By Josh Dubow, AP sports writer
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Washington’s opportunistic defense and dominant running game most likely ended any debate about whether the Huskies’ weak nonconference schedule would keep them out of the College Football Playoff.
Taylor Rapp returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown and Myles Gaskin ran for 159 yards to help No. 4 Washington strengthen its case for a playoff berth with a 41-10 victory over No. 9 Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night.
“We think we have a heck of a team and we think we belong in there,” coach Chris Petersen said. “I think they’ll do what they should do, which is the right thing. … These guys have done everything they’re supposed to do.”
With the Huskies (12-1, No. 4 CFP) only narrowly ahead of two-loss Michigan in the latest playoff rankings, there were some questions about whether could be passed by the Wolverines or even the eventual Big Ten champion for the final playoff spot because of a nonconference schedule of Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State.
But the Huskies dominated the Buffaloes (10-3, No. 8 CFP) much more thoroughly than Michigan did in September in the most convincing closing argument possible. Now they need to just wait for the final verdict to come in on Sunday before begin preparations for the playoff.
“That’s up to them,” quarterback Jake Browning said. “I’m happy with being Pac 12 champs right now. Whatever they decide, they decide. We’ve created a pretty good situation for ourselves. Worst comes to worst, we’re playing in the Rose Bowl. That’s pretty nice.”
The Huskies broke open a close game when Rapp intercepted Sefo Liufau’s passes on the first two drives of the second half for a touchdown and to set up a field goal that made it 24-7.
Washington rolled from there to its first conference title since 2000.
“We didn’t play this game for the playoff committee,” receiver John Ross said. “We played this game because this is what we worked for.”
It was a rough day for Liufau, who was knocked out of the game after twisting his right ankle on a sack on the Buffaloes’ first drive of the game. He returned to start the second half and threw three interceptions, including one on the first play from scrimmage that Rapp returned 35 yards for a score.
Liufau threw another interception on the ensuing drive and Colorado could never recover.
“We just didn’t execute as an offense,” Liufau said. “It’s probably the most frustrating part, especially as one of the captains and one of the leaders and your group isn’t performing to the level it should be.”
Colorado: From the opening kickoff that went out of bounds, little went right for the Buffaloes, who were unable to cap an impressive turnaround season with a conference title. Liufau’s injury didn’t help the cause. Steven Montez went 5 for 12 for 60 yards in the first half and was unable to generate any consistent offense and Liufau was even worse when he returned. He threw as many interceptions in the third quarter (3) as he had all season and was just 2 for 12 for 12 yards after coming back into the game.
Washington: The usually efficient Jake Browning struggled throwing the ball but it didn’t matter as the Huskies dominated the game with 265 yards on the ground behind Gaskin and Lavon Coleman (101 yards). Browning went just 9 for 24 for 118 yards but did throw two TDs to give him 42 on the season, one shy of Jared Goff’s Pac-12 record.
Browning’s second TD pass won’t go down as his best highlight of the season. With a defender draped all over him, Browning threw a ball up from grabs that Ross caught in front of Chidobe Awuzie and ran in 19 yards for the score.
“I was trying to throw it away,” Browning said. “It’s a lucky play. That was a hell of a play by him, but that was pretty lucky for me.”
Following Browning’s TD pass to Ross, Anthony Julmisse returned a kick to near midfield for Colorado before fumbling. Phillip Lindsay scooped it up and ran down to the 2 but Colorado was held to a field goal.
Colorado: The Buffaloes must wait to see if they will remain ahead of No. 11 USC in the playoff rankings and get a Rose Bowl bid if Washington goes to the playoff or likely head to the Alamo Bowl if they drop behind the Trojans.
Washington: A likely berth in the playoff.