Washington did what it had to do Friday. Now the Huskies must wait until Sunday morning to see if what they did was enough.
With freshman safety Taylor Rapp intercepting two third-quarter passes, returning one for a touchdown, and sophomore quarterback Jake Browning throwing for two more scores, fourth-ranked Washington blitzed No. 8 Colorado, 41-10, in the Pac-12 Conference championship game at Levi’s Stadium.
That leaves the Huskies’ fate in the hands of the 12-person College Football Playoff committee, which votes on the four-team playoff field Sunday. And though Washington’s one-sided win would seem to guarantee it an invitation, as we’ve seen already this fall, elections don’t always follow form.
However, Huskies Coach Chris Petersen made it clear he thinks his team is in.
“There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “We’ve got a heck of a team. We definitely belong. I think [the committee] will do what they should do, which is the right thing.”
Washington won’t be the only ones interested in the voting, though, because the committee will also set the rest of the top 25. And if it punishes Colorado harshly for Friday’s loss, that could open a path to the Rose Bowl for No. 11 USC.
What is certain is that the resourceful Huskies made a strong case they’re a playoff team. When their high-powered passing attack sputtered, they kept the ball on the ground. When they needed some offense, they turned to their defense, with Rapp picking off the first two Colorado passes of the second half.
“I didn’t see any of this coming,” Rapp said. “It’s all so crazy, it’s all so surreal. It feels like a dream out there.”
Washington (12-1) got off to a quick start, marching 65 yards on an opening drive capped by Lavon Coleman’s one-yard run. And when Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau was lost for the rest of the first half with a twisted knee two minutes later, it looked like the Buffaloes were in for a long night.
Backup Steven Montez stepped up on the next possession, completing a key third-down pass to set up Phillip Lindsay’s tying three-yard run. That would be the only time Colorado would see the end zone, and when Browning found Darrell Daniels for a 15-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter, Washington went ahead to stay.
It was Rapp who put the game away, intercepting Liufau’s first two passes of the second half to help turn a seven-point halftime lead into a 17-point advantage less than four minutes into the third quarter.
“We’re not in yet,” Rapp warned. “We still have to see what the committee says. But, I mean, we have a pretty good chance.”
Washington came into Friday holding a tenuous lead over Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State in the battle for the fourth and final playoff berth. But the committee looks at more than just won-loss records. Conference championships are also important — the Huskies checked that box Friday — as is strength of schedule. And there Washington is lacking; although it matched a school record with 12 wins, it did so while playing the weakest schedule of any Power Five team ranked in the CFP top 25.
Beating Colorado (10-3) will help, giving the Huskies two wins over top-10 teams. Whether Washington’s win also helps USC (9-3), which beat both Colorado and Washington this season, is less certain.
Either way, this wasn’t the end Colorado hoped for. Last in the Pac-12 South a year ago, the Buffaloes made it to the conference title game this fall, their first winning season since 2005.
It was the biggest turnaround in conference history. Now their fate is in the hands of the CFP voters too.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11