USC joins Georgia, Michigan, TCU in CFP’s top 4

Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC are all poised to make the College Football Playoff with wins in their conference championship games this weekend after the selection committee unveiled its penultimate rankings on Tuesday.

There was no change at the top, as Georgia (12-0) remained No. 1. But after Michigan (12-0) beat Ohio State 45-23 last Saturday, the Wolverines jumped one spot to No. 2. TCU (12-0) stayed at No. 3, and USC (11-1) made its first appearance in the top four after the Buckeyes and LSU lost.

Ohio State dropped to No. 5, and now must hope for upsets and chaos in the upcoming titles games to potentially get an opportunity to make it back into the playoff mix. But much of that will depend on not only the results, but how the committee would view an undefeated team that loses in the conference title game, since Ohio State will not be playing an extra game.

Conference championship weekend could provide little drama if the top four teams win. It all begins on Friday night when No. 11 Utah (9-3) and USC play in the Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas. Utah handed USC its only loss of the season in October, 43-42, when quarterback Cam Rising ran for a 1-yard touchdown, and successfully converted the 2-point conversion attempt with 48 seconds left.

On Saturday, Georgia plays No. 14 LSU (9-3) in the SEC championship game; TCU plays No. 10 Kansas State (9-3) in the Big 12 championship game and Michigan plays Purdue (8-4) in the Big Ten championship game. The top 4 CFP teams are favored to win.

If one or more teams lose, the committee might have tougher decisions to make. But consider this: Beyond the Top 5, every other ranked team has two or more losses, and no two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff.

The highest ranked among the two-loss teams is Alabama at No. 6, followed by Tennessee at No. 7. Penn State at No. 8, Clemson at No. 9 and Kansas State at No. 10 round out the Top 10. Clemson plays No. 23 North Carolina (9-3) in the ACC championship game on Saturday as well, but after the Tigers lost to South Carolina 31-30 last Saturday, they were essentially eliminated from playoff contention.

That win over Clemson helped South Carolina (8-4) go from unranked to the No. 19 spot this week. In addition to beating Clemson, the Gamecocks beat Tennessee 63-38 the previous week — becoming the first unranked team to win consecutive games against AP Top-10 opponents since Auburn in 2003.

Tulane (10-2) is just ahead of South Carolina at No. 18 and hosts No. 22 UCF (9-3) on Saturday in the American Athletic Conference championship game. The winner would almost assuredly be the highest ranked Group of 5 team, and earn a spot in a New Year’s Six game.

The final rankings will be released on Sunday, followed by bowl announcements for the teams who don’t make it.

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