Huskies celebrate Pac-12 championship
The Huskies celebrate winning the 2023 Pac-12 championship in gridiron (Photo courtesy of University of Washington Athletics)

Last night, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton Huskies stayed unde­feat­ed and won the final grid­iron cham­pi­onship game of the Pac-12 era. In pre­vail­ing over the Ore­gon Ducks, the Huskies defied the world of sports pun­dit­ry, which had reached the erro­neous con­sen­sus that the Ducks were the team to beat.

“Ten points [the point spread Ore­gon was favored by] was ridicu­lous,” said Wash­ing­ton’s Ede­fuan Ulo­fos­hio after the game. “We just kept our heads down and worked. We knew how good we were. There was nev­er a doubt. Even when we were los­ing, there was nev­er a doubt we were going to come back and win.”

“There has to be a deep belief with­in your team that you can win,” Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer told The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Jer­ry Brew­er ahead of the game. “A lot of peo­ple will say, ‘Oh, we’re going to go dom­i­nate,’ and then they get beat by 30. What hap­pened to teams with that mind-set? Well, is there real­ly a deep belief that you have? I know that the staff I have around me and the amaz­ing play­ers have that because I know who they are, their tal­ent and their character.”

We don’t cov­er sports much here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate, but there’s a les­son in Wash­ing­ton’s vic­to­ry that is applic­a­ble to pol­i­tics as well as oth­er fields like busi­ness and tech­nol­o­gy: pre­dic­tions are easy to make and easy to get wrong.

Wash­ing­ton’s thrilling win in Las Vegas was a result that a lot of com­men­ta­tors just could­n’t see com­ing. Quite a few sports­writ­ers and pun­dits who offered a pre­dic­tion for the game were wrong, as we’ll see in a moment. Some pun­dits thought Ore­gon would win by a lot, while oth­ers thought it would be closer.

But very few pre­dict­ed a Wash­ing­ton vic­to­ry, or even hedged their bets. They assigned lit­tle val­ue or no val­ue to Wash­ing­ton’s grit and resourcefulness.

Jon Wilner, who is per­haps the most pro­lif­ic, wide­ly read, and knowl­edge­able Pac-12 sports­writer we have, was heav­i­ly invest­ed in an Ore­gon vic­to­ry. Wilner ranked Ore­gon above Wash­ing­ton in his most recent pow­er rank­ings, even though Wash­ing­ton beat Ore­gon and every oth­er team it played dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, and then argued that the Ducks would take home the title:

Wash­ing­ton vs. Oregon
Kick­off: 5 p.m. on ABC
Line: Ore­gon ‑9.5 (total: 66.5)

The case for Wash­ing­ton is a three-point head-to-head vic­to­ry six weeks ago. The case for Ore­gon is (almost) every­thing else.

Wilner did make space for fac­tors favor­ing the Huskies in his analy­sis, con­ced­ing: “The Huskies have played close games week upon week and are steeled to the pres­sure of exe­cut­ing under make-or-break cir­cum­stances. No team in the coun­try has been more resource­ful. […] If Fri­day night’s affair is tight in the fourth quar­ter, UW will have a deep well of expe­ri­ence upon which to draw — includ­ing two har­row­ing wins over Ore­gon in the past 55 weeks.”

“That can­not be overlooked.”

Nev­er­the­less, Wilner picked the Ducks to win, and he was wrong.

And he was far from the only one.

Here’s Michael Brig­gs:

Ore­gon’s defense will be the dif­fer­ence in this game, as it will pres­sure Penix (32 sacks) often and make it chal­leng­ing for the Huskies to move the chains (25th in oppo­nent third-down con­ver­sion per­cent­age). It has been espe­cial­ly stout against the run, which should make UW too one-dimensional.

Nix will pick apart Wash­ing­ton’s 124th-ranked pass defense, cement­ing his Heis­man lega­cy. This is Ore­gon’s game to win, and it will get the job done with a con­vinc­ing revenge victory.

Pre­dic­tion: Ore­gon ‑9.5

Wrong. In real­i­ty, Wash­ing­ton was­n’t too one-dimen­sion­al, the game was not Ore­gon’s to win, and it did not get the job done. The Ducks did not put togeth­er a “con­vinc­ing revenge vic­to­ry.” As coach Dan Lan­ning said repeat­ed­ly in his postgame remarks, Ore­gon was­n’t able to finish.

Here’s Joe Tansey for Bleach­er Report:

Ore­gon 34, Wash­ing­ton 27

Ore­gon played the more con­sis­tent foot­ball since the first meet­ing with Washington.

The Ducks should be favored in Las Vegas despite being fur­ther down the rank­ings than the Huskies.

Wash­ing­ton should enter Alle­giant Sta­di­um in a CFB Play­off posi­tion, one that Ore­gon can take with a victory.

Ore­gon’s defense can be trust­ed more to get stops against Penix, and this time around, it needs to make sure there is a larg­er gap in the fourth quar­ter so that the Huskies can’t pro­duce more fourth-quar­ter heroics.

Wrong. It was actu­al­ly the Huskies who went into the final min­utes with a lead, rather than the Ducks. When time expired, it was the Huskies who had made sure the Ducks could­n’t pro­duce any last sec­ond hero­ics, not the oth­er way around.

ESPN amus­ing­ly assessed Ore­gon as hav­ing a 75.8% chance of winning:

ESP­N’s Foot­ball Pow­er Index (FPI) puts Ore­gon as the third-best team in the coun­try at a 25.6 rat­ing. Wash­ing­ton, at a 16.8, is 13th in the FBS and sec­ond in the Pac-12. That rat­ing dif­fer­ence is big­ger than the gap from Wash­ing­ton in sec­ond to Utah in sixth when it comes to Pac-12 teams. Unlike their first matchup, the two teams will play at a neu­tral site, giv­ing Ore­gon the edge here.

It did­n’t mat­ter that the teams were play­ing at a neu­tral site: Wash­ing­ton still won. Kalen DeBoer’s tal­ent­ed and ener­getic squad beat Ore­gon at Autzen last year, beat Ore­gon at home on Mont­lake this year, and now it has beat­en Ore­gon at a neu­tral site. It seems Wash­ing­ton’s actu­al recent per­for­mance against Ore­gon both away and at home just was­n’t a fac­tor in ESP­N’s assessment.

Here’s Rob Miech:

In mid-Octo­ber, the game between these two had six lead changes, the Huskies tak­ing the final one with 98 ticks left. They com­bined for 956 total yards of offense, there was a sin­gle turnover and penal­ties were low. In a grand neu­tral site, this rematch is poet­ic, the vic­tor like­ly advanc­ing to the nation­al play­offs. A plus for the Ducks is their 9–2‑1 ATS record, a mea­sure of dom­i­nance; UW is 5–6‑1. Final­ly, Ore­gon is 15–4 in the past 19 between these two, with the Ducks’ aver­age win­ning mar­gin being a sliv­er more than 15 points.

Pick: Ore­gon

This pre­dic­tion refresh­ing­ly relied more on data and the his­tor­i­cal record than some of the oth­er just excerpt­ed. How­ev­er, the pick was still wrong.

Here’s Ayr­ton Ost­ly of USA Today Sports:

Ore­gon 35, Wash­ing­ton 28

The first matchup between these two teams was one of the best games of the 2023 col­lege foot­ball sea­son. Ore­gon’s improved since that close loss while Wash­ing­ton’s eked out mul­ti­ple close wins. In a game of high-pow­ered offens­es, the Ducks’ defense makes the dif­fer­ence at a neu­tral site.

Wrong. Once again, the words “neu­tral site” were used to jus­ti­fy pick­ing the Ducks. It clear­ly mat­tered not to the Huskies that the game was in Las Vegas.

You might think that at least The Seat­tle Times would have made the case for the unde­feat­ed Huskies, but nope, they also went with the pack and picked Oregon:

Vorel’s pre­dic­tion

For eight con­sec­u­tive weeks, Wash­ing­ton has won by 10 points or few­er — con­tin­u­ous­ly, con­sis­tent­ly find­ing a way. But it hasn’t always been pret­ty, with the Huskies’ offense and defense trad­ing spurts of frus­trat­ing incon­sis­ten­cy. Mean­while, Ore­gon has erupt­ed since falling to the Huskies on Oct. 14, bom­bard­ing its last six oppo­nents by an aver­age of 26 points. At this point, the Ducks are sim­ply play­ing bet­ter. And while Penix and Odun­ze will make their plays, and the Huskies will rise to the chal­lenge, Oregon’s offense will sus­tain dri­ves and grad­u­al­ly enforce their will. UW coach Kalen DeBoer has repeat­ed­ly said his team plays its best under the bright lights … and he’s right. But against an Ore­gon unit fir­ing on all cylin­ders, the Huskies’ best won’t quite cut it. UW will suf­fer its first defeat of the sea­son, like­ly falling out of the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off (and into the Fies­ta Bowl).

Final score: Ducks 37, Huskies 34

Wrong. The Huskies’ best effort did cut it. They’re the Pac-12 cham­pi­ons and they are head­ed to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. Vorel is sure­ly hap­py to be wrong, but why’d he make this pre­dic­tion to begin with? He cov­ers the Huskies for Wash­ing­ton’s news­pa­per of record, so he knows them bet­ter than any­body and has seen them pre­vail again and again when many com­men­ta­tors thought they would­n’t. Yet he still did­n’t envi­sion them win­ning this game.

Because pre­dic­tions are so easy to make and so easy to get wrong, as I wrote above, NPI refus­es to offer any. We will dis­cuss prob­a­bil­i­ties based on the avail­able data, but only with the stat­ed caveat that we don’t know the future. Unlike oth­ers, we do not con­sid­er pre­dic­tions to be harm­less fun because they can neg­a­tive­ly influ­ence and dom­i­nate pub­lic dis­course. We believe in being open-mind­ed and being will­ing to con­sid­er dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties and scenarios.

We think pun­dits of all sorts would ben­e­fit from adopt­ing such a mindset.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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