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Washington's path to a playoff spot is clear after its drubbing of Washington State

Washington wasted little time in demonstrating why it is considered one of the best teams in the country in its rout of Washington State in the Apple Cup.

A highly anticipated matchup between in-state rivals Washington and Washington State was far less competitive than expected. The Huskies bludgeoned the Cougars on their home turf, racking up 512 total yards and six touchdowns in a 45–17 rout. The win clinches the Pac-12 North Division for Washington, and it will face either USC or Colorado in the conference title game next week. Here are three thoughts on what unfolded at Martin Stadium:

1. Washington got off to a great start

Washington wasted little time in demonstrating why it is considered one of the best teams in the country. The Huskies scored touchdowns on their first four drives, including consecutive passing scores from quarterback Jake Browning to wide receiver Dante Pettis, and limited the Cougars to only three points over their first five sequences. Browning picked apart Washington State’s pass defense, and the Huskies shut down star quarterback Luke Falk and the Cougars’ high-octane attack. Through the first quarter, Washington was averaging 11.4 yards per play compared to 4.9 for Washington State, and the Huskies had recorded nine first downs compared to two for the Cougars. 

Washington State finally got into the end zone in the second quarter when it took advantage of good field position after forcing a fumble from Washington receiver John Ross, but the Huskies responded with a seven-play, 85-yard touchdown drive to extend its lead to 25 points. The Cougars’ nightmare half came to a close with them squandering another scoring opportunity, as Falk lofted a pass into heavy coverage in the end zone for an interception. It goes without saying this was not the way Washington State envisioned the first two quarters of this game unfolding, but unlike most situations, when the high-scoring Cougars could feel confident in their ability to make up sizable deficits, the vast disparity in performance between these two teams over the first two quarters left the impression that Washington had already secured the win.

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2. This is the Washington we’re used to

Washington’s Nov. 12 loss to USC was one of the most stunning results of the season. The Trojans, dismissed as a national contender after getting out to a 1–3 start, dominated the Huskies on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Sam Darnold soundly outplayed Washington counterpart and Heisman Trophy candidate Jake Browning. That pasting in Seattle raised doubts about the Huskies’ viability as the Pac-12’s best team. They had blown most of their opponents off the field to that point, but they were no match for the Trojans. Could Washington rebound to win its division? Washington answered that question on Friday by comfortably handling Washington State. The Huskies raced out to a 25-point lead in the first half and never really looked back, keeping the Cougars at bay with a pair of stops on 4th-and-goal, four turnovers and a superlative showing from Browning (21-of-29, 292 yards, 3 TDs, 0 Int). 

If Washington looked sluggish and overmatched against USC, it projected confidence and poise throughout Friday’s game. This performance was particularly encouraging considering the Huskies could meet USC again in the conference championship game (Colorado is the other possible opponent). A repeat of their first effort against the Trojans almost certainly would mark the end of Washington’s season, but the form it used to subdue Washington State should produce, at the very least, a more competitive contest. Irrespective of whether the Huskies face USC again, if Washington’s play on Friday was a preview of what it can offer the rest of the season, it should feel good about its chances in the league title game and at a spot in the College Football Playoff.

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3. Washington’s CFP path is clear

One of the most notable details of the playoff selection committee’s latest set of rankings was its placement of Washington. The Huskies were slotted fifth, ahead of two-loss Big Ten teams Wisconsin (No. 6) and Penn State (No. 7). Either of those teams could claim the Big Ten title depending on what happens in tomorrow’s showdown between Ohio State and Michigan, but the ordering suggests Washington would have the edge over the Badgers or Nittany Lions on selection Sunday. It also should be in position to get an invitation at the expense of the Big 12 champion, no. 8 Oklahoma or no. 10 Oklahoma State (the teams play in Norman next week). 

A number of different scenarios remain possible, and the unpredictable nature of the committee makes projections risky at this stage, especially considering committee chair Kirby Hocutt expressed concern about Washington’s strength of schedule. But the Huskies could breathe a sigh of relief with their most recent ranking. If they can handle either Colorado or USC in the Pac-12 title game (and add another likely top-15 win in the process) they should be in good shape for a bid. It helps that Chris Petersen’s team looked so dominant on the road against one of the best teams in the Pac-12 on Friday.