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College Football Playoff rankings: USC up to No. 4, Ohio State is fifth

Quarterback Caleb Williams and Southern California might still need to beat Utah in the Pac-12 title game to completely ensure a berth in the CFP tournament. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

As if losing to archrival Michigan for a second straight year wasn’t painful enough, Ohio State’s resounding defeat at home Saturday cost it a berth in the College Football Playoff, at least for the time being.

The Buckeyes (11-1) tumbled from second to fifth in the penultimate rankings, which were revealed Tuesday. Moving up two slots into the all-important fourth position was Southern California (11-1), which beat then-No. 15 Notre Dame (8-4), 38-27, at home Saturday.

In a teleconference with media members after the rankings reveal, CFP selection committee chairman Boo Corrigan noted that while both USC and Ohio State have beaten Notre Dame, which was ranked 21st on Tuesday, the Trojans also have wins over No. 15 Oregon State and No. 17 UCLA, while the Buckeyes have just one other victory against a currently ranked team, albeit the highest of that group in No. 8 Penn State.

Corrigan also indicated that the committee took into account the fact that USC’s one loss, to No. 11 Utah in October, was by a single point on the road, whereas Ohio State lost by 22 at home, and he noted the Trojans’ recent form with the stellar play of quarterback Caleb Williams.

“You can’t completely dismiss the way the fourth quarter ended, with Michigan kind of taking over the game there late,” Corrigan told reporters. He added that USC’s defeat of the Fighting Irish on Saturday, directly after a victory over the Bruins, gave it “back-to-back big wins.”

The selection committee rewarded the Wolverines (12-0) for their big win by elevating them from third to No. 2. In turn, TCU (12-0) jumped up one spot to No. 3 after trouncing Iowa State on Saturday, 62-14.

As expected, Georgia (12-0) remained No. 1 after getting off to a slow start against Georgia Tech before dominating the second half for a 37-14 win. The defending national champion Bulldogs completed back-to-back undefeated regular seasons for the first time in the program’s history.

The final rankings will be released Sunday, after the major conference championship games are played. In the SEC, Georgia is set to square off with No. 14 LSU (9-3), while Michigan plays Purdue (8-4) in the Big Ten and TCU takes on No. 10 Kansas State (9-3) in the Big 12. USC will risk its newfound place in the top four in a Pac-12 title game rematch Friday with Utah (9-3).

In other words, a few opportunities remain for teams to possibly play themselves in or out of the four-team playoff, although it might require an upset to oust a member of the top three.

As it was, Saturday featured plenty of upheaval in the top 10, given not only Ohio State’s loss but defeats suffered by the fifth-, eighth- and ninth-ranked squads. At No. 5, LSU had been on the precipice of playoff inclusion, but it fell to Texas A&M (5-7). Then-No. 8 Clemson (10-2) lost by one point at home to in-state rival South Carolina (8-4), while then-No. 9 Oregon (9-3) blew a 21-point lead in the second half and fell to Oregon State (9-3), 38-34.

Taking immediate advantage of those results were: Alabama (10-2), which went from No. 7 to No. 6; Tennessee (10-2), which rose from 10th to seventh; Penn State (10-2), which ascended from 11th to eighth; and Kansas State, which saw the committee move it from 12th to 10th.

While Clemson held on to a spot in the top 10 at No. 9, LSU plummeted all the way to 14th. Oregon dropped to 16th, one spot below Oregon State.

Corrigan, who is also the athletic director at North Carolina State, suggested that how the top teams fare in their respective conference title games might affect their rankings, even compared to teams, such as Ohio State and Alabama, that did not qualify for those contests and thus will be idle this weekend.

“We’re going to come back in here on Friday,” he said, “and get together and watch games on Friday and Saturday and go back into the room and make sure that we select the right four teams, and quite frankly the right 25 teams to be ranked, and certainly that’s going to be part of their body of work.

“That championship game will be part of their body of work.”

As far as placing Tennessee, which defeated Alabama earlier this season, behind the Crimson Tide, Corrigan said that the Volunteers’ lopsided loss to No. 19 South Carolina “really weighed with the committee.” He clarified that, contrary to what he had suggested in an earlier appearance Tuesday on ESPN, the final rankings of teams that aren’t playing this week might still change.

In keeping Georgia ahead of Michigan, the CFP head emphasized the fact that the Bulldogs have four wins against top 25 teams to two for the Wolverines.

“Everyone was very impressed by Michigan’s performance on Saturday down at Ohio State,” Corrigan said, “and we ended up with them at No. 2.”

Here is the complete top 25:

1. Georgia (12-0)

2. Michigan (12-0)

3. TCU (12-0)

4. USC (11-1)

5. Ohio State (11-1)

6. Alabama (10-2)

7. Tennessee (10-2)

8. Penn State (10-2)

9. Clemson (10-2)

10. Kansas State (9-3)

11. Utah (9-3)

12. Washington (10-2)

13. Florida State (9-3)

14. LSU (9-3)

15. Oregon State (9-3)

16. Oregon 9-3)

17. UCLA (9-3)

18. Tulane (10-2)

19. South Carolina (8-4)

20. Texas (8-4)

21. Notre Dame (8-4)

22. Central Florida (9-3)

23. North Carolina (9-3)

24. Mississippi State (8-4)

25. North Carolina State (8-4)

South Carolina, Mississippi State and North Carolina State entered the rankings this week. Falling out of the top 25 were Mississippi (8-4), Cincinnati (9-3) and Louisville (7-5).

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