If a tree falls in the forest, and it’s televised on the Pac-12 Network, does it make a sound?
That is essentially why despite being 7-0, the Washington Huskies remain the best-kept secret among College Football Playoff contenders. Of the Huskies’ seven games this season, five were carried by the Pac-12 Network, meaning more than 90 percent of the country never got a chance to witness them.
In fact, Washington’s first four games this season were on the Pac-12 Network while it remained anonymous. It wasn’t until back-to-back demolitions of Stanford and Oregon – carried by ESPN and FOX, respectively – did the Huskies finally crack the top five of the polls, where they belong.
With the selection committee set to release its first rankings next Tuesday, it’s imperative for Washington to make a good (perhaps, first) impression. And the Huskies will have an opportunity to do just that this weekend.
Saturday’s Washington-Utah game at Rice-Eccles Stadium may very well serve as a preview of the Pac-12 championship game. Both teams are tied for the lead in their respective divisions and along with South co-leader Colorado are the only Pac-12 teams currently ranked in the polls.
The Huskies likely will have to run the table to secure a playoff spot, since the Pac-12 is not viewed favorably this season with a host of middling teams. A loss somewhere in the regular season will leave Washington at the mercy of the selection committee, which must leave out at least one of the Power 5 champions out of the four-team playoff field.
The Pac-12’s woeful television setup is not helping the Huskies. The Pac-12 Network, in its fifth year of existence yet has only about one-fifth of the audience of fellow conference networks BTN and SEC Network. The Pac-12 Network’s lack of distribution has already hurt the conference in many ways, most notably it cost Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey the Heisman Trophy last season.
Since this is the disadvantage the Huskies must overcome, they have to perform well whenever they’re actually on one of the national networks against highly-ranked opponents. Saturday’s game is an important audition in more ways than one (more on that later).
Game of the Week
Nebraska at Wisconsin (-9), 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The winner of this game likely will represent the Big Ten West to take on the Michigan-Ohio State winner in the conference title game. Despite already having two losses, Wisconsin can claw its way back into the race by beating the Cornhuskers, who must make a trek to Columbus next week. A win by Nebraska all but seals the division title for the Big Red, as it will have a three-game cushion on Wisconsin as well as holding the tiebreaker edge.
Also keep an eye on
Clemson (-4) at Florida State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
A year ago this game decided the winner of the ACC and its representative in the playoff. There’s no such implication this year as FSU is already out of the race while Clemson has an ironclad hold on the Atlantic Division after already having beaten Louisville. What can happen, however, is that the Noles may play spoiler and put the Tigers’ back-to-back playoff hopes in peril.
Florida (-7.5) vs. Georgia at Jacksonville, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Much of the shine has come off this Cocktail Party as Georgia lost three of its last four games, including to Vanderbilt in its last game. Florida is desperately trying to hang on to the SEC East lead, with road trips to Arkansas and LSU still ahead. A Bulldogs victory likely will hand the division to Tennessee, which has already defeated both of those teams in dramatic fashion.
Player to watch
Washington (-10) at Utah, 3:30 p.m. ET, FS1
While Washington continues its playoff quest, its quarterback is on a mission of his own. Jake Browning is the lynchpin of the Huskies’ offensive attack and he’s been nearly flawless this season, thus landing him on anyone’s Heisman candidate short list. Browning has completed 69 percent of his passes with 26 touchdowns against just two interceptions. His 199.6 passer rating is tops among Power 5 quarterbacks. But since he’s been rarely seen by a national audience, this game will provide him and Washington a chance to chop down a cherry tree, and be heard.