Road to Atlanta: Playoff may bring Huskies here sooner

Peach Bowl Inc. president and CEO Gary Stokan is keeping a close eye on the College Football Playoff rankings. (File photo by David Tulis/AJC Special)

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Peach Bowl Inc. president and CEO Gary Stokan is keeping a close eye on the College Football Playoff rankings. (File photo by David Tulis/AJC Special)

Less than a week after the announcement that they would open the 2018 college football season in Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, the Washington Huskies moved into position to potentially play a game here this season, too.

The College Football Playoff selection committee’s latest rankings have Alabama No. 1 and Washington No. 4, meaning those teams would meet in a national semifinal in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl if their rankings hold for another four weeks.

“We obviously didn’t know that might happen when we were negotiating our Chick-fil-A Kickoff deal,” said Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Inc. president and CEO Gary Stokan, whose organization runs the season-opening game as well as the postseason bowl. “But it would be special to have Washington here (both times).”

Stokan, who attended Washington’s win at Utah two weeks ago, observed that the Huskies are a young team that might be even better in 2018 than they are this season. And they’re 9-0 this season, led by sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, who has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,273 yards and 34 touchdowns (with just three interceptions).

Washington will play Auburn in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018. Whether that proves to be the Huskies’ second trip to Atlanta to face a team from the state of Alabama hinges on what happens between now and the selection committee’s final rankings Dec. 4.

THIS WEEK’S SNAPSHOT

The 12-member selection committee, which surprisingly didn’t include Washington among its top four teams last week, corrected itself this week by elevating the Huskies into the No. 4 spot vacated by Texas A&M’s loss to Mississippi State. The top three teams are the same as last week: Alabama, Clemson and Michigan, in that order.

The committee’s top four in its final rankings will qualify for the playoff, with the Nos. 1 and 4 teams meeting in one semifinal and the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the other.

If this week’s top four remain unchanged, Alabama and Washington would meet in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome because the No. 1 seed generally is assigned to the semifinal nearest its campus. Clemson and Michigan would meet in the other semifinal in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. Both semifinals are on New Year’s Eve.

Based solely on this week’s rankings, which he knows will change, Stokan pencils in these potential pairings for the other “New Year’s Six” bowls: No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Colorado in the Rose, No. 6 Louisville vs. No. 7 Wisconsin in the Orange, No. 8 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma in the Sugar and No. 9 Auburn vs. No. 21 Western Michigan (currently the highest-ranked team from a group of five non-power conferences) in the Cotton. The Rose, Orange and Sugar projections reflect those bowls’ affiliations with certain conferences.

THIS WEEK’S KEY GAMES

Games, all Saturday, involving teams currently ranked in the selection committee’s top six:

No. 1 Alabama (9-0) at home vs. Mississippi State (4-5), noon on ESPN: The only team to reach the playoff in each of the past two years, Alabama is rolling toward a third consecutive berth.

No. 2 Clemson (9-0) at home vs. Pittsburgh (5-4), 3:30 p.m. on ABC: Clemson has won 26 of its past 27 games, including its past 15 ACC games.

No. 3 Michigan (9-0) at Iowa (5-4), 8 p.m. on ABC: This is just the third road game of the season for Michigan, its first against a team with a conference victory.

No. 4 Washington (9-0) at home vs. No. 20 USC (6-3), 7:30 p.m. on Fox: USC has won five consecutive games since losing three of its first four, and the selection committee will watch this one closely as a gauge of how Washington performs against a tough opponent.

No. 5 Ohio State (8-1) at Maryland (5-4), 3:30 p.m. on ESPN:  Maryland lost to Michigan 59-3 last week. Two weeks to go until the Ohio State-Michigan showdown.

No. 6 Louisville (8-1) at home vs. Wake Forest (6-3), 7 p.m. on ESPN2: Louisville's weak schedule continues to impair its chances of making the playoff.

THIS WEEK’S QUESTION

Q: Given that Texas A&M — at the time a one-loss team — was ranked ahead of unbeaten Washington last week because of the Aggies’ superior strength of schedule, why wasn’t one-loss Ohio State ranked ahead of the Huskies this week for the same reason?

A:  "Last week … the one-loss team that Washington was being compared to, their only loss was to Alabama," selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said. "This week, the one-loss team in that No. 5 position below Washington is Ohio State, and their loss is to (No. 10) Penn State. That's the difference in the eyes of the selection committee."


ROAD TO ATLANTA

This weekly series tracks the College Football Playoff selection process, which will lead to a national semifinal game in Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.