Washington coach Chris Petersen has a vote in the USA Today coaches’ poll, and he conceded he spends “very little” time on it.
“Five minutes,” Petersen said at his news conference this week. “I mean, you see what it is, who lost, move them.”
It’s the combination of an old poll mentality and a busy coach. Fortunately for Petersen, the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee will take a little longer to deliberate. It takes about a day and a half before the group settles on its top-25 ranking each week, but if Washington doesn’t win at Oregon on Saturday, it won’t take long to see the Pac-12’s place in the playoff when the first ranking is revealed Oct. 30.
“It is just one week at a time, but this is when I go back to all these rankings, all these polls,” Petersen said of the preseason rankings. “I think back to Day 1, and it’s ridiculous. This is what happens. You get into the season and, ‘How did that happen?’ That’s football. That’s certainly college football and you’ve got to let this thing play out.”
Contrary to the national narrative, it hasn’t played out entirely for the Pac-12 — yet.
These are the most important Week 7 games Saturday, ranked in order of the biggest impact on the playoff race (all times ET):
1. Washington at Oregon (3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2)
If Oregon wins: Now the Pac-12 is really in trouble. If Washington picks up its second loss this weekend, the conference will be relegated to the “maybe next year” category. Now that Stanford has two losses, the league can’t afford to have its highest-ranked team suffer a second loss, too. Why not Oregon? Three reasons: Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State. There’s no Power 5 nonconference victory this season for the Ducks — and all 16 past semifinalists have had one.
If Washington wins: It simply can’t be ruled out. If Washington can finish as a one-loss conference champion, it would definitely be considered by the selection committee, especially if Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and Auburn (good loss?) can all finish in the committee’s top 25. Washington’s chances will look more realistic the minute Notre Dame or another Power 5 front-runner (like Clemson or Ohio State) loses a game. It would also help Washington if the SEC didn’t have two top-four-caliber teams, so … keep reading, Huskies …
2. Georgia at LSU (3:30 p.m., CBS)
If LSU wins: While it’s not an elimination game for undefeated Georgia, a loss by the Bulldogs would hurt the SEC’s chances of getting two teams into the playoff. For that to be a realistic consideration, both Alabama and Georgia would have to be undefeated entering the SEC title game, and the committee would take the champion and consider the one-loss loser. If either stumbles before that game, that would guarantee a two-loss SEC runner-up, which would be much more difficult for the committee to justify in its top four.
The Bulldogs still have some wiggle room, though, as far as their playoff chances. Remember, 13 of the past 16 semifinalists had a loss. If Georgia loses, though, it would raise some doubt about its playoff potential simply because this is the first ranked opponent Georgia has faced this season. It’s the Bulldogs’ first opportunity to earn the kind of statement victory the committee looks for. Granted, there are plenty of other opportunities to help compensate for a loss Saturday, as Georgia’s next three opponents are No. 14 Florida, No. 18 Kentucky and No. 21 Auburn.
If Georgia wins: A second loss would drop LSU from consideration because of how damaging it would be to the Tigers’ chances of playing in the SEC championship game. Don’t forget, LSU still has No. 24 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama in its next two games, and it ends the regular season on the road at Texas A&M.
3. Michigan State at Penn State (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
If Michigan State wins: The Nittany Lions are out of the playoff race and would need a miracle just to get back into the Big Ten East conversation because it would be their second loss against a division opponent. Entering this weekend, ESPN’s Football Power Index gives PSU just a 4 percent chance to win the conference — behind Ohio State (63 percent), Wisconsin (15 percent) and Michigan (13 percent).
If Penn State wins: The Nittany Lions are still in the mix but need Ohio State to lose twice and also need more impressive victories of their own. PSU has yet to beat a ranked opponent and won’t face any until November.
4. Wisconsin at Michigan (7:30 p.m., ABC)
If Wisconsin wins: Michigan would have two losses, and the rest of the conference should hope the Wolverines don’t win the Big Ten, because a two-loss conference champion would likely eliminate the Big Ten champ for a third consecutive season. (See? Another thing for Washington fans to cling to.) Another Michigan loss could also potentially devalue the season-opening win for Notre Dame, though that’s still a bit too early to determine. Even if Wisconsin wins, though, it has a long way to go before anyone forgets the home loss to BYU, which has lost its past two games.
If Michigan wins: It needs to win just to gain some credibility as a contender in the Big Ten. Michigan’s three conference opponents so far are a combined 5-10. The Badgers are the first ranked opponent for the Wolverines since they lost the opener to Notre Dame. With Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State still on the schedule, this game will help reveal how seriously to take Michigan in the second half of the season.
5. West Virginia at Iowa State (7 p.m., FS1)
If West Virginia wins: The Mountaineers remain the only undefeated team in the Big 12 and take another step forward in quieting their critics. This would be WVU’s third victory away from Morgantown (vs. Tennessee in Charlotte, at Texas Tech), but it won’t have a chance to truly impress the committee until November. If the Mountaineers can avoid the upset Saturday and beat Baylor on Oct. 25, they should be undefeated entering an extremely difficult November. Their remaining strength of schedule ranks No. 3 in the country, with road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State and a Friday night visit from OU in the regular-season finale.
If Iowa State wins: The Big 12 is guaranteed a conference champion with at least one loss, as the Cyclones will have knocked off the league’s last remaining undefeated team. The Big 12 will then have to hope that other Power 5 conference champions also have a loss, and that its champion’s résumé stacks up to the others.
6. Colorado at USC (10:30 p.m., FS1)
If Colorado wins: The Buffs take their first step in defying the odds. According to ESPN’s FPI, Colorado is the underdog in six of its seven remaining games, including Saturday, with just a 26 percent chance to win. What happens in Eugene (See: No. 1 on this list) also affects the importance of this game, because Washington and Colorado meet Oct. 20. If both win this weekend, the stakes will be even higher, as the Pac-12 needs one of those two teams to win out and capture the conference championship. If they both lose this weekend, that game will be irrelevant nationally.
If USC wins: The Pac-12 is guaranteed to have at least a one-loss conference champion, as Colorado is the league’s last undefeated team. If Colorado loses this weekend but Washington wins, next Saturday will most certainly be an elimination game for one of them.