Michigan vs. Washington: The Case for a College Football Playoff Spot

By Emily Van Buskirk & Ron Hampston

We are nearing the end – the final countdown. The time when all our College Football Playoff questions will be answered with the revelation of the “Final Four.”

Alabama is a lock (and likely to win it all). Ohio State punched its ticket with a controversial 30-27 double overtime win over Michigan last weekend. Clemson is looking like a solid No. 3 entering Saturday’s ACC Championship game against Virginia Tech the heavy favorite. That just leaves a sizeable question mark when talking about spot number four.

But is it a Wolverine-shaped question mark? Or does it more closely resemble that of a Husky?

Ronnie and Emily decided to go head-to-head and figure out exactly who deserves that final playoff spot and why. It could get ugly, but will mostly stay sexy. And informative. Check it out.

No. 4 Washington

Could the weak schedule come back to haunt the Huskies. (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)
In the eyes of the committee, could the weak schedule come back to haunt the Huskies? (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)

Why they should get in: I’m here to set the record straight on why Washington should be in the Playoff. Because of their schedule, there is consternation about Washington getting in over Michigan. But if the Huskies go on to crush Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship, they would be a shoe-in in making the CFP.

Due to the Big Ten having the best conference in college football, many pundits feel that they have positioned themselves to get a team into the fourth slot. While that claim about the conference might be true, it doesn't warrant Michigan's place over the Huskies.

The Huskies are currently sitting at 11-1, and they could be 12-1 with a win over Colorado. Yes, their non-conference schedule ranks 127 out of 128 FBS schools, but they defeated ranked opponents in Stanford and Utah. Adding the ninth-ranked Buffaloes to their resume would further prove why Washington should round out the top four.

Their single loss was to 11th-ranked USC, who is one of the hotter programs in the country. Unlike Michigan, Washington hasn't not lost to an unranked team.

In their success, head coach Chris Petersen continues shoe why he's one of the best in the business. He brought the Huskies back to relevance, which hasn’t been done since rapper Sir-Mix-a-Lot topped the charts. The playoff committee looks at coaching, the "eye test", style of play, quality wins, and strength of schedule. Although, the schedule doesn’t favor the Huskies, they pass the muster in the other facets.

There is little wiggle room for Washington’s playoff hopes. With a big win come Friday, they will be on their way to the CFP. -RH

Why they shouldn’t: I have to respectfully disagree with my cohort on this one. Washington isn’t ready for the big leagues, despite what their record and statistics might say. The wins over ranked teams like Stanford and Utah don’t hold a lot of water when those programs themselves finish below expectations.

But, I do agree that a win over Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship game would go along way in making their case almost airtight. But, it won’t be that easy to pick off coach Mike MacIntyre’s team, and a close game or even a loss to the Buffaloes would see Washington’s playoff dreams dashed.

CFP selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said as much in a radio interview on ESPN’s ‘Russillo and Kanell” show.

“The selection committee looks forward to watching that 13th game to watch Washington play and all the teams that are playing this week. From the selection committee’s viewpoint, we can’t have enough games or enough data in front of us to continue to review.”

Hocutt said that teams will not drop in the rankings if they win.

“History has shown that conference championship games can sometimes can build a resume and help a team or, other times, can hurt.”

There you have it folks, from the horses mouth. -EVB

No. 5 Michigan

Last week's loss to Ohio State puts the Wolverines on shaky ground when it comes to the Playoff. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Last week's loss to Ohio State puts the Wolverines on shaky ground when it comes to the Playoff. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Why they should get in: Yes Michigan is frozen in time at 10-2, not quite the 11-1 pedigree that Ron mentions in his Husky-love argument. But, a record ain’t nothin’ but a number, right? Or how about, quality over quantity. Pick any age-old adage you like. It still boils down to the same thing: who you play is more important than how many games you play (and win). Even Hocutt admitted that Washington’s “schedule is not as strong as others.”

With such a small margin of separation between Michigan and Washington, the committee turns to factors such as conference championships (advantage not known yet), strength of schedule (advantage: Michigan), head-to-head competition (unknown) and comparable outcomes against common teams (advantage to be determined).

It is subjective how much each metric counts for, as one is not more valuable than the others. But Washington’s game against Colorado becomes that much more important as Michigan beat the Buffs 45-28 at home. Both the Huskies and the Wolverines have also played Rutgers – Michigan defeated them 78-0 on the road and Washington beat them 48-13 at home.

Besides a loss to Iowa on the road, the biggest thing keeping Michigan out is its own conference because the committee fears a college football world that sees two Big Ten teams in the Playoff and zero Pac-12 squads. Forget fear, instead focus on the 14th-ranked schedule Michigan boasts and the key wins over AP No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 8 Penn State and No. 9 Colorado. Because numbers matter right? -EVB

Why they shouldn’t: Michigan’s resurgence has been nothing short of amazing under Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines boast one of the best defenses in the country, and on offense, they score 41.0 points per game.  Although they have been one of the best teams in college football, their CFP hopes rests on the failures other teams.

In comparison to Washington, their strength of schedule is tougher. But that’s not enough to give them the upper-hand. If the Huskies defeat Colorado just as Michigan did, it’ll give them the same amount of wins against AP Top 25 teams.

Despite wins over top teams in Wisconsin, Colorado and Penn State, the Wolverines have only won one game outside of the state Michigan. Like Washington, the Wolverines trampled Rutgers, but outside of that, they lack credible road victories.

In their last two road games, they lost to Ohio State and Iowa, earning them a third-place finish in the Big Ten East.

Unlike Washington, Michigan’s season is over, and there are no more opportunities to impress the committee. While the prestige of the university, Harbaugh, and the Jordan logo would be enough to trump the Huskies, but it's not enough to get them into the CFP. -RH

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