College Football Playoff Rankings: LSU, USC inch up to key spots in new top 25 as Tennessee falls 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 champion Georgia held onto the No. 1 spot with Ohio State remaining at No. 2. Michigan and TCU rounded out what the top four, using walk-off field goals last Saturday to stave off upsets and remain undefeated entering Rivalry Week.

USC, with its lone blemish a single-point defeat at Utah on Oct. 15, picked up the biggest victory among CFP contenders with a 48-45 win at UCLA. The Trojans’ rise to No. 6 was aided by a shocking upset suffered by Tennessee, which was routed 63-38 at South Carolina.

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

With the Volunteers now basically eliminated from the playoff, they will become just the second team ranked No. 1 in a season’s initial CFP Rankings that will fail to reach 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 bid in the event’s history.

Consecutive victories of 25+ points have given one-loss Clemson new life, though it’s hanging behind a pair of two-loss SEC teams (LSU, Alabama) and one-loss USC. Clemson’s potential strength of schedule took a hit this week, but it nevertheless 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 this juncture to do so.

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

College Football Playoff Rankings, Nov. 22

  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. Penn State (9-2)
  12. Kansas State (8-3)
  13. Washington (9-2)
  14. Utah (8-3)
  15. Notre Dame (8-3)
  16. Florida State (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 why USC remains behind LSU is the Trojans picked up their first win over a ranked team this season when they beat the Bruins. That positioning may be temporary as long as USC continues winning. In fact, USC is likely to jump LSU next week if the Trojans beat No. 15 Notre Dame, while the Tigers tame unranked Texas A&M. A quality ranked win may be enough for the CFP Selection Committee to make the switch. The Trojans also an easier path to the playoff given they don’t have to go through the top-ranked Bulldogs.

Clemson feels stuck given it does not have a potential big win left on their schedule with No. 17 North Carolina suffering a second loss ahead of their scheduled ACC Championship Game meeting. Clemson has to get past South Carolina and UNC to finish 12-1, but it does not feel like that is going to move the needle enough on its own to put the Tigers in the CFP conversation. Clemson particularly suffers in comparison with USC if both are 12-1 as the Trojans will have defeated the Fighting Irish, which handed the Tigers their lone loss.

This week’s rankings are set up to put four SEC teams in the New Year’s Six. Assuming no upsets in the top 10 between now and Selection Sunday, Georgia is in the CFP as the No. 1 seed. LSU or Alabama, whichever is ranked higher, would go to the Sugar Bowl as the SEC representative. The other team would face the ACC champion in the Orange Bowl as the highest-ranked team remaining from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. Finally, Tennessee would get the last spot in the Cotton Bowl as the highest-rated team not already in a New Year’s Six game.

Penn State is waiting in the wings, but it cannot seem to get past where it is now due to a lack of quality wins. The Nittany Lions only have two losses, which came to No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan, but their best win of the season is still their Week 1 victory at Purdue.

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

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