No. 5 Washington's loss to Arizona State cuts Pac-12's playoff margin of error

Dr. Saturday
Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry (1) gets stopped just short of the end zone by Washington defensive back Ezekiel Turner (24) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry (1) gets stopped just short of the end zone by Washington defensive back Ezekiel Turner (24) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

No. 5 Washington looked nothing like a College Football Playoff team in a 13-7 loss to Arizona State on Saturday night. And the Pac-12’s College Football Playoff hopes could be nothing as a result.

We’ll explain the second sentence after extrapolating on the first. Washington’s offense was handcuffed by an Arizona State defense that had allowed 30 or more points to each of its first five opponents of 2017 and 11 games overall.

Washington QB Jake Browning scored a touchdown on a QB sneak with 5:32 left, but Washington never got the ball back as Arizona State wiped out the clock with the help of a crazy completion.

Facing a fourth-and-3 just inside Washington territory, Arizona State went for it. QB Manny Wilkins appeared to overthrow RB Kalen Ballage, who jumped for the pass. The pass then somehow made its way to Ceejhay French-Love on the sidelines. French-Love then ran to the Washington 7 to seal the game.

(Via ESPN)
(Via ESPN)

Browning’s TD came after Washington had a third quarter of frustration thanks to spectacular kicking game failures.

Washington kicker Van Soderberg missed a 27-yard field goal and, instead of going for it on fourth-and-2 inside the Arizona State 5 later in the quarter, Washington coach Chris Petersen elected to give him another chance.

Soderberg’s 21-yard field goal attempt clanked off the right upright. If Petersen was having flashbacks to the times when his kickers at Boise State missed key field goals, we don’t blame him. If both those go in, Browning’s TD ties the game.

OK, on to that playoff thing. At the halfway point of the season it’s way, way too early to make definitive conclusions about the playoff and who will be in it. Hell, even a week away from the end of the season is too early to make definitive conclusions about the four-team field.

But based on what’s happened through the first seven weeks of the season we do know that Washington’s loss means the Pac-12 is probably going to need one of three teams to go undefeated the rest of the way. Remember — a two-loss team has yet to make the College Football Playoff. And there are no more undefeated teams in the Pac-12.

One of those three teams is USC, who hung on against Utah on Saturday night. The Trojans are now the only team with one loss in the Pac-12 South. But USC has a propensity for close games and quarterback Sam Darnold has a newfound turnover tendency. Not a good combination.

The Huskies were the last undefeated team in the Pac-12 after Washington State’s loss Friday night to Cal. And since they’ll meet in the final week of the regular season, it’s a guarantee that one of them will have two losses.

And each of the Washington schools still has to play Stanford, a team that lost early-season games to USC and San Diego State — and therefore also only has one Pac-12 loss at the moment. The Cardinal are playing great football and may have the favorite for the Heisman Trophy in running back Bryce Love.

The nightmare scenario is that Stanford, Washington and Washington State beat up on each other and all three teams end the regular season with two or more conference losses. And if that happens — or a two-loss Stanford wins the North — USC is the Pac-12’s best shot at the playoff.

A lot of people, ourselves included, thought that at the beginning of the season. But that seems tenuous now, don’t you think?

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Nick Bromberg is the editor of Dr. Saturday and From the Marbles on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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