The rankings don’t matter … until they do.
For now, the undefeated 8-0 Washington Huskies — who play at USC on Saturday — maintain the only thing that matters is to win. If they do that, College Football Playoff seeding should essentially take care of itself.
And yet, it’s worth noting that Washington was ranked No. 5 in the first weekly CFP rankings, released Tuesday. The Huskies trailed a quartet of other unbeatens — No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Florida State. They narrowly bested No. 6 Oregon for the second time this season, after picking up a 36-33 win in Seattle on Oct. 14.
“If you watched Washington against Arizona State and Stanford, they struggled,” ESPN’s Joey Galloway said. “So if you looked at these teams and said, ‘Who looks like the better team today?’ it would absolutely be Oregon. But Washington did beat them, so they’re five and Oregon’s six.”
Added CFP selection committee chair Boo Corrigan: “You had a little bit of concern from the committee as it relates to the Arizona State game at home [a 15-7 UW win] and the Stanford game on the road [a 42-33 UW win], two teams with a combined four wins. Again, as we’re looking at this, the 13 of us came to the conclusion that we got it right today.”
Concerning UW edging Oregon, Kalen DeBoer would certainly agree.
During the same CFP rankings show, DeBoer — UW’s second-year coach — joined the program to discuss his team. When asked about the Huskies’ “non-dominant” wins over ASU and Stanford, DeBoer said: “Internally, just like many other teams, you’re in the grind of the season, and you’re working through things within your team that I feel we’re going to come out on top of as we continue to move forward, health being one of them.
“We were in this spot a year ago, as far as grinding through the middle part of the season. November was a good month for us as we regained health and continued to build on what the identity of our football team is.”
Of course, the Huskies have won 15 consecutive games since falling to ASU on Oct. 8, 2022. That streak will be tested in November — as Washington meets No. 20 USC (7-2), No. 18 Utah (6-2), No. 16 Oregon State (6-2) and Washington State (4-4) to close its campaign.
Washington can secure its standing, and quell the committee’s concerns, in the next four weeks.
“I think [this ranking] is exactly that. It’s initial,” DeBoer said. “As quickly as the season’s going by, there’s a lot of football to be played. From our standpoint, we’ve done what we’re supposed to do, as far as winning all the football games.
“We’ve got some quality wins in there. But the Pac-12 right now, with the slate of games from top to bottom, there’s no gimmes. This next month for us is going to be a big month, so there’s a lot of football left to be played.”
The Husky defense needs all hands on deck Saturday against USC.
But are reinforcements on their way?
After missing UW’s past two games because of a leg injury, senior defensive lineman Tuli Letuligasenoa is expected to return. Without Letuligasenoa — who also played sparingly against Oregon on Oct. 14 — UW surrendered 477 rushing yards, 4.5 yards per carry and six rushing touchdowns in its past three games.
When asked specifically what Washington has lacked, co-defensive coordinator William Inge said: “You have the junkyard dog. Truly, that’s what he [Letuligasenoa] is when he’s on the football field. When you have a guy in the middle that can lock everything down and you have someone who is really, really, really mature in the game, he understands what’s going to happen. He sees what’s going on in the backfield.
“From a maturity standpoint, that’s probably one of the biggest things you’re going to lack — just his in-game feel for everything that’s going on. So hopefully he’ll be someone we’ll get back this week.”
Elsewhere, UW safeties Asa Turner, Kamren Fabiculanan and Vincent Nunley all sat out against Stanford, prompting sophomore Makell Esteen to make his first career start (beside sixth-year senior Dominique Hampton). DeBoer said Monday that Turner and Fabiculanan are considered day to day, and Nunley is unlikely to be available against USC.
One goes in.
Two go out.
Washington’s wide-receiver carousel continued against Stanford, as senior Giles Jackson missed the game because of an ankle injury and junior Jalen McMillan briefly returned, before aggravating a left-leg issue.
But UW did benefit from the return of sophomore Germie Bernard — who, after missing the ASU game because of an ankle injury, contributed three catches for 43 yards Saturday.
“I’ve got so much trust in Germ,” UW offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. “He just does such a great job of being ready. He’s definitely one of the guys I highlighted [after the game]. What a great job of preparing all week like you’re going to play the game. Some guys can be hurt and not prepare themselves for the football game and just kind of accept where they’re at, and I thought exactly the opposite of Germie. He fought every day.
“[The doctors] were like, ‘Ah, I don’t know if he’s going to go.’ Then I remember me and [wide-receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard] talking Friday at the walk-through like, ‘I think Germ should come with.’ He just did an awesome job of being ready and honestly filling in in some spots where he hadn’t been playing a bunch. So just an incredible job, and that’s what you expect out of the guys on a championship caliber football team.”
As for Jackson — who missed UW’s first five games because of a torn thumb ligament, then played against Oregon and ASU — some assumed he sat out Saturday to help preserve his redshirt. With players permitted to participate in four games (plus the postseason) while still using a redshirt season, UW’s coaches are considering limiting the senior’s workload so he can return in 2024.
But Grubb said “he was nursing an ankle [injury], so he wasn’t able to go. He didn’t practice all week. So we’re still dealing with that a week at a time. Right now we’re going to see what he can do out there tomorrow and then make the decision on the USC game.”
Jackson’s status for the remainder of the season is equally unclear.
“When we get to the fourth game [he plays in] and we’re full, we’ll have to have harder conversations at that point,” Grubb said. “He’s been great, and he’s willing and ready to help the team when his body’s able to.”
Mike Vorel: [email protected]; on Twitter: @MikeVorel. Mike Vorel is the UW football beat writer for The Seattle Times.