A Lot On The Line For Huskies In Pac-12 Conference Championship

Dec 1, 2016

For the first time ever, the Washington Huskies are in the Pac-12 Championship. They play Colorado Friday night in Santa Clara, Calif.

Knkx sports commentator Art Thiel tells 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick that a big win for the Huskies could mean a spot in the national playoffs.

Update: The Huskies beat Colorado 41-10 Friday night. They have further improved their chances of being one of the four teams playing in the national college football playoffs. We will know by the end of the weekend. And we'll talk with Art Thiel live on Monday at 8:30 on 88.5's Morning Edition.

'New Territory'

"This is new territory for both teams," Thiel said. "Neither Colorado nor Washington has played in this game before. It's only been around for five years since the Pac-10 expanded to the Pac-12.

"They created two divisions when Utah and Colorado joined. The Huskies are the North Division champions at 11-1 and Colorado is the South Division champion at 10-2. 

"These two teams have not played [each other] in the last two years because expansion of the league means that each school misses two conference opponents and that's been the case the last two years for Washington and Colorado.

"So, there's a little bit of mystery and the stakes are high. If Washington wins, they are Pac-12 champions that are then eligible for the college football playoff.

"But, if they lose, the consolation prize is the Rose Bowl, which is not a bad deal because that's been where Pac-12 champions typically go.

"So, either outcome is going to be good but the opportunity is very large for something very special, should they win."

Huskies On National Stage?

"On Tuesday night, there was high drama that added even more tension into the week," Thiel said. "The Huskies moved from fifth place to fourth place in the college football playoff rankings.

"That's important because a committee selects the top four teams to play in the two semifinal games and the winners then play for the national championship on Jan. 9.

"When this week's rankings were revealed on Tuesday, the head of the committee said that the margin between Washington at No. 4 and Michigan at No. 5 was razor-thin.

"Certainly Michigan fans ... feel like they should have been No. 4. And, of course, Washington fans are saying, 'No, no no. We only have one loss, you guys have two.'

"The upshot is that Washington may wind up having to win pretty. Or dramatically. Or convincingly. Because it is a bit of a beauty pageant, which is what this [new] system was designed to avoid, which is having opinions as opposed to results determine the national college football champion.

"It's slipping back into that. So, I think [coach] Chris Petersen and the Huskies understand that they've got to do something real special to assure that they will advance, for the first time, to the college football playoffs."

Colorado's Big Turnaround

But Thiel said the Huskies are going to have to get past a Colorado team that's had an unbelievable year.

"It's been remarkable," he said. "They were 1-8 in conference last year. They've turned it around and were 8-1 in conference [this year]. It's been the most dramatic worst-to-first turnaround in college football history in one season.

"Mike MacIntyre is the coach. He's been there four years. He was voted Pac-12 Coach of the Year. He's really done a remarkable job — a lot like what Chris Petersen has done at Washington in three years.

"MacIntyre has got the second-best defense. Washington has the best defense in the Pac-12.

"As this game goes back and forth and the Huskies look for something dramatic, they are masters at the explosive play. And I think that's going to be the difference.

"The Huskies are favored by six-and-a-half and I think it's going to be about a 28-21 win for Washington in their first voyage into the Pac-12 Championship."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.