beat last season in the Alamo Bowl.

Oh, and then there’s the fact that former UW Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian now leads Texas to add a little extra intrigue.

The two CFP semifinal games will take place on Monday, Jan. 1, with the College Football Playoff National Championship set to be played the following Monday, Jan. 8 at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Along with the Sugar Bowl at 5:45 p.m. on New Year’s Day, the other semifinal will see new No. 1 Michigan match up with fourth-ranked Alabama at 2 p.m. in the Rose Bowl.

This will be Washington’s first appearance ever in the Sugar Bowl.

Here we go again: How are UW Huskies underdogs in Sugar Bowl?

The ESPN Radio broadcast of the Sugar Bowl and all CFP games will air live on Seattle Sports 710 AM and the Seattle Sports app. And on Monday’s edition of Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk, former UW Huskies quarterback and current FOX college football analyst Brock Huard will be joined by his brother Damon Huard, himself a former UW Huskies QB, as guest co-host to break down Washington’s Pac-12 title win, spot in the CFP and Sugar Bowl matchup with Texas.

The UW Huskies last made the CFP in 2016 when Sarkisian’s successor, Chris Petersen, led them to the No. 4 seed. Washington, who lost to top-ranked Alabama at the Peach Bowl in the 2016 semifinals, is the first Pac-12 school to make the CFP twice, as the 2014 Oregon Ducks are the only other team from the conference to reach the playoff since it was established that year.

On Friday night in Las Vegas, UW knocked off Oregon 34-31 in the Pac-12 Championship, pushing the Huskies to 13-0 for the first time in program history. It was considered an upset – never mind the fact that this was the second win Washington picked up over the Ducks in 2023, nor that UW was ranked No. 3 in the country heading into the game, two spots ahead of Oregon. Following the “upset,” second-year Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer is now 3-0 all-time against the Ducks.

The second upset this weekend that benefited UW was in Saturday’s SEC Championship in Atlanta, where the previously undefeated and No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs were taken down by then-No. 8 Alabama 27-24. That took Georgia out of the top spot, moving the Crimson Tide into the top four while allowing the Seattle-based Dawgs to leap over the Dawgs from Athens, Ga.

Texas beat No. 18 Oklahoma State 49-21 in the Big 12 Championship on Saturday. The 12-1 Longhorns lost to Oklahoma 34-30 on Oct. 7, but have wins over four ranked teams on their résumé, including a 34-24 victory over Alabama on Sept. 9.

Much like last year’s Alamo Bowl, Texas should have a home-field advantage against Washington as the trip to New Orleans is a lot easier to make from Austin than it is the Pacific Northwest.

Despite Florida State joining Michigan and Washington as the three 13-0 teams in the country, the No. 5 Seminoles are the first undefeated team to not make the CFP. Florida State has some key injury concerns and is less battle-tested than other teams that were in the CFP mix going into the weekend. The Seminoles have been able to stay undefeated despite injuries in recent weeks to both starting quarterback Jordan Travis and his backup, Tate Rodemaker. The hit to FSU’s roster threw its playoff bid into question as some insiders questioned whether the Seminoles could still be considered one of the four best teams in the country.

Georgia and Ohio State were respectively the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the CFP before each lost for the first time over the past two weeks.

The UW Huskies’ CFP case had earlier been hit with similar concerns as FSU’s, as the Dawgs’ wins for most of the second half of the regular season weren’t seen as all that convincing. Despite Washington’s win over Oregon in October, it was the Ducks who many expected to win the Pac-12 Championship and make the CFP. Oregon had played dominantly in six wins following its first loss to Washington, and the final scores of the Ducks’ wins over common opponents WSU, Utah, Arizona State and Oregon State were all better than UW’s.

There wasn’t anything left to be said about that after Friday when Washington added a second win against No. 5 Oregon to its résumé, which was the fifth over a ranked opponent this season for the Huskies (who also beat an Arizona team that moved into the top 25 later in the season). Even before that Pac-12 Championship victory, UW owned the top strength of record in all of college football, per ESPN.

Washington is on a 20-game unbeaten streak dating back to last season, which is the longest current streak after Georgia lost on Saturday.

Sugar Bowl matchup at a glance

The UW Huskies’ potent offense is led by Heisman Trophy candidate QB Michael Penix Jr. (4,218 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, nine interceptions) and his stellar offensive line, a trio of star wide receivers in Rome Odunze (1,428 receiving yards), Ja’Lynn Polk (1,000 yards) and Jalen McMillian (468 in five games), and breakout running back Dillon Johnson (1,113 rushing yards, 14 TDs).

The Washington defense has not been as heralded as the offense but deserves credit for helping keep UW undefeated, with notable players on that side of the ball including edge rushers Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui, cornerback Jabbar Muhammad and safety/linebacker hybrid Kamren Fabiculanan.

Texas’ offense is led by quarterback Quinn Ewers (3,161 passing yards), receiver Xavier Worthy (969 receiving yards) and running back Jonathon Brooks (1,139 rushing yards). The Longhorns’ defense is 13th in the country at 17.5 points allowed per game and is particularly tough against the run, ranking fourth in rushing yards allowed per game at 80.8. Texas averages more yards per game on offense than Washington, though the Huskies average slightly more points per game.

More on CFP-bound UW Huskies

Caple’s takeaways from UW’s Pac-12 Championship win over Oregon
Recap: No. 3 UW Huskies rally to beat No. 5 Oregon, secure CFP spot
As Odunze chases his record, Reggie Williams urges: ‘Give him the rock’

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