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

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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 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.

“A lot of conversations about the top four,” CFP committee chair Boo Corrigan, the athletic director at NC State, said on ESPN’s rankings release show. “We didn’t see any reason to move Georgia out of the top spot.”

Ohio State dropped to No. 5, and now must hope for upsets and chaos in the upcoming title 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, because Ohio State will not be playing an extra game. Alabama landed just behind the Buckeyes at No. 6.

“It was a tough decision,” Corrigan said regarding the call to put Ohio State ahead of Alabama. “There’s four teams in front of them, and there’s plenty of games that still need to be played this weekend.”

Conference championship weekend could provide little drama if the top four teams win. It all begins 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 four 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 five, every other ranked team has two or more losses, and no two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff.

“College football always delivers,” Corrigan said when previewing the weekend. “As a group, we’re excited to have the opportunity to get together and watch these games. We look forward to evaluating all of it.”

The highest ranked among the two-loss teams is Alabama, 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 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 Sunday, followed by bowl announcements for the teams that don’t make it.

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