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Who to root for in Week 10

Or: The return of The Optimist’s Guide to the Cougs in the CFP

CFP National Championship presented by AT&T - Alabama v Georgia Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

[In maximum Jim Nantz]

Hello friends.

[Less Jim Nantz]

How was your Tuesday night? Good? Awesome. It was a pretty good night for the Washington State Cougars football team as well, as the Cougs were ranked 8th (!!!) in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings released by the CFP committee. This team continues to outperform all reasonable expectations, so let’s go all in and get the Cougs in the CFP Top 4. Unlike last year, where that thought was little more than a pipe dream held together with duct tape and used chewing gum, the 2018 WSU team has a legitimate shot to play for a National Championship and oh god the blood just all rushed to my head typing that. What a time to be alive and a Cougar fan.

A couple things have to happen for the Cougs to get to the CFP. First, they have to win out. There is no scenario, save an apocalyptic event centered only in Tuscaloosa, Norman, South Bend, Baton Rouge, and Clemson, wherein WSU takes a second loss and still makes the playoff. Second, they need some help. Eighth is not fourth. I’ve done the math on that. With that in mind, here’s who you, as a fan of WSU with a vested interest in the results of teams ranked ahead of and around them, should root for this weekend in college football.

I’ll be using 538’s predictive model for the percentages you see referenced. As it stands, the Cougs are one of nine teams that 538 gives a double-digit percentage chance of making the CFP, coming in at 14%. Simply clicking the “win out” button (which they also have as a 14% chance of happening) raises the percentage to a healthy 77%. The problem, however, is that that 77% doesn’t take into account any other games played by the other contenders. And if we click “win out” for Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma, WSU’s chances drop to 31%. So there’s where we need the help. Let’s break down some games.



Temple @ #12 UCF

WHO 538’S PREDICTIVE MODEL SAYS YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR: Temple. The defending national champions from Orlando are on the outside looking in since they are a Group of 5 team. Unfortunately. But they do technically have a chance. If they beat Temple, they’re up to 2%. Lose, and they come back down to earth.

WHO YOU WANT TO ROOT FOR: UCF. Not because we’re still bitter about GameDay going to Philly in 2015 instead of coming home or anything. Nope. Definitely not. But also mostly because UCF staying undefeated and banging down the door to the CFP might push the committee to expand to eight teams when the current contract expires. Maybe.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: UCF. It continues to be hilarious any time they are the highest-ranked team in the state of Florida.

WATCHABILITY: 8/10. This is essentially an elimination game in the American East division, and there’s a significant contrast of styles. Should be fun.


North Carolina State v Clemson Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Louisville @ #2 Clemson

538 SAYS: Louisville. An inexplicable loss in the other Death Valley to the Fightin’ Bobby Petrinos would raise Wazzu’s percentage up to 84%.

WHO YOU WANT: Louisville. Clemson seems to always find a way to drop a game to a random ACC team that has no business staying with them, usually at home for some reason. Although they may have avoided that this year by holding off Syracuse with their third-string QB running the show. Still, upsets are fun, and this would be monumental because hoooooo buddy Louisville is not good at playing football this year.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Clemson. Hear me out. It’s going to be better for our chances if two teams—namely, Clemson and Alabama—win out and are free and clear of everybody else. If we start having to compare résumés of a bunch of one-loss teams, WSU is going to lose that battle. That’s where the weak non-conference schedule could potentially hurt us.

WATCHABILITY: 0/10. It’ll be a great game until kickoff.

Nebraska @ #10 Ohio State

538 SAYS: Nebraska. A win by Bill Moos’ new family puts our percentage up to 86% in the long-term and 18% in the short term. Also, we’re probably going to want to have both Michigan and Ohio State with two-plus losses a piece, just to pull the B1G out of the picture entirely. We’re guaranteed one of them will have a second loss, as they play each other in a game that a few people will care about. But there needs to be another loss in there somewhere for the winner.

WHO YOU WANT: Nebraska. But also kind of Ohio State because the M0-6S sign at GameDay was hilarious and we’re a little petty.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Nebraska. Watching Ohio State lose is always worth the price of admission, and this carries the added benefit of getting a team out of the playoff picture.

WATCHABILITY: 2/10. I don’t know how many times Urban Meyer has lost back-to-back games in his career, but I’m guessing it ain’t many. OSU should come out hot and bury them early.


NCAA Football: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

#6 Georgia @ #9 Kentucky

538 SAYS: Kentucky, but it’s not by much. In the short term, neither team’s win moves the needle off of 17% for the Cougs. Long term, a Kentucky win bumps us up to 79%, while a loss drops us just a percentage point to 76%. So this is really a coin flip game for all intents and purposes.

WHO YOU WANT: Probably Kentucky, right? There’s the Air Raid connection with Leach for starters. And then of course there’s the fact that Kentucky, similarly to WSU, isn’t exactly an SEC blueblood when it comes to football. So a little changing of the guard in the SEC East would be nice.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Let’s go ‘Cats! This is somewhat similar to the Michigan-Ohio State situation, except that we’re almost guaranteed two losses for both of these teams. The winner is in the driver’s seat in the SEC East, which means, in all likelihood, a loss against Alabama in the SEC Championship. Georgia could maybe knock off ‘Bama. Kentucky would require it to be changed to a basketball game. So UGA getting their second loss here is the safer bet.

WATCHABILITY: 4/10. This goes one of two ways: Georgia boatraces an overhyped Kentucky team that is not good enough offensively to keep up, or it’s a classic 12-10 SEC SHOOTOUT. I’m leaning towards the former happening.

#13 West Virginia @ #17 Texas

538 SAYS: Texas. It’s literally a coin flip game, as 538 has it 50/50. So in the short term, no real effect on our chances. But long term, West Virginia winning out puts them at 64% and us at 67%. We probably don’t win that beauty contest. Texas winning out is a very good thing, because it would guarantee 2+ losses for not only WVU and Texas, but also Oklahoma (in a Big XII title game rematch), effectively knocking the Big XII out of the CFP. Which is a very good thing for us.

WHO YOU WANT: West Virginia, maybe? I dunno, the Big XII is still weird. WVU is an Air Raid cousin, so there’s that connection. Texas being back, and then not back, and then back again gets old really fast.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Texas. Two-loss teams across the board in the Big XII are going to be better for us. This guarantees there are at least two. Then we just gotta have Oklahoma slip up somewhere along the line.

WATCHABILITY: 9/10. The Big XII recently passed a rule banning defense, so this ought to be fun. Unless, you know, you like defense or whatever. What is wrong with you?

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

#14 Penn State @ #5 Michigan

538 SAYS: A Penn State win is very, very good for the Cougs, upping the chances of us making the CFP to 82% in the long term, and more importantly, dropping Meeeechigan’s chances down to 8% immediately.

WHO YOU WANT: Penn State. It’s that two losses for Ohio State and Michigan thing. The more chaos there is in the B1G, the better it is for us.

Side note: Am I the only one who thinks Michigan is not a good (as in Top 5-10 good) football team? It legitimately annoys me that they are ranked this high. Their best win is a loss to Notre Dame, WHO PROBABLY ISN’T AS GOOD AS THEY’RE RANKED EITHER DON’T @ ME.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Just... I swear to god they aren’t... It’s Penn State. Let’s just move on.

WATCHABILITY: 5/10. Ugh. The setting is great. The hype is real. The actual game play? Ugh.


#4 Notre Dame @ Northwestern

538 SAYS: Northwestern, by a healthy margin. Notre Dame is sitting at 50% right now. WSU winning out drops that to 41%, and a loss by the Irish drops their chances to 23% immediately, and 15% long term.

WHO YOU WANT: Everybody hates on Notre Dame, so you definitely want Northwestern. Even if WSU was 0-8 at this point, you’d want Northwestern. If WSU didn’t even field a football program, you’d want Chicago’s alleged B1G team. Also, Northwestern is one of the few teams that has appeared in fewer Rose Bowls than we have. So it’s hard to root against them.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Definitely Northwestern. Notre Dame needs to be out of the picture.

WATCHABILITY: 7/10. Notre Dame has found something in one-time WSU commit Ian Book. Six of Northwestern’s eight games have been within ten points or less.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Alabama Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

#1 Alabama @ #3 LSU

538 SAYS: Alabama. Which seems a bit counter-intuitive, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s better for Alabama (and Clemson) to be free and clear of everyone else, while also crushing the hopes of teams like LSU, Georgia, and ... well... nobody in the ACC. Alabama winning out and WSU winning out puts us at 78%, but WSU winning out and an LSU win leaves us a little lower at 76%.

WHO YOU WANT: LSU. Night games in the other Death Valley are super, super fun to watch. Really, everything about LSU football in fantastic, in the sort of this-is-teetering-on-the-verge-of-Mad-Max-helltopia way that is great about college football in the South. And of course it would be nice to see someone put a dent in the armor of the Tuscaloosa Death Machine.

WHO YOU ACTUALLY SHOULD ROOT FOR: Alabama, Soviet Russia, the Yankees, and Emperor Palpatine.


#7 Oklahoma @ Texas Tech

538 SAYS: Tech. That puts our percentage up to 85% with winning out, and gives us the biggest single game bump that I saw, up to 19% just with those two results.

WHO YOU WANT: Tech. Not necessarily because of any Air Raid affinity towards Tech, and not just because we still remember 1/1/2003, but mainly because that gives Iowa State (3-2 in conference, a game back of UT, WVU, OU) a legitimate chance at playing for the Big XII title. Texas, WVU, and Oklahoma are all going to beat up on each other over the next four weeks. Iowa State has a date with Texas on 11/17, but outside of that their schedule goes @Kansas, vs. Baylor, vs. K-State. Those three are a combined 4-11 in conference play. So if they can steal one from Texas (giving Texas at least two conference losses), and take care of business against the other three, the Big XII is going to look ridiculous. A three-way tie at 7-2 is possible, as is (I think) a four-way tie at 6-3, all of which is good for WSU. #LetChaosReign


WATCHABILITY: 10/10. Turn off the game clock, first one to 60 wins.


Missouri @ #11 Florida

Florida already has two losses, but you don’t want an SEC team creeping around behind you. Probably don’t want anything related to Florida in any context creeping around behind you, now that I think about it.

#15 Utah @ Arizona State

Utah is single-handedly destroying the possibility of a 6-way tie in the South AND I WILL NOT STAND FOR THEIR LACK OF PARTICIPATION IN THESE SHENANIGANS. It’s probably better for us if they win out through the Pac-12 title game, although I would really prefer not to have to play them again. That is not the same team we saw in late September. Regardless, a second win over the Utes if they’re ranked in the Top 10 or so would be a serious résumé pop.

California @ #8 Washington State

Oh yeah, that one. Cal’s coming off a big win, and for some inexplicable reason, they seem to be our bugaboo out of all the non-purple North teams. Weird things happen when we play Cal, so let’s just hope for a nice, clean, boring (in a good way) win for the Cougs on Saturday. Well, Sunday for some of us. I’m already tired.

Go Cougs.