USC Joins Georgia, Michigan, TCU in CFP’s Latest Top 4

Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC are all poised to make the college football playoffs with victories in their conference championship games this weekend after the selection committee announced its penultimate rankings on Tuesday.

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

Ohio State fell back to No. 5 and will now have to hope for surprises and mayhem in the upcoming title games for a possible opportunity to make it back into the playoff mix. But much of that will depend not only on the results, but how the committee would view an undefeated team losing in the conference title game, as Ohio State won’t play an extra game.

The conference championship weekend could offer little drama if the top four teams win. It all starts Friday night when No. 11 Utah (9-3) and USC play 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 remaining.

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 4 best CFP teams are preferred.

If one or more teams lose, the committee may have to make tougher decisions. But consider this: Aside from the top 5, every other team in the rankings has two or more losses, and no team with two losses has ever made the college football playoffs.

The best-ranked team with two losses 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 also plays 23rd-ranked North Carolina (9-3) in Saturday’s ACC championship game, but after the Tigers lost 31-30 to South Carolina last Saturday, they were essentially eliminated from the playoffs.

That win over Clemson helped South Carolina (8-4) move down the rankings to 19th this week. In addition to beating Clemson, the Gamecocks beat Tennessee 63-38 last week, becoming the first unranked team to do so since Auburn won consecutive games against AP top 10 opponents in 2003.

Tulane (10-2) sits just ahead of South Carolina in 18th place and hosts the No. 22 UCF (9-3) in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference championship game. The winner would almost certainly be the top-ranked Group of 5 team and would earn a seat in a New Year’s Six game.

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

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