Surprise! Committee Pulls a Fast One

The biggest surprise from the College Football Playoff committee this year is that there were no surprises.

While there were rampant speculations on who might be the fourth team in the four-team playoff, at the end the committee stuck to the script, picking the four Power 5 teams with one or fewer losses for the field. And the rest of the New Year’s Six bowl games also fell in line exactly as how we projected Saturday night …

No one should have any beef with these decisions, really. Penn State, at No. 5, has two losses, including a 39-point beatdown by No. 6 Michigan, which actually has a stronger case than the Nittany Lions. The Big 12 is left out of the playoff for the second time in three years, leading its commissioner Bob Bowlsby to howl. But it has no real argument, either (more on that later).

Now that we’ve had three years of the playoff, just exactly what have we learned from the committee in its decision making?

The truth? Nothing. The members make their calls not any different from how voters in the polls or knowledgeable pundits make theirs. Conference championships are important – until they’re not. Head to head matters, until it’s not. The “13th data point” is relevant, until it’s irrelevant.

For the first time, a non-conference champion is picked for the playoff, and Ohio State’s inclusion was a slam-dunk. The Buckeyes are ranked third by the committee only for cosmetic reasons – so they’ll wear white uniforms against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, but they’re favored by Vegas.

Washington’s inclusion was the least certain, but after its 41-10 demolition of Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Huskies secured the final spot. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt admitted that UW’s weak nonconference schedule (ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams) was a concern, but at the end its work in conference play was enough to hold off the Big Ten champion Penn State.

Let’s face it, despite all the statistical information and all the game footage at their disposal, the committee members are no more than knowledgeable fans. It’s a waste of time trying to make much more out of that.

USC is back: For the first time since the Pete Carroll era, USC is in a BCS/NY6 bowl game. The Trojans will be making their record 34th appearance in the Rose Bowl, the first time they’re in the Granddaddy of Them All since after the 2008 season. USC also keeps alive another amazing streak, as it’s played in a Rose Bowl during every presidential administration since Herbert Hoover in 1929. The Trojans just made it before Barack Obama leaves office.

SEC is hollowed out: While Alabama continues to be the undisputed most dominant program in college football under Nick Saban, the rest of the SEC has fallen off a cliff. The SEC only got a second NY6 bowl because contractually the Sugar Bowl had to pick a team from that conference. Auburn, at No. 14 and with four losses, is ranked lower than any other Power 5 participants in NY6 bowls, and actually ranked lower than even the Group 5 rep Western Michigan in both the AP and Coaches polls.

Row the Boat: Western Michigan became the third different G5 conference champion to appear in an NY6 bowl, joining Boise State (Mountain West) in 2014 and Houston (American) in 2015. The MAC champions are the only other undefeated FBS team besides No. 1 Alabama. Win or lose in the Cotton Bowl, it’ll probably lead to a big job for coach P.J. Fleck, who’s in his fourth season at the helm of the Broncos and just turned 36 last week.

Game of the Week

Penn State 38, Wisconsin 31: The Big Ten Championship Game was “only” for a Rose Bowl berth, but turned out highly entertaining nonetheless. The Nittany Lions overcame turnovers and questionable decisions by coach James Franklin that dug them in a 28-7 hole before storming back to win their first conference title since 2008, before the Jerry Sandusky scandals came to light and the ensuing NCAA sanctions. It’ll be Penn State’s first BCS/NY6 bowl appearance since losing the 2009 Rose Bowl to USC, 38-24.

Player of the Week

Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: The Sooners didn’t make the playoff, but Oklahoma did win their second consecutive Big 12 title and clinch a trip to the Sugar Bowl, beating Oklahoma State in Bedlam, 38-20. Perine was the workhorse, carrying the ball a career-high 37 times for 239 yards as Oklahoma rolled up 629 total yards to pull away late.

The Weak

We seem to have all figured out how the committee works, except the Big 12. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is demanding to know why his conference is left out of the playoff for the second time in  three seasons.

That’s easy, Bob. Oklahoma was beaten badly by Ohio State, at home, and also lost to Houston. The Sooners had no case, nor did any other Big 12 teams.

The Big 12 rushed to add a championship game starting in the 2017 season despite not expanding and not putting its 10 teams in two divisions. In this year’s case, Bedlam would’ve been a totally meaningless affair as both teams would’ve been assured of a berth in the Big 12 title game a week later.

This conference cannot disband soon enough.

— Samuel Chi is the managing editor of RealClearSports.com and proprietor of College Football Exchange. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePlayoffGuru.

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What Is Committee Trying to Say?

Yes, we’ve learned from the last two years not to take too much stock in the playoff committee’s weekly rankings. We should really only care about what it puts up on the final Sunday.

But this year might be different. There seems to be enough from Tuesday night’s reveal of its penultimate rankings to parse what’s in store for college football’s final regular-season weekend. This much we know:

1. Ohio State is a lock: Despite not playing in the Big Ten championship game, the Buckeye have clinched a playoff spot and can rest up and enjoy a bye week. Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said there’s a wide gulf between Ohio State and Penn State, in spite of the Nittany Lions’ having won head-to-head and claiming a spot in the Big Ten title game.

2. Michigan is much closer than you think: Hocutt must have repeated it a thousand times after Tuesday’s reveal on a conference call that No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Michigan are running neck and neck. In fact, he used “razor thin” to describe the gap between the two teams. The Wolverines throttled Colorado earlier in the season, and if Washington can’t beat the Buffs in similar fashion, it may be in danger of being left out of the playoff.

3. Big Ten title game might be for naught: With Ohio State already a lock and Michigan just outside, are Wisconsin and Penn State really playing for a shot at a playoff spot? Both teams lost to Michigan during the regular season, so would a conference championship trump that? To hear Hocutt talk, it seems that the committee is willing to include multiple at-large teams this year after taking only conference champions in the previous two seasons.

4. Big 12 is toast: By ranking Oklahoma and Oklahoma State at Nos. 9 and 10, respectively, the committee made it clear that neither is getting into the playoff no matter who wins Bedlam and the Big 12 championship. Even with mass chaos ahead of them, these two teams are playing for no more than a Sugar Bowl berth.

5. So just who are still alive?: The committee members will pick four teams out of the pool of the top five plus the Big Ten champion. If both Clemson and Washington win, most likely they’ll stick with the top four. If both Clemson and Washington lose, they’ll take Michigan and the Big Ten champ to join Ohio State and Alabama. They will face a thorny decision if Clemson or Washington loses, but not both. The question comes down to: which Big Ten team takes the last playoff spot?

Game of the Week

Washington (-7) vs. Colorado, Pac-12 Championship, 9 p.m. ET Friday, FOX

It’s the most consequential of the Power 5 championship games this weekend. Washington needs to win, and perhaps impressively, to lock up a playoff spot. Huskies QB Jake Browning will also get one last chance to maybe sway a few Heisman voters, as all the other contenders have the weekend off. For the Buffs, it’s probably Pasadena or bust, as a blowout loss will cause them to cede a Rose Bowl berth to USC.

Also keep an eye on

Wisconsin (-2.5) vs. Penn State, Big Ten Championship, 8 p.m. ET, FOX

Both teams still harbor playoff hopes as the winner may sneak in if things break their way elsewhere. Wisconsin, with losses to both Ohio State and Michigan, and playing in the weaker Big Ten West, may have more to prove. Penn State has made a dramatic turnaround after early season losses to Pitt and Michigan and probably will have a better argument for a playoff spot if it wins.

Upset special

Clemson (-10) vs. Virginia Tech, ACC Championship, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Despite its No. 3 ranking, Clemson has been the shakiest team among the playoff contenders. The Tigers needed overtime to beat NC State, barely survived both Florida State and Louisville, and lost to Pitt at home. The Hokies are ahead of schedule under first-year coach Justin Fuente and just might have what it takes to pull off a stunner.

Player to watch

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (-12), 12:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Bedlam will serve as the de facto Big 12 championship game this year, but if the scenario repeats itself in 2007, this would be a totally meaningless game as both teams are guaranteed a rematch in the actual Big 12 Championship Game the following week. Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook should receive more recognition as the odds-on favorite to claim the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver after amassing 1,354 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns this season.

What Surprise Will Committee Spring?

Well, that was embarrassing.

Four days after the playoff selection committee inexplicably ranked Texas A&M fourth in its initial 2016 rankings, the Aggies were dumped by lowly Mississippi State, which is struggling to gain bowl eligibility. Washington, a team that should’ve been in the top four, routed California and by all reasonable measure ought to be in the committee’ top four this week.

But don’t bet on it.

It’s entirely plausible for the committee to anoint one-loss Ohio State as its new No. 4, ahead of unbeaten Washington this week. Chairman Kirby Hocutt will give his spin as to why this is so and a new round of talking points will spring to life for the rest of the week.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this, right? The whole point of having the weekly rankings release is to gin up interest in college football, so a little controversy is good for business, no?

There is just one problem. The selection committee is fast losing credibility and worse yet, being seen by a significant group of fans as having a bias. That, in the long run, is bad for college football.

The bias accusation surfaced with the very first committee rankings in history, back in 2014, when three of the top four teams were from the SEC. In both 2015 and ’16, the initial rankings also contained two SEC teams each in the top four. No Pac-12 or Big 12 teams were ever ranked in the initial top four in the three-year existence of the CFP.

The Big 12 was excluded from the first year of the playoff. The Pac-12 in the second. And this year, it looks like the Big 12 is already done while the committee is looking for every excuse to snub the Pac-12 as well – at least that’s the perception.

Washington’s exclusion from the top four in the first rankings generated much howling, especially on the West Coast. While for the most part everybody understands that the weekly committee rankings – except for the final – mean very little, the appearance that there’s an agenda at work is already undermining the process.

As much as the BCS was flawed, there at least was a measure of transparency. The 12-member committee of the CFP, however, answers to no one and each individual never had to share his or her ballot with the public, unlike voters in the AP and coaches polls (or the Harris Poll under the BCS).

The committee is essentially acting the same way as the Politburo of the old Soviet Union, a supreme ruling body that’s unelected and unaccountable. It issues inexplicable edicts from afar (OK, Grapevine, Texas). It plays favorites.

That’s not a good look.

Game of the Week

Navy 28, Notre Dame 27: The Fighting Irish had six possessions in the game, scored on five of them, and lost. Navy showed in a textbook fashion how to overcome significant talent disadvantage by running its time-eating triple option to perfection. The Midshipmen never punted in the game and chewed up more than 20 minutes of possession time in the second half, including the final 7:28 to run out the clock. It was Navy’s fourth victory over Notre Dame in the last 10 years.

Player of the Week

D’Onta Foreman, Texas: Despite the difficult season the Longhorns are having, the junior running back has absolutely been a bright spot. Foreman has run for over 100 yards in each of his eight games this season, and on Saturday he carried 33 times for 341 rushing yards – just 9 shy of the school record set by Ricky Williams – in Texas’ 45-37 victory over Texas Tech that kept its postseason hopes alive.

The Weak

After Cincinnati’s desultory 20-3 home loss to BYU to drop to 4-5, coach Tommy Tuberville was heckled by a fan for “stealing from the university.” Unable to contain his frustration, Tuberville shouted back, telling the fan to “go to hell” and “get a job.” Chances are the fan has a job and he paid his hard-earned money to go to Bearcats games. Tuberville, who’s making well over $2 million per year, should’ve kept his mouth shut.

Projected committee rankings

1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Michigan, 4. Ohio State, 5. Washington, 6. Louisville, 7. Wisconsin, 8. Auburn, 9. Oklahoma, 10. Penn State, 11. Colorado, 12. Texas A&M, 13. Utah, 14. West Virginia, 15. Oklahoma State.

Top Group of 5 teams – Western Michigan, Boise State, San Diego State, Navy.

Projected New Year’s Six bowl matchups

Fiesta Bowl (CFP semifinal): Clemson vs. Michigan

Peach Bowl (CFP semifinal): Alabama vs. Washington

Rose Bowl: Colorado vs. Wisconsin

Sugar Bowl: Auburn vs. Oklahoma

Orange Bowl: Louisville vs. Ohio State

Cotton Bowl: Penn State vs. Western Michigan

Washington’s Chance to Make a Statement

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.

Upset special

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.

What’s Next in Realignment Game?

To almost no one’s surprise, the Big 12 decided to stay put with 10 teams after possibly extracting some extra cash from its television partners.

So does that mean we have peace for our time in college football?

Hardly. As the Big 12’s dog-and-pony show concluded on Monday with a press conference, the most unbelievable statement came from Oklahoma president David Boren. He declared that the the 10 teams from the Big 12 are committed to stay together for the long haul.

If you believe that, I have a bridge on the south end of Manhattan I’d like to sell you.

In many ways, the Big 12 pretty much authored its own demise eight years hence with its decision not to expand. Texas and Oklahoma, about the only two valuable properties in the conference, will be busy flirting elsewhere over the next decade. Monday’s decision merely delays the next round of realignment until the current TV and grant-of-rights agreements run out after the 2024-25 season.

What will happen next?

It’s almost without question that Texas has its eyes set on the Big Ten – and vice versa. It’s a good fit culturally and athletically. The Longhorns will have to ditch their namesake TV network, but since it’s bleeding money annually for ESPN, that’s probably not a deal-breaker by that point.

Oklahoma most likely will end up in the SEC, with Oklahoma State in tow as a package deal. Kansas might join Texas in the Big Ten, even with its weak football program. It has a powerhouse basketball team, can deliver a decent sized market (Kansas City, Mo.) and has the best academic profile after Texas in the Big 12 as a member of the Association of American Universities.

The ACC will probably poach some combination of UConn, Cincinnati and West Virginia, taking one or two of these teams. If independence proves to be a flop in the playoff era, Notre Dame might swallow hard and finally become a full member of the ACC.

That creates three 16-team super conferences, along with the Pac-12. With a floundering network and increasing revenue gap between it and the Big Ten, SEC and ACC, it’s doubtful that the Pac-12 will be in position to create its own 16-team conference, especially considering the slim pickin’s of the leftovers. Likely it’ll stand pat as it is unless it wants to scoop up lower-profile schools such as San Diego State or UNLV.

More probable than not, the remaining Big 12 schools (Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor) as well as BYU will be picked up by either the American Athletic or Mountain West. These two won’t become power conferences, but may have slightly better access to a revamped playoff system after the current CFP deal expires following the 2025 season.

Is your head done spinning yet? It’s OK. It’ll be a few years before the next expansion/realignment show kicks in gear.

Game of the Week

Texas A&M at Alabama (-17.5), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

This is supposed to be the middle part of Alabama’s three-game “gauntlet” but the truth is that’s just hype. The Crimson Tide are head and shoulders above everyone else in the very mediocre SEC and they probably won’t face much resistance from the unbeaten Aggies on Saturday for more than a half. Until the playoff, it doesn’t appear anyone has a legitimate chance of knocking off the defending national champion.

Also keep an eye on

TCU at West Virginia (-5), 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2

The Mountaineers passed their road test with flying colors in Lubbock a week ago, but this will be their sternest challenge to-date in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. WVU is 1-3 against the Frogs and has never beaten them in Morgantown since both teams joined the Big 12 in 2012. But this year the Mountaineers might finally have the defense to squeak one out against a pretty ordinary TCU team.

Upset special

Ole Miss at LSU (-5.5), 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Is there really any reason for either team to be ranked? The SEC has eight ranked team in the latest AP poll but none of them has beaten a single ranked team in a nonconference game. But somehow these SEC teams continue to play and beat each other while staying ranked. Both of these teams’ best games of the season to-date are in fact losses, with Ole Miss losing to Alabama and LSU beaten at Wisconsin.

Player to watch

BYU at Boise State (-7), 10:15 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN

No doubt BYU is crushed by the Big 12’s decision not to expand as it’s easily the most attractive program not currently in a Power 5 conference. The Cougars must put that disappointment aside to face the most formidable team outside of the Power 5. If they want to pull off a victory on the blue turf they will have to ride their senior running back Jamaal Williams, who’s second in FBS with 942 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Houston’s Loss Shakes Up Playoff Race

The happiest people about Navy’s upset of Houston – besides the giddy Midshipmen who get an extra school day off – are probably the members of the College Football Playoff selection committee. A potential giant headache has suddenly vanished into thin air.

The Cougars’ defeat eliminated them from the playoff race as well as any possibility of a Group of Five team crashing the four-team party. Louisville also became collateral damage of Houston’s 46-40 loss at Annapolis, as the Cardinals are now robbed of any signature victory on their resume.

With that, the playoff pecking order seems pretty clear now. The Big 12 has virtually eliminated itself from the race, leaving conference champions from the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC vying for the four spots. One other team is also lurking – the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game. With both teams steamrolling toward their Nov. 26 showdown, it’s highly likely that neither will be defeated except in that one game.

So, to recap, this is where the playoff race stands, by conference:

  1. Big Ten: Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska
  2. SEC: Alabama, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida
  3. ACC: Clemson, Louisville, Virginia Tech
  4. Pac-12: Washington
  5. Michigan-Ohio State loser
  6. Big 12: Baylor, West Virginia

For all intents and purposes, these are the only 14 teams still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Houston’s loss has made the selection committee’s job that much easier.

As for the Cougars, not only are they completely out of the playoff picture, they’re in danger of missing a berth in the New Year’s Six bowl game. Remember, the Group of Five automatic entry is guaranteed only to the highest-ranked G5 conference champion, and right now Houston needs Navy to lose twice just to win its division.

Houston’s demise makes Boise State the frontrunner for that G5 automatic berth as the Broncos are 5-0, with a pair of victories over Pac-12 teams. Western Michigan would be right behind Boise, as those Broncos are 6-0 with a pair of victories over Big Ten teams.

Game of the Week

Texas A&M 45, Tennessee 38 (OT): Butch Jones’ Vols finally ran out of miracles after trailing big and then rallying for a third straight game. Tennessee came back from 21- and 17-point deficits to beat Florida and Georgia and was down 21 to the Aggies and looked out of it. But the Vols got a late fumble that went for a touchback to mount a drive to tie and survived regulation when A&M missed its game-winning field goal attempt. But they couldn’t carry on in overtime and must move on fast as Alabama is next.

Player of the Week

JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC: Forget his five catches for a game-high 113 yards, the best play was the yards that Smith-Schuster didn’t get after catching a pass for 25 yards with 1:15 remaining that allowed USC to seal its 21-17 victory over Colorado. JuJu could’ve walked into the end zone for a touchdown to put the Trojans up by 10, but that would’ve allowed the Buffs to get the ball back – and even if it’s unlikely – to have a chance to get back in the game. It was both an unselfish and smart play and deserve our highest praise.

The Weak I

A day after the 100-year anniversary of Georgia Tech’s 222-0 pasting of Cumberland, a game of equal absurdity took place in Michigan’s 78-0 rout of Rutgers. This is supposed to be a Big Ten conference matchup, but it was a mismatch more resembling of an FCS “body bag” blowout. Michigan outgained Rutgers in yards, 600-39, with the Knights getting 29 of those in the final two drives against the Wolverines’ third- and fourth-stringers. Or put it this way, Michigan had twice as many points as Rutgers had yards.

The Weak II

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey now has to scramble to figure out how he may reschedule the LSU-Florida game that was supposed to be played Saturday in the Swamp. But in a true display of master statecraft, outgoing Florida AD Jeremy Foley outmaneuvered Sankey to force a postponement that now looks like an outright cancellation, which serves to Florida’s advantage. There’s no easy solution to get the game made up, and likely Sankey will just have to pray that this unplayed game won’t affect SEC conference races.

The rankings

1. Alabama, 2. Michigan, 3. Ohio State, 4. Clemson, 5. Washington, 6. Texas A&M, 7. Louisville, 8. Wisconsin, 9. Nebraska, 10. Boise State, 11. Baylor, 12. Tennessee, 13. Virginia Tech, 14. West Virginia, 15. Florida State.

Huskies and Ducks Ships Passing at Night

Once upon a time, the Washington Huskies and Oregon Ducks had one of the best rivalries in college football. It was the most anticipated matchup of the year in the Pacific Northwest, more than the Apple Cup or the Civil War.

All that changed in the last decade as Oregon ascended to a national power while Washington languished as a Pac-10/12 also-ran. The Ducks have won 12 straight in the series, dating back to 2004.

On Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX), however, Washington is ready to flip the script. Maybe for a good while.

The Huskies will invade Autzen Stadium ranked No. 5 (in the AP poll) and as the only remaining unbeaten team in the Pac-12. Fresh off a walloping of Stanford on national TV and they’re now the conference’s best (maybe the only) positioned team to contest for a College Football Playoff spot.

They’ll find an Oregon team in complete disarray, with speculations swirling about the job security of coach Mark Helfrich, who only two years ago took the Ducks to the inaugural CFP title game. But this season the Ducks are 2-3, having been drubbed back-to-back by Colorado and Washington State and giving up 92 points in those two losses.

There might not be a quick short-term fix for Oregon’s sudden decline. The program has had some bright moments, notably under Rich Brooks in the ’90s, Mike Bellotti in the early 2000s and of course, the current run started by Chip Kelly in 2009. But does Oregon have what it takes to sustain success?

Perhaps not. Even in the best of times, Oregon almost never reeled in top talent. Neither Kelly nor Helfrich ever had a top 10 recruiting class. In the past five years, Oregon’s recruiting classes ranked somewhere between 16th and 28th. The Ducks have neglected defense for the most part – and hiring Brady Hoke as the new defensive coordinator this past offseason has failed to arrest the continued defensive slide.

From 2009 to 2014, when the Ducks played for the national title twice (and lost both times), they gave up an average of around 20-24 points per game. That number went up alarmingly last year to an average of 38 and this year they’re at 36 points per through five games.

This is exactly the same reason why Washington has suddenly become a national power again.

While most remember Chris Petersen’s Boise State teams for the statue-of-liberty type of trick plays, his Broncos were able to compete with college football’s big boys even with lesser talent because they wouldn’t get pushed around. When he came to Washington, he brought the same philosophy and now he can do it with better players.

While Washington gave up an average of 28 points per game under Steve Sarkisian from 2009-13, it has become much stingier under Petersen. The Huskies allowed just 19 points per game in 2015 and only 13 per this year. Against Stanford last week, Washington absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in a 44-6 rout.

As a result, the Huskies may very well return to their previous status as the bully on the block. Under the legendary Don James, Washington was a perennial powerhouse, winning six Pac-10 titles, four Rose Bowls and shared the 1991 national championship with Miami. In his 18 seasons in Seattle, James was 15-3 against Oregon.

Washington is poised to end its current 12-game losing streak against the Ducks and start a new era of dominance. This Saturday’s game has the feel of two ships passing each other at night, heading in opposite directions.

Game of the Week

Tennessee at Texas A&M (-7), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Will the cardiac kids of Tennessee finally run out of miracles? After absolutely stealing one from Between the Hedges against Georgia last week, the Vols must take on an SEC foe equally apt at second-half comebacks. This unexpected top 10 showdown between two undefeated teams may very well shake up SEC races in both divisions.

Also keep an eye on

Alabama (-14) at Arkansas, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Nearly every year in the Nick Saban era, the Crimson Tide would lose an SEC game unexpectedly, whether it’s Johnny Football (2012), Kick Six (2013) or back-to-back to Ole Miss (2014-15). The visit to Fayetteville just might be Alabama’s trap game of the year as it will face Tennessee and Texas A&M in the next two weeks. Bret Bielema is in his fourth season at the helm of the Hogs and must prove he can truly compete in the SEC.

Upset special

Texas vs. Oklahoma (-10.5) at Dallas, noon ET, FS1

Charlie Strong’s seat is red hot after Texas’ back-to-back losses to Cal and Oklahoma State, and as a quick fix he has taken back defensive calls from DC Vance Bedford. With their backs against the wall, the Longhorns just might show up and play their best game of the year as they did last season against Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry showdown.

Player to watch

Washington State at Stanford (-7.5), 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

For the second year in a row, the Cougars opened the season 2-2, losing the season opener to an FCS team. But just like last year, Washington State didn’t go into the tank, but got better and quickly, thanks to its fearless junior quarterback Luke Falk. Through four games, Falk is averaging over 370 passing yards per game with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Last year, Falk aired it out 61 times for 354 yards in a 30-28 loss to Stanford when WSU missed a field goal at the gun. He is posed to to end Wazzu’s eight-game losing streak to the Cardinal.