College Football Playoff Rankings: Michigan, TCU move up as USC enters four-team field in new top 25

A shakeup was bound to come in the penultimate College Football Playoff Rankings with Rivalry Week preceding the release of the latest top 25. And that’s exactly what happened Tuesday night as Michigan and TCU both moved up one space with USC entering the four-team field and Georgia holding onto the No. 1 spot.

The reshuffling came amid Michigan’s thorough beatdown of then-No. 2 Ohio State in 2022’s edition of The Game. The defeat knocked the Buckeyes out of the top four, though they do sit at No. 5 with the best chance to enter the playoff of any team not already in the projected field.

USC was long expected to move into the top four this week if it passed its latest test, and it did exactly that (with flying colors) by virtue of a clean win at home against then-No. 15 Notre Dame. It was the second straight victory over a ranked opponent for the Trojans, which now sit a Pac-12 Championship Game win over No. 11 Utah is away from becoming the first team from that conference to participate in the CFP over the last six seasons (2016-17). Utah is the lone team to defeat USC this year, giving the Trojans a chance to overcome that negative data point head-to-head in the last week of the season.

The most notable tumbler in this week’s rankings was LSU, which lost its third game of the season to a Texas A&M senior team that entered with just four wins. The Bayou Bengals fell nine spots from the hunt for a long-shot playoff entree to No. 14. Clemson only dropped one spot after losing to South Carolina as it was only the Tigers’ second loss of the season, but they similarly knocked themselves out of an off-chance playoff bid. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks saw the largest rise of the week jumping from unranked to No. 19 on the back of defeating top-10 teams in consecutive weeks for the first time in program history.

Let’s take a look at the entire CFP Rankings top 25 with more analysis from bowls expert Jerry Palm to come.

College Football Playoff Rankings, Dec. 29

  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 (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. UCF (9-3)
  23. North Carolina (9-3)
  24. Mississippi State (8-4)
  25. NC State (8-4)

Analysis by bowls expert Jerry Palm

All in all, there were no surprises at the top of the CFP Rankings. The only question that needed to be answered was which team would be No. 5. That is important because, if USC falters against Utah for the second time now with the Pac-12 title on the line, the Trojans will likely fall out of CFP contention with Ohio State taking their place.

Losses by LSU, Clemson and Oregon sucked much of the drama out of the race for the CFP as the three undefeated teams at the top of the rankings — Georgia, Michigan, TCU — will be in the playoffs, win or lose. It is an indication of how strong their performances have been from start to finish this season.

Though some have questioned TCU, just look at which team is sitting at No. 10. It’s the Horned Frogs’ opponent in the Big 12 Championship Game, Kansas State. That shows the level of respect the CFP Selection Committee has for the Wildcats. Also, among those three undefeated teams, TCU will be playing the highest-ranked team in its league title game.

The rankings are not only important for selecting the CFP participants as they often play a role in selecting teams for the New Year’s Six games. The rankings can be used to pick replacements for bowls that lose a conference champion to the CFP, and they also determine at large spots.

For instance, Georgia’s opponent in the SEC Championship Game, LSU, got hammered by the committee for its loss to moribund Texas A&M. The Tigers dropped all the way to 14th and are out of range for selection to a New Year’s Six game. LSU’s only chance now is to win its way into the Sugar Bowl. The SEC could have put four teams in the New Year’s Six if the Tigers had defeated the Aggies.

Penn State is the likely beneficiary from LSU dropping out. The Nittany Lions now sit at No. 8 and in a good position to play in the Cotton Bowl.

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