As promised, the college football playoff chase on the field was almost decided.
With just one weekend left before the end of the regular season, the selection committee will be able to post an obvious top 4 in Tuesday’s rankings. Michigan’s win over Ohio State opened up a spot for Southern California to secure an unexpected playoff bid by beating Utah for the Pac-12 championship.
There is surprisingly little discussion at the top of the leaderboard, consistent with the small number of games remaining.
As an example, Ohio State will likely finish at No. 5 since the Buckeyes are one of only five bowl subdivision teams with one or zero losses. There’s no reason to think Alabama won’t finish at No. 6 and move up one spot to replace LSU.
And so on down the line. Even if the committee might decide to try something else outside of the top 6 or 7, the top grouping of teams makes a case for the refreshingly obvious playoff race with a Saturday left before the postseason.
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Ahead of Tuesday night’s leaderboards, the top 10 should look like this:
1. Georgia (12-0)
A win over LSU would make Kirby Smart the fourth coach in program history to win multiple SEC championships, alongside Mark Richt, Vince Dooley and Wally Butts. Smart is 1-3 in the title game, beating Auburn in 2017 but losing to Alabama in 2018, to LSU in 2019, and to Alabama again last season.
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While not quite as certain as Georgia’s odds, the Wolverines could very likely lose to Purdue in the Big Ten championship game and still make it into the top four. Is there a result that could change that? Perhaps being blown out by the boilermakers could influence the committee’s deliberations. But even then, that could mean skipping the 12-1 Michigan in favor of the 11-1 Ohio State just a week after the Wolverines’ convincing win. In other words, Michigan should feel very safe.
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3. TCU (12-0)
A win over Kansas State for the conference championship would make TCU the first Big 12 team alongside Oklahoma to make the playoffs. Clemson’s second loss also increases the odds that the Horned Frogs will lose to the Wildcats and still finish in the top four, but if they don’t win the Big 12, it could open a door for Ohio State or Alabama.
4. Southern California (11-1)
Utah quarterback Cam Rising led Utah to this year’s 43-42 win over USC with 475 total offensive yards and five touchdowns, three on the ground. In the weeks that followed, he hit or miss, missing the Washington State game with an injury and then throwing four touchdowns and four interceptions in games against Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon. Rising rebounded with a strong performance against Colorado on Saturday – he went 17 of 19 for 234 yards and three points – and appears set for the head-to-head matchup with Caleb Williams to decide if the Pac- 12 is back in the playoffs.
5. Ohio State (11-1)
Bringing OSU here despite another disheartening loss to the Wolverines reflects the Buckeyes’ record and the committee’s admiration for a team nearly two months just behind the Bulldogs in the playoff rankings and USA TODAY’s AFCA Coaches Poll sports. Yes, Alabama could end up at No. 5, but what would the committee’s rationale be?
6. Alabama (10-2)
Whichever team finishes at No. 5 will have the inside lead to replace USC should the Trojans lose to Utah. Alabama’s argument draws on quality victories against Mississippi and Texas along with narrow losses against Tennessee and LSU. Unfortunately, the Tigers’ loss to Texas A&M spoils this case.
7. Tennessee (10-2)
Again, thanks to this year’s 52-49 win, why shouldn’t Tennessee be ahead of Alabama? Three spots off last week’s rankings after losing to South Carolina, the Volunteers will climb several rungs but not get ahead of the Crimson Tide. However, the rebound to beat Vanderbilt puts Tennessee in the New Year’s Six.
Penn State doesn’t have the wins to overtake the SEC’s two-lost teams. There are some solid wins: Purdue won the Big Ten West, Ohio is playing for the MAC Championship, and Minnesota and Maryland won eight and seven games, respectively. This is still a fine year for the Nittany Lions after battling through 2020 and 2021.
9th State of Kansas (9-3)
After winning the rivalry game against Kansas, Kansas State will continue to climb the rankings and become the team with the most three losses going into the rematch with TCU. The Wildcats lost to the Horned Frogs earlier this season despite maintaining an 18-point lead and could easily take home the program’s first conference championship since 2003.
10 Washington (10-2)
There’s an argument for putting Washington ahead of the Wildcats based on better overall records and stronger top-end wins: Oregon State and Oregon are far more impressive than Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. But while an Apple Cup win over Washington State might carry more weight than a win over Kansas, it’s not enough for the committee to make the trade.