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