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College Football Playoff Rankings: LSU, USC Climb Key Spots In New Top 25 As Tennessee Drops To No. 10

With the top four teams in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings all holding serve after emerging victorious last week, the fourth edition of the CFP Top 25, released Tuesday night, was largely uneventful. Reigning national champions Georgia maintained their No. 1 spot, while Ohio State stayed at No. 2. Michigan and TCU rounded out the top four by using walk-off field goals last Saturday to stave off surprises and go unbeaten into Rivalry Week walk.

USC, with its only blemish a one-point loss in Utah on Oct. 15, clinched the biggest win among CFP contenders with a 48-45 win at UCLA. The Trojans’ rise to No. 6 was helped by a shock defeat by Tennessee, defeated 63-38 in South Carolina.

Despite its improved ranking, USC still sits behind two No. 5 LSU losses. Both teams will compete in their respective conference championship games in two weeks, but the Trojans could potentially overtake the Tigers in the penultimate standings given the teams’ upcoming opponents next week. (More below.)

With the Volunteers now effectively eliminated from the playoffs, they become only the second-ranked team in a season’s first CFP rankings not to make it to the four-team field (Mississippi State, 2014). Meanwhile, the Tigers still have a chance to become the first two-loss team to earn a CFP offer in event history.

Back-to-back wins by 25+ points have breathed new life into one-loss Clemson, despite hanging behind two two-loss SEC teams (LSU, Alabama) and one-loss USC. Clemson’s potential schedule strength took a hit this week, but it still has a path to a seventh CFP appearance in the last eight seasons. Should it ultimately make the field, it would be the lowest ranked team at that point.

Let’s take a look at the top 25 of the overall CFP rankings with more analysis from Bowls expert Jerry Palm below.

College Football Playoff Rankings, November 22nd

  1. Georgia (11-0)
  2. Ohio State (11-0)
  3. Michigan (11-0)
  4. TCU (11-0)
  5. LSU (9-2)
  6. USC (10-1)
  7. Alabama (9-2)
  8. Clemson (10-1)
  9. Oregon (9-2)
  10. Tennessee (9-2)
  11. Pennsylvania (9-2)
  12. State of Kansas (8-3)
  13. Washington (9-2)
  14. Utah (8-3)
  15. Notre Dame (8-3)
  16. State of Florida (8-3)
  17. North Carolina (9-2)
  18. UCLA (8-3)
  19. Tulane (9-2)
  20. Ole Miss (8-3)
  21. Oregon State (8-3)
  22. UCF (8-3)
  23. Texas (7-4)
  24. Cincinnati (9-2)
  25. Louisville (7-4)

Analysis by Bowls expert Jerry Palm

One reason USC is lagging behind LSU is that the Trojans earned their first win against a ranked team this season when they defeated the Bruins. This positioning may be temporary as long as USC continues to win. In fact, USC is likely to skip LSU next week if the Trojans beat No. 15 Notre Dame while the Tigers tame unranked Texas A&M. A Quality Ranking win may be enough for the CFP Selection Committee to make the switch. The Trojans also have an easier path to the playoffs since they don’t have to go through the top-ranked Bulldogs.

Clemson feels stuck with no potential big win left on his schedule as No. 17 North Carolina suffers a second loss ahead of the scheduled ACC Championship game meeting. Clemson needs to get past South Carolina and UNC to go 12-1, but it doesn’t feel like that’ll move the needle enough to get the Tigers on the CFP talk. Clemson suffers especially against USC when both are 12-1 as the Trojans will have defeated the Fighting Irish giving the Tigers their only loss.

This week’s leaderboard is set to place four SEC teams in the New Year’s Six. Assuming no surprises in the top 10 by selection Sunday, Georgia is ranked No. 1 in the CFP. LSU or Alabama, whichever is ranked higher, would go to the Sugar Bowl as SEC representatives. The other team would face the ACC champion in the Orange Bowl as the top-ranked team remaining from the Big Ten, SEC, or Notre Dame. Eventually, Tennessee would earn the last spot in the Cotton Bowl as the top-ranked team not already in a New Year’s Six game.

Penn State is raring to go but can’t seem to get past where it is now due to lack of quality. The Nittany Lions have just two losses, going to No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan, but their best win of the season is still their Week 1 win at Purdue.

And we can now confirm, barring a loss to No. 22 UCF in South Florida this week, the AAC champion will represent the Group of Five in the Cotton Bowl.