SEATTLE — Washington’s nonconference schedule clouded the Huskies’ candidacy for the College Football Playoff for weeks.
It was at the forefront of the debate again Sunday when the Huskies landed the No. 4 seed and a spot in the national semifinals against top-ranked Alabama .
The weak competition Washington rolled through in the nonconference season became an argument against the Huskies’ inclusion despite a 12-1 record and a Pac-12 championship. But it also raised the question of how nonconference games should be examined by the playoff committee when those games are often scheduled years in advance.
“That’s what’s so hard about it,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “Everyone wants to criticize on strength of schedule, but that schedule was made long before I ever got here, for sure.”
No matter how impressive the rest of Washington’s resume, the decision to include the Huskies left the committee open for criticism and some administrators scratching their heads about how to move forward after a team was rewarded for a nonconference schedule that included wins over Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State.
“I think our discussions and our decision would have been much easier if Washington would have had a stronger strength of schedule,” committee chair Kirby Hocutt said.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN.com that he was not sure how to advise his members on scheduling after seeing the Huskies included.
“We’ve told our schools you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t get in if you play a weak nonconference schedule, and then somebody with a weak nonconference schedule does get in,” Bowlsby told ESPN.
Speaking shortly after receiving the playoff berth, Petersen seemed to understand the complaints that led to so much debate about the Huskies’ worth.
“I think everyone is trying to schedule well, and then programs and teams changed, some good, some not so good, so it’s very hard to get the proper balance,” Petersen said. “It’s hard enough just to get a good matchup down the road, and then things really change. It’s a lot easier said than done. I think everyone realizes that.”
Washington’s home-and-home with Rutgers was announced in March 2014 when the Scarlett Knights were coming off eight bowl appearances in the previous nine seasons, with six eight-win seasons during that stretch. Rutgers also provided Washington a reconnection with the Big Ten. What Washington couldn’t anticipate was the freefall of the Rutgers program since that announcement was made.
The nonconference schedule never used to be a question for Washington, but changed drastically during the program’s downturn in the 2000s. It bottomed out during the 0-12 season in 2008, when the Huskies’ nonconference included losses to BYU, Oklahoma and Notre Dame.
After that point, Washington adopted a scheduling model many other programs have followed with one premier power conference opponent, one regional opponent from a Group of Five conference and either an FCS program or a small FBS school. Washington’s first game ever against an FCS school came in 2011.
Washington is also handcuffed in its scheduling by the stadium it plays in. As part of the debt structure to pay off the reconstruction of Husky Stadium that reopened in 2013, the Huskies need to play seven home games every season if possible. That limits the number of home-and-home options the Huskies can entertain unless a neutral site opportunity presents itself — like 2018 when Washington opens the season against Auburn in Atlanta.
“We understand how important that is. But I think at the end of the day, we play in such a good, competitive conference, that we play a really good strength of schedule when you play in this league,” Petersen said.
Scott Adams: 303-473-1312, firstname.lastname@example.org