Washington running back Dillon Johnson (7) celebrates with teammates after a touchdown against Oregon during the second half of the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 1 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Washington running back Dillon Johnson (7) celebrates with teammates after a touchdown against Oregon during the second half of the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 1 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Huskies receive No. 2 seed, face Texas in CFP semifinals

Washington gets a postseason rematch in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan gets the No. 1 seed.

  • Mike Vorel, The Seattle Times
  • Monday, December 4, 2023 4:45pm
  • Sports

Washington traveled south to beat Texas last December.

The sequel has higher stakes.

The Pac-12 champion Huskies have been awarded the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff and will meet No. 3 Texas (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1, the CFP selection committee announced Sunday morning. UW topped Texas 27-20 in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio last winter.

Big Ten champion Michigan (13-0), meanwhile, received the No. 1 seed and will encounter No. 4 Alabama (the 12-1 SEC champ) in the Rose Bowl. The winners will collide in Houston for the national championship game on Jan. 8.

“We’re excited about what lies next and what lies ahead, getting word this morning that we get a chance to play in the Sugar Bowl against a very good Texas team in a rematch from last year’s Alamo Bowl — understanding that both programs have continued to make strides and improve on where we were a year ago,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer said Sunday.

“But I’m excited about this opportunity for our guys, certainly proud of what we accomplished Friday night in Las Vegas in the Pac-12 championship. Being 13-0 and where we’re at right now was certainly a goal. We’ve checked every box along the way, and there are more boxes to be checked.”

Granted, No. 5 Florida State (13-0) checked just as many boxes … but were left out anyway. Though the Seminoles bested Louisville 16-6 in the ACC championship game, the season-ending injury to standout quarterback Jordan Travis affected how the committee evaluated FSU. Back-to-back national champion Georgia (12-1) also slid five spots to No. 6 after being upset by Alabama in the SEC championship game.

When asked if he could envision coaching a 13-0 Power Five champion that was snubbed of a playoff spot, DeBoer said: “In all honestly, no. That would be extremely hard. That’s extremely unfortunate in this situation, with the way it’s set up with four teams. Obviously next year it changes, going to 12 (teams in the playoff). But that would be really tough.”

Of course, some would say the Huskies were snubbed as well. Their four ranked wins (over No. 8 Oregon twice, No. 14 Arizona and No. 19 Oregon State) are more than Michigan’s three (over No. 10 Penn State, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 17 Iowa). They also touted a superior strength of record and strength of schedule.

So, should Washington have been ranked No. 1?

“No. I guess I didn’t really feel like that was going to be the case. It’s probably more of a reality than anything that I was understanding,” DeBoer said. “I think there’s an argument for it, but not one that I need to stand on the table for.

“Because I understand that, unless you play each other head-to-head, there’s people who are going to fight for each program. It is what it is. They’ve had a great season there at Michigan and won their conference championship again and really rolled through their schedule for the most part.”

And because of that, the Wolverines were rewarded with the strategically superior site.

According to the CFP media guide, “When assigning teams to sites, the selection committee will place the top two seeds at the most advantageous sites, weighing criteria such as convenience of travel for its fans, home-crowd advantage or disadvantage and general familiarity with the host city and its stadium. Preference will go to the No. 1 seed.”

Preference certainly went to the No. 1 seed, as Michigan avoided playing a quasi-road game against Alabama in New Orleans. Instead, UW (and its fans) were put at a distinct geographic disadvantage against the lower-seeded Longhorns.

“For the program and the fans, because of our geographical location, certainly the Rose Bowl is probably what everyone was thinking and wanting,” DeBoer said. “But here’s the deal: we’re in the final four, and we get to go play in an exciting venue against a very good football team.”

Said announcement comes two days after UW defeated No. 8 Oregon 34-31 in the final Pac-12 championship game, downing the Ducks for the second time this season.

Texas, meanwhile, obliterated No. 20 Oklahoma State 49-21 Saturday to win a Big 12 title and position itself for a playoff run. Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers completed 76.1% of his passes and threw for 452 yards and four touchdowns (with one interception) along the way.

In Washington’s Alamo Bowl win last December, the Huskies led 27-10 in the fourth quarter, before surrendering 10 late points in what was essentially a Texas home game in San Antonio. UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Wayne Taulapapa added 108 rushing yards with 7.7 yards per carry and another score.

“They’re a different team. They’ve had more experiences. We’re a different team. We’ve had more experiences,” DeBoer said. “Both teams have added to the talent that we have on our rosters. So I think it gives us familiarity, maybe, with what they do and how they see us and what to expect a little bit. But in the end, it’s a whole year later and there’s different things on the line right now, as far as what we’re playing for.”

So, yes, these are different teams … with more than a few familiar faces.

DeBoer will once again tangle with Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, who went 34-29 at Washington from 2009 to 2013 and called the rematch “kind of ironic.”

“Washington still holds a special place to me. I got my first head-coaching opportunity there and had five just tremendous years in trying to rebuild that program,” Sarkisian said on the ESPN broadcast.

“Ironically, you know, we played them in the Alamo Bowl a year ago and I think there’s some familiarity there,” he continued. “They’ve got a heck of a team. … We know we’re going to need this extra preparation to get ourselves prepared to play, but I know our kids are excited. Any time that you get an opportunity to play a team the quality of Washington, an undefeated team and Pac-12 champ, it’s a great challenge, but one we’re looking forward to.”

DeBoer certainly respects Sarkisian’s place in Husky history.

Even if he’s in the way.

“I know a year ago when I talked with him, I shared with him that he’s part of this too,” DeBoer said. “To me, everyone who came through this program and poured their heart and soul into what has happened here is a part of the history, is a part of the tradition.

“I hope that’s how everyone always feels — alumni, past coaches. We’ve gotten to this spot. There’s highs and lows you go through, and he did some things to elevate this program at that time.”

DeBoer has already elevated the program to greater heights.

But there are more boxes to check.

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