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Washington escapes Utah with playoff hopes intact

SALT LAKE CITY — No. 4 Washington cemented its status as the Pac-12 favorite and top contender for the College Football Playoff with a 31-24 win Saturday at No. 17 Utah.

Check that. The unbeaten Huskies cemented their status as the only Pac-12 team in the CFP hunt, as every other team in the conference has at least two losses.

Utah didn't go down easy. In fact, this one wasn't decided until a fourth-and-15 pass from the Huskies' 35 yard line fell incomplete in the end zone.

Washington entered the game leading the nation with in average margin of victory, but this one was a dogfight after the Huskies jumped to an early 14-0 advantage. Utah actually took a 17-14 lead on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Huskies' winning margin was provided by a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown from Dante Pettis with 3:25 remaining.

It wasn't pretty, and the Huskies won't earn many accolades for style points, but they stood up to a tough challenge on the road against a ranked team.

Washington will be at California next week. Utah, still squarely in the Pac-12 South Division race, is at Arizona State. These two teams could meet again in the Pac-12 title game.

The takeaway here, though, is Washington is squarely in the CFP hunt, but its schedule won't do it many favors or provide it much leeway. There aren't a lot of marquee games remaining.

No. 23 Colorado, which won't play the Huskies in the regular season, was the Pac-12's only other ranked team entering the weekend. The Buffaloes are off this week. Washington State and USC are both receiving votes in the national polls. The Cougars, essentially 26th in the AP, will host the Huskies in the annual Apple Cup on Nov. 25. The Huskies play host to resurgent USC on Nov. 12.

Washington also will have the Pac-12 title game in which to impress the CFP selection committee. That could be a rematch with Utah. The South Division game of the year might be Colorado's visit to Utah on Nov. 26, the final weekend of the regular season.

The Huskies won without their A-game. Quarterback Jake Browning, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, passed for just 186 yards and threw just his third interception of the season, a turnover that changed the game's momentum in the second quarter.

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