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Washington can help itself — and possibly USC — with a win over Colorado in the Pac-12 championship

Washington can help itself — and possibly USC — with a win over Colorado in the Pac-12 championship
Washington Coach Chris Petersen likes his team's chances of making the College Football Playoff. (Rick Bowmer / AP)

When Chris Petersen says he feels confident about his football team, winning on the field is only part of the story.

The Washington coach believes his No. 4 Huskies are ready to play for the Pac-12 Conference championship Friday.

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And he believes that, within the nuances of College Football Playoff system, a victory over No. 8 Colorado will persuade the selection committee to give Washington one of the coveted final four spots.

"If we take care of business," Petersen said, "those people usually do the right thing."

The title game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., pits a Huskies team that has hovered near the top of the national rankings most of the season against an upstart that was expected to finish at the bottom of the conference standings.

Colorado has only a slim chance of making the playoffs — even with a big upset win — if only because the Buffaloes would have to jump over four teams, including No. 5 Michigan, who defeated them earlier in the season.

But there are other potential rewards at stake, including a trip to the Rose Bowl and some validation.

The powers that be in college football "don't really want us here," Colorado safety Tedric Thompson said this week. "They want to see us lose by, whether it's three points or 50 points, it doesn't really matter. They just want to see us lose."

The oddsmakers put Washington as a seven-point favorite at midweek, so it could be an entertaining game. USC fans have a particular reason to watch.

If the Huskies win and make the playoffs, the Trojans stand a chance of leapfrogging Colorado in the CFP rankings and becoming the Pac-12's replacement team for Jan. 2 in Pasadena.

But first things first.

Washington is led by Jake Browning, who ranks among the most-efficient quarterbacks in the nation. It helps that he has a deep-threat receiver, John Ross III, who is tied for second nationally with 16 touchdown receptions.

"He's a fast guy," Thompson said of Ross. "Extremely fast."

Thompson is a ball-hawking center fielder (13 interceptions in four years) who possesses the speed and movement skills needed to cover a slot receiver. He’s not physical, which hints he might struggle to become a core special teams contributor right away.
Thompson is a ball-hawking center fielder (13 interceptions in four years) who possesses the speed and movement skills needed to cover a slot receiver. He’s not physical, which hints he might struggle to become a core special teams contributor right away. (David Zalubowski / AP)

The Buffaloes will answer with a defense that ranks fourth nationally — up with Michigan and Ohio State — in stopping the pass. So far, they have surrendered 188 yards a game — or almost 100 yards less than Washington usually gains through the air.

"They challenge you," Petersen said of their secondary. "They press a lot."

On offense, Colorado runs what the Washington coach describes as an unusual blend of Stanford and Arizona.

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"They go four-wide and go fast like a true spread team," he said. "But they have this power element that makes them different."

The Buffaloes' attack hinges on quarterback Sefo Liufau, who has an efficient arm and the size — 6-4, 230 — to run option reads and designed keepers between the tackles.

This season, the senior has gained better than three yards per carry while completing 64% of his passes for 2,150 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"I don't know if I ever envisioned running 20 times a game," he said. "But I'll do whatever it takes to win."

Washington will try to make Liufau uncomfortable with a front seven that is tied for 15th nationally with three sacks a game. The Huskies have surrendered slightly less than 18 points a game, which ties them for 10th in scoring defense.

"Great up front, and they have good corners," Liufau said. "It's going to be tough."

Whoever comes out on top will have to wait 36 hours or so before the CFP issues its final rankings Sunday morning, determining which teams go where.

"The committee continues to be impressed by what we have seen on the field from one-loss Washington," said Kirby Hocutt, chairman of the selection committee. "Their schedule is not as strong as others, but they have played and beaten good teams."

Petersen would agree. He can see a clear path to the playoffs.

"If we can get over that hurdle," he said.

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