Bishard Baker was the jewel of Chris Petersen's initial, hastily formed recruiting class. He was the No. 1 prospect in Washington and the nation's No. 6 safety, being chased by programs like Oregon, UCLA and Notre Dame. He pledged his commitment to the in-state Huskies' new coach the day before Signing Day in 2014, putting ink to paper the next day to make it official. 

He's better known as Budda now, a childhood nickname that's become a signature at every stop in his life and career. His mom, legend has it, thought he looked like a tiny little Buddha doll as a child. The "H" didn't stick, but the rest of the name did, aided by Budda's dislike for his given birth name.  

Baker started every game as a true freshman, earning freshman All-America honors. he has grown into an all-conference staple since then, and an All-American in 2016. He has become everything recruitniks hope highly touted recruits become when they first commit to a program and send fans daydreaming of better days into overdrive. He was a sign of promise to come back when Washington plodded through eight wins in Petersen's first season. 

At many other programs, including the three other playoff teams, Baker might have just been an anonymous redshirt his first year on campus. At Washington, he was an instant star.

* * * 

Among this year's College Football Playoff field, one of these teams is not like the others. 

Below is each playoff team's average recruiting class ranking over the past four seasons, according to 247 Sports:

Alabama: 1.0
Ohio State: 4.0
Clemson: 13.0
Washington: 27.75

Conference championships can be won with sub-par recruiting. College football history, at least since the start of the BCS era and the growth of recruiting media, has proved that national championships cannot. Even playing for a national title has mostly become a pipe dream for programs unable to consistently field recruiting classes in the top 10-15. 

Great recruiting classes, as programs like Tennessee, Georgia, Notre Dame or Texas A&M can attest, guarantee nothing. But mediocre recruiting has guaranteed at least one thing: Your program won't be crowned national champion. In the playoff era, increased access has given a program with merely above-average recruiting an opportunity in two of three seasons. 

Last year, Michigan State made the playoff with a four-year average of 28.75. The Spartans lost to Alabama 38-0 in the Cotton Bowl semifinal.

This year, Washington is a two-touchdown underdog to Alabama in Saturday's Peach Bowl semifinal against No. 1 Alabama, one of the widest point spreads of any bowl game, which is especially eye-opening for a game between two teams separated by just three spots in the final CFP rankings. 

"I feel like the whole season, we've been getting the same thing." Washington receiver John Ross told reporters this week. "It doesn't matter who we play. People will never give us the credit for what we deserve, how hard we worked. So it's not even so much about Alabama or this game. We've been hearing it all season. Even before the season started, people didn't believe in us. That never -- not once -- knocked us off our course. Like I said, we just got one goal, that's to win and to stay focused." 

Washington and Michigan State have been the exceptions to the rule, and now the Huskies are the latest to face the program that is the rule and has ruled college football for almost a full decade, winning four national championships and losing 10 total games since the start of the 2009 season. 

"Alabama's been Alabama for years," Baker said. "And it would be a big step to win." 

Just being here is a testament to Petersen's coaching prowess. He helped build and sustain where college football construction should not be possible: on the blue turf of Boise State.

Now on his first turn at a program with some historical success, he's turned it from a floundering, middle-of-the-road Pac-12 program into a playoff contender. Just once since Don James' 12-0 season in 1991 did the Huskies win more than nine games. While Nick Saban won his first SEC title at Alabama in 2008, Washington was busy going 0-12. 

For at least a while on New Year's Eve, the two will be on equal footing. 

That could be even more true as Petersen continues to build in Seattle. A close examination of the current states of recent Pac-12 powers Oregon, USC and Stanford doesn't reveal any compelling evidence for why the Huskies can't become a new power in the conference. And Washington's current 2017 recruiting class ranking, per 247 Sports, is 18th. 

The 2016 season has been a breakthrough year for both the program and Petersen, who three times went undefeated in the regular season and never got a chance to play for a national title while coaching the Broncos.

But at Boise State, Petersen got comfortable doing lots of things he wasn't supposed to do, like beat an Oklahoma team led by Adrian Peterson, finish in the top 10 four times as a member of the WAC and Mountain West and spend almost a decade as a mainstay in the top 25. That undefeated season, capped by an unforgettable Fiesta Bowl that cemented Petersen's reputation as the maestro of the gadget play? It came in 2006, just 10 years after Boise had moved up to the FBS. 

Ten years later, Petersen finally has his opportunity on the brightest stage college football has to offer. 

Just like back then, a win would mean changing paradigms, making history and providing hope to scores of other programs dreaming of one day doing what Washington has already done.