As we all know, USC just completed its season with a 31-28 win over the Stanford Cardinal in the PAC-12 Championship game. Heading into the game the Trojans' chances at the College Football Playoff were slim at best. After tonight’s Conference games, the Playoff field seems pretty clear and simple. The USC Trojans needed muddled confusion to have any shot.
USC needed help in just about every conference championship game today. The problem is the Trojans were ranked behind all of the contenders in the Today’s conference championship games except for TCU. So even with major upsets today it would not have helped the Trojans.
The final rankings come out in less than 12 hours from the time of publishing and three of the spots are all but locked up. The Georgia Bulldogs, Clemson Tigers, and Oklahoma Sooners in some order are in the College Football Playoff. After that, the prevailing wisdom is that there are two teams in realistic contention for the fourth spot.
The teams vying for 4th place are the Big Ten Conference Champion Ohio State Buckeyes with two very ugly losses to Oklahoma and the Iowa Hawkeyes and the 11-1 Alabama Crimson Tide who were undefeated until losing to Auburn last week which knocked them out of contention to play in the SEC Championship Game Saturday.
So what chance do the Trojans stand in squeezing into the picture? There isn't much room to work with. USC is also a Conference Champion with two losses but Stanford is the only ranked (at this point) opponent they have defeated this year. The only other ranked opponents USC played were loses. The blowout loss to Notre Dame is particularly crippling considering the Irish then went on to get blown out by the Miami Hurricanes who were absolutely embarrassed tonight against Clemson. Notre Dame then going on to struggle against Navy and lose by three scores to Stanford did not help much either.
Even if the Playoff committee decides that Conference Championships are the be all, end all, factor (which they don’t) that still would put them squarely up against the Ohio State who has wins over three ranked opponents (Michigan State, Penn State, and Wisconsin).
The best, realistic scenario for USC is that they are a distant third in a two-team race for the final playoff spot. The best case scenario out of the realistic options would put USC at number six in the rankings. It is the best case scenario because there is no guarantee that the committee will put USC ahead of Auburn, Miami, Wisconsin and Penn State.
Unfortunately, USC will probably not get into the top 4. Most consider Alabama to be the best team in the nation and Ohio State has an established history of getting plenty of love from the Committee. USC has two losses, one of them ugly, and has been subject to shaky play all year.
It's fun to think about but, in the end, it's not going to happen. The drama for USC on Sunday will be their Bowl game fate. With the Rose Bowl one of the Playoff games this year the Trojans will not get the traditional Bowl Game for the Pac-12 Champion against the Big Ten Champion. While Ohio State v. USC would be a great game, if Ohio State makes it to the playoffs things get even more muddled.
Ultimately the USC Trojans have once again returned to their place atop the Pac-12 Conference, and they have a marquee, New Years Six Bowl Game to play against likely a top 10 opponent.