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Washington State athletics director Pat Chun almost couldn't believe what he saw Tuesday when the latest rankings came out for the College Football Playoff.
The Playoff committee had dropped his Cougars all the way to 13th?
The committee also ranked his 10-win team behind No. 9 Florida (9-3), whose schedule included two wins against overmatched teams from a lower subdivision.
"It doesn't make any sense to us," Chun told USA TODAY.
It didn't make much sense to coach Mike Leach, either.
So they are making a case. And they hope the committee hears it, because this is what happens when lucrative bowl berths are to be subjectively decided Sunday by 13 people with votes. It tempts some teams to lobby for their cause in public. In this case, Chun and Leach believe WSU has earned a spot in the New Year's Six, one of the six most prestigious bowl games. That could mean the Fiesta Bowl for the Cougars on Jan. 1.
"We have earned the right to be considered the best 10-2 team," Leach told USA TODAY.
Instead, four teams with 9-3 records are ranked ahead of the Cougars after they fell from No. 8 last week and lost their regular-season finale to Washington 28-15. The Huskies (9-3) are ranked higher now at 11th. But Chun and Leach aren't arguing to be ranked higher than them.
Other issues are their bigger concern. That includes playing nine conference games in the Pac-12 Conference while other leagues, such as the Southeastern, only have to play eight and can fill the other four games on their schedule with non-conference games that are often much easier.
"We're just hopeful that there's a correction at the end with the last poll," said Chun, whose team had one other loss, 39-36 at Southern California in September. "We want to make sure people are taking a look at 10 wins for us, and two losses that were tough losses, but were by no stretch of the imagination bad losses. We feel like our resume stacks up with the best two-loss teams in the country, not the best three-loss teams in the country."
To get into the New Year's Six, the Cougars will have to rank at least in the top 12, and quite possibly higher, when the committee releases its final rankings and bowl pairings Sunday. The champions of the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Atlantic Coast conferences all get automatic berths in the New Year's Six games, plus the highest-ranked champion of a major conference from outside those Power 5 leagues.
The New Year's Six games include the top four teams in the Orange and Cotton Bowl semifinals on Dec. 29. The Sugar Bowl will match teams from the SEC and Big 12 that aren't in the semifinals. The Rose Bowl likewise is set to match the Pac-12 champion, Washington or Utah, against a team from the Big Ten.
That leaves only a few spots in the New Year's Six for other top teams - in the Peach and Fiesta, to be decided by the committee's rankings.
Right now, it looks like Washington State will be locked out of those games instead of Florida, No. 10 LSU (9-3) or No. 12 Penn State (9-3), unless the committee moves the Cougars up Sunday.
The case against Florida of the SEC is that the Gators boosted their win count with blowouts against Idaho and Charleston Southern of the lower Football Championship Subdivision. The Gators also lost at home to Missouri this month 38-17.
"There is not a doubt in my mind that if WSU was named Stanford, USC or UCLA they would be in the top 10," Fox Sports analyst Joel Klatt told USA TODAY. "It's as if the committee did not know that one of the two losses was a ridiculous officiating and conference replay mistake (vs. USC). The favoritism shown the middle of the SEC is alarming, in particular when you analyze the schedule make-up of each team. Florida's schedule is incredibly weak, and that is before you consider the fact that their one (Power 5) non-conference opponent (Florida State) was terrible this season."
By contrast, WSU exactly didn't stack its non-conference schedule with heavyweights, either. It beat Eastern Washington of the FCS, Wyoming and San Jose State.
But if the Cougars were able to play a fourth non-conference game against Charleston Southern instead of nine league games, including USC, they might be 11-1 instead of 10-2.
Penn State of the Big Ten plays nine conference games but hurt its credentials with a lopsided loss this month at Michigan 42-7.
Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, told USA TODAY that "it's never just one thing" with the committee's rankings. He said Florida, LSU and Penn State played more difficult schedules than WSU.
"For example, all three of Florida's losses were to teams ranked in the CFP's top 25 (Kentucky, Georgia and Missouri)," Hancock said in an email. "Same for LSU (Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M in that wild game Saturday night). Two of Penn State's losses were to teams ranked in the top 10 (Ohio State and Michigan). Florida also defeated two CFP-ranked teams (at Mississippi State and LSU at home). LSU has a significant victory over Georgia."
Hancock said the loss to Washington was a factor for WSU, too. "Of course, the Huskies' three losses were by a total of 10points," Hancock said.
Leach has his own argument about his team's body of work.
"I will put our 10-2 record against anyone's," Leach said. "No one ever blew us out. We played nine conference games."
Klatt said one strong voice or "rogue vote" in the committee room could make a difference.
"Seems WSU just doesn't have the right (committee) voice arguing their case in the CFB beauty pageant," Klatt said in an email.
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