The nation’s focus will be on Las Vegas on Friday night when USC and Utah play for the Pac-12 championship.
“That’s the only drama left,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said Tuesday night after the College Football Playoff rankings reveal.
Based on the CFP selection committee’s ranking of the Trojans as No. 4, USC is in the playoff with a win over the Utes. But what if USC loses? That’s where things would get interesting.
The playoff has never invited a two-loss team into the field, and it is unlikely to break that precedent for a USC squad whose best win would be at No. 15 Oregon State by a score of 17-14.
Waiting in the wings is Ohio State, 11-1, at No. 5. It would be easy enough for the committee to bump the Buckeyes to the fourth spot, but do they really deserve a trip to the playoff after being pulverized by rival Michigan, 45-23, on their home field in the last game of the season?
The Wolverines ran away from Ohio State, winning the second half by a 28-3 margin, which should be the lasting image for the committee — despite the strength of Ohio State’s win over No. 8 Penn State in Happy Valley. The Buckeyes and Trojans each share an 11-point win over No. 21 Notre Dame.
If USC loses to Utah a second time in close fashion, the Trojans would have at least finished on a competitive note, unlike Ohio State.
A theoretical choice of the 11-1 Buckeyes over 11-2 USC would be punishing the Trojans for having earned a spot in their conference championship game while Ohio State sat at home.
USC fans will have to hope that they don’t have to be subject to any debate between Friday night and Sunday morning when the committee announces which four teams will play in the semifinals for a trip to the national championship game at SoFi Stadium on Jan. 9.
As it stands, on New Year’s Eve, No. 1 Georgia would play No. 4 USC in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and No. 2 Michigan would play No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.