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Washington in spotlight as Pac-12’s best playoff hope

The Big Ten lost a couple of legitimate playoff contenders over the weekend when Ohio State and Penn State each went down with their second loss of the season. That pins the Big Ten’s playoff hopes on an undefeated Wisconsin that has struggled to gain respect so far due to a lackluster strength of schedule. That could change in the coming weeks with games against Michigan and Iowa and, potentially, the Big Ten championship game, but the Big Ten appears to be flirting with missing the playoff for the first time in the brief history of the College Football Playoff.

Out west, the Pac-12 is hoping it can avoid missing the playoff for the second time. The conference is without an undefeated team and Washington is probably the last hope the conference has of making the playoff for a second straight season. As the only one-loss team in the Pac-12, the Huskies have a slim margin for error down the stretch, and they have some rocky games to come.

The Huskies debuted at No. 12 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings last week and were the highest-ranked team from the Pac-12 according to the selection committee. Being 12th is not the most ideal ranking, but far from impossible to reach the playoff if past years are any indication. But it is pretty clear Washington cannot afford a second loss this season. Washington has to go 4-0 in their next four games to make the playoff push, and it will be quite a challenging four-game gauntlet to play through.

It begins this Friday night with a road game against Stanford. The Cardinal have a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back with Bryce Love who is looking to bounce back in a big way after he and the Cardinal were defeated on the road against Washington State. At 8-2 overall and 5-2 in Pac-12 play, those pesky Cougars could also pose a threat to Washington in the Apple Cup if Washington can survive at Stanford and then a home game against Utah. Get through those three games with wins, and Washington will have a chance to make their playoff case in the Pac-12 championship game against a USC team that could potentially enter the conference title game at 10-2. The Trojans would also be looking to make some noise, because after losing to Notre Dame in a blowout the Trojans have taken control of the Pac-12 South. The Trojans were the preseason favorite in the Pac-12 and are on their way to at least playing for the conference title.

If Washington ends the season at 12-1 with the Pac-12 championship, they will have the same record and resume they did a year ago. But the Huskies were the fourth and final team in last year, and this year the competition for the four spots may be even more competitive. To get to the playoff, Washington will very likely have to be 12-1. A second loss would knock them out of the running, and with that could erase the Pac-12 from the playoff entirely.

Washington plays at Stanford on Friday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 p.m. eastern. It should be worth staying up to watch if you are on the east coast.