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Washington must take care of Cal before worrying about CFP

October 22, 2016: Jake Browning smiles during a timeout at Husky Stadium in Seattle, WA.
Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire

The Washington Huskies are 8-0 and 5-0 in Pac-12 play. They’ve beaten then-No. 7 Stanford and then-No. 17 Utah. Still, according to the first edition of the 2016 College Football Playoff rankings, the Huskies found themselves on the outside looking in.

Stanford didn’t remain as good as U-Dub needed the Cardinal to be. Even then, however, one can still be surprised that the Huskies didn’t crack the top four.

Washington is No. 4 nationally in scoring offense, putting up 46.1 points per game off the strength of 50 touchdowns so far, which is tied for the fifth highest total in college football. The Huskies have a top 10 passing defense nationally and the No. 7 scoring defense, notching 15.8 defensive points per game (16 defensive touchdowns).

Washington decimated what was at the time an undefeated Stanford team, beating the Cardinal 44-6 in Seattle. The Huskies held Stanford to only 203 yards of total offense while posting 424 yards of their own. This past weekend against No. 17 Utah, the Huskies won 31-24, with sophomore running back Myles Gaskin leading the way with 151 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Gaskin (878 yards, seven touchdowns and 109.75 rush yards per game) is the second best rusher in the Pac-12 right now, only behind Christian McCaffrey. Washington’s sophomore quarterback, Jake Browning, is fourth in Pac-12 passing with 1,895 yards and 28 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. His 28 touchdowns are tied for the third best mark in college football.

Led by head coach Chris Petersen — who made his name by putting Boise State on the map — the Huskies are 23-12 since 2014. The 8-0 start is Washington’s best since 1992.

So yeah, it was a bit surprising when a one-loss Texas A&M team (that one loss came to No. 1 Alabama) was slated ahead of the Huskies in the CFP picture. Of course, there’s plenty of time for things to change, but it was without a doubt a slight to both Washington’s season and Pac-12 football as a whole.

In the here and now, that can’t matter to Washington.

The Huskies could complain about being slighted from the CFP picture, but they need to be smarter than that. It’s just the first in a series of weekly rankings, and outside of a few talking points it’s mostly a pointless poll. It’s more of a progress report than a report card, so it’s not something that Washington can spend time getting angry about, because there’s still a ton of season to be played.

It’s not the rankings in early November that matter, rather the ones at the end of the season. With games left at Cal, against USC, against Arizona State and at No. 25 Washington State, Petersen and his team need to stay the course. They need to focus.

October 22, 2016: Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen looks up at the scoreboard during the second quarter at Husky Stadium in Seattle, WA. Washington defeated Oregon State by a final score of 41-17.

Washington coach Chris Petersen — Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire

Being angry about the first CFP ranking won’t matter if Washington goes out and loses to Cal this weekend.  A feeling of being slighted won’t matter if the Huskies prove their doubters right.

Washington needs to take the opposite approach, and that starts by heading into Berkeley and tearing down an average but dangerous California Golden Bear team (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12).

Here’s the truth about this playoff situation: Washington may be slighted now, but when push comes to shove at the end of the season, there’s no way an undefeated Pac-12 program will be bounced out of the CFP in favor of a one-loss program, even if that team is from the SEC.

Texas A&M will have to win out and hope that Alabama loses a couple of games to even have a shot at making the SEC title game. Auburn’s also a player in the SEC West race, but the Tigers have already lost two games and must hope Alabama starts losing. Florida is the only other SEC program at 6-1 that has a CFP shot, and the Gators still have to play No. 13 LSU, and No. 22 Florida State, both games being on the road. That’s not even counting the SEC title game, and that’s not even considering the fact that Kentucky is actually on Florida’s tail with a 4-2 SEC record.

That’s the long way around of saying this: If Washington simply takes cares of business and keeps winning, the CFP committee is basically going to have to put it into the four-team dance. That’s especially true considering that if Washington goes undefeated and wins the Pac-12 Championship Game, it’s likely the Huskies would have put up an undefeated season with wins against (perhaps) four ranked teams in the process.

So no, the Huskies can’t afford to get all bent out of shape about the first CFP poll, because it literally doesn’t matter. Washington needs to focus on taking it one game at a time and taking care of business.

If the Huskies can do that — and it starts by beating Cal — a CFP spot is basically guaranteed.

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