College Football Playoff: Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC should be in no matter what

The penultimate 2022 College Football Playoff rankings that will be revealed Tuesday night are likely to look as such:

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)

COLUMBUS, OHIO - NOVEMBER 26: Kris Jenkins #94 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates a 45-23 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 26, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images)
Michigan's Kris Jenkins celebrates a 45-23 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 26, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images)

Perhaps Georgia and Michigan are swapped — the Wolverines' best wins are better than the Bulldogs' best wins. Or perhaps it's Alabama, based on two close road losses, that sits at No. 5, above Ohio State, who lost big, 45-23, to Michigan at home Saturday.

Whatever, none of that really matters.

If the top four are Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC, then committee chairman Boo Corrigan should make a simple declaration.

The field is set. These are the four teams that will appear in the playoff. This weekend’s conference championship games will be for seeding purposes only.

Make no mistake, this is not what will be said. (Well, never say never, but it’s highly improbable.) Corrigan is almost certainly going to feed into all sorts of hypothetical scenarios. No one is naïve enough to think what will happen and what should are the same thing.

That said, there is an undeniable intellectual and logic-based argument that the top four should remain the top four no matter if they lose next weekend. Of course, it is painfully dangerous to try to apply logic or intellectual arguments to college football, which is far more into the “football” part than the “college” part.

However, here it is.

After 12 weeks, the top four teams are the top four teams — Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC. While 22 teams will play games in “Championship Week,” only four have any argument as a playoff team.

For playoff purposes, it doesn’t matter who wins the MAC or the Mountain West. Nor could say, 8-4 Purdue make an argument for a playoff slot even if it upsets Michigan in the Big Ten game or 9-3 Kansas State if it defeats TCU in the Big 12.

There are only six contenders and the two teams that are on the outside — Ohio State and Alabama — aren’t playing any more games. Their regular seasons are done after 12 games — or “data points” as the committee puts it.

Since no one can play their way in this weekend, then no one should be burdened with the possibility of playing their way out.

Southern California quarterback Caleb Williams gestures to fans after USC defeated Notre Dame 38-27 an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Caleb Williams and USC have already done enough to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

If, after 12 games, the committee believes 11-1 USC has done more to prove itself worthy of a playoff spot than Ohio State and Alabama, then it is illogical to ask USC to then play a 13th game and further prove its worthiness over the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide, who are sitting at home and risking nothing.

To do so would be to punish USC for winning its division and playing for a conference title. It would place an undue and extra burden on the Trojans.

It is giving Ohio State and/or Alabama a de facto bye that they most certainly didn’t earn. If anyone deserves the benefits, it is the teams that qualified for their conference championship games.

If Ohio State or Alabama was playing a 13th game, then it would all be fair. It would allow them to play their way in and thus USC or TCU would have to compete as well. But that isn't the case.

Or it would be fair to consider a 13th game if one of the playoff teams wasn’t playing a 12th game — that was a factor in the early playoff days for Big 12 teams, which was forced to add a championship game to avoid being punished by the committee for playing just 12.

But that isn’t the scenario here either.

The season is over for any team outside the top four with any possible claim on top-four status.

Thus this season is over.

If TCU loses its first game or USC loses its second after the other teams are done playing a shorter season, then it should not be considered.

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One of the problems with the College Football Playoff is its weekly ratings show has demonstrated a lack of consistency in how teams are ranked, the use of selective criteria and blatant reversals in thinking. It has undermined the credibility of the committee.

Fans should have zero faith that the committee would follow — or perhaps even consider — the above argument.

Here’s a chance for it to claim some intellectual high ground and do the right and rational thing.

Taking out the 2020 COVID season which was a mess (Ohio State, for example, got in at 6-0), there have been seven playoffs. Four times a team that played just 12 games was selected.

Two (2015 Oklahoma and 2018 Notre Dame) didn’t have a conference title game option and thus didn’t have a chance for a 13th game.

In 2016, Ohio State, at 11-1, got in rather than 11-2 Penn State, but both of the Nittany Lions' losses came during the regular season. As such, after 12 games, the committee had OSU at No. 2 and Penn State at No. 7. PSU didn’t get jumped because of the 13th game. It was already behind.

In 2017, however, the committee reversed precedent and moved 11-1 Alabama from 5th to 4th when previous No. 4 Wisconsin entered the Big Ten title game at 12-0 but lost. The Badgers were penalized for playing an extra game.

Regardless of the merits of Bama or Wisconsin — the Tide went on to win the national title — this should have been far more controversial.

If the committee cares about doing what is philosophically sound, what is scholarly, what is thoughtful — and it should — then it shouldn’t repeat such a mistake. (Besides, neither OSU nor Bama this year is as strong of a candidate as the 2017 Tide).

This year, under these circumstances, the field should be set — Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC. This week should be for seeding purposes only.