Gold: For USC, finally, it's Playoff path couldn't be simpler
This could’ve been so much harder, so much more stressful, that of course I thought it would go down in the most frustrating of ways.
But my fingernails thank you, College Football Playoff selectors.
There’s nothing to chew on now. It couldn’t be simpler for USC or the other 3 teams in the revised CFP Final Four.
No funny business. No advanced math. Put away the calculators. This is pure addition. No need to carry the one.
USC could have been saddled with a No. 5 ranking behind Ohio State and caused a week’s worth of consternation. With the Trojans playing in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game in a hotly anticipated rematch with Utah and the Buckeyes relegated to Columbus couches, I feared some trickeration among CFP voters, as if adding drama to the mix would add to their bottom line.
I did not want to be in a scenario where we were parsing prominent wins, pitting two of the great programs of all time in some kind of spitting contest to determine if a win over Rutgers is worth more than a win over Arizona State.
“Ohio State has nice wins over Penn State and Notre Dame, and again, that Michigan game was a whole lot closer early in the fourth quarter than it was, but then you look at USC and their recent wins over UCLA and Notre Dame, they also have a win over Oregon State,” CFP chairman Bob Corrigan said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters. “Their 1 loss is, you probably remember this, a 2-point conversion against Utah in an emotionally charged game.”
Luckily the CFP committee members did their jobs and made the decision for us.
Although, really, it was USC and Ohio State that did the deciding on the field.
Forget recency bias, there’s decency bias. As in, Ohio State was merely decent down the stretch, while USC absolutely surged.
It wasn’t just the Buckeyes’ 22-point loss at home to the rival Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, which propelled UM from 3rd in the rankings to No. 2.
In a wet and wild, slippery and sloppy Week 10 win over 1-11 Northwestern, the Buckeyes didn’t put the Wildcats away until the middle of the 4th quarter and Heisman front-runner CJ Stroud threw for just 76 yards. It wasn’t a blip.
Two weeks later, Ohio State needed 10 last-minute points to separate from a pedestrian Maryland squad in a 43-30 win. The Terrapins scored 17 points in the 4th quarter, a harbinger for things to come.
Because then there was Saturday, the Buckeyes’ 2nd straight loss to Michigan, when the Wolverines hung up 22 4th-quarter points. Forget distancing themselves: Michigan simply sprinted away from OSU in stunning fashion, with Donovan Edwards touchdown runs of 75 and 85 yards. Edwards topped 200 yards rushing in the second half.
Meanwhile, out west, things were all sunshine and roses for the Trojans, who started this march from No. 9 in the initial set of Playoff rankings.
A week after beating a good UCLA squad, 48-45, in an instant classic, USC cruised by No. 15 Notre Dame, 38-27, in a game that wasn’t even that close.
And this was not the same Notre Dame that lost to the Buckeyes in Week 1, 21-10, and would go on to lose to Marshall the following week. This was an Irish squad that was playing some of the best football in the country before the Trojans waltzed all over them.
Driven by new Heisman front-runner Caleb Williams, USC looked like one of the best teams in the country. And Williams’ star has risen just as Stroud’s has faded, which could not be ignored, either.
“As they go into it, it better adds to their body of work as a team and as a program and the job that they’ve done this year,” Corrigan said. “Again, it’s a piece of it and everything that goes into it, but it gives them — coming off of UCLA, it gives them back-to-back big wins for USC. The job that Caleb did in that game, Caleb Williams, he’s a player. I think all that together is why we ended up with USC at 4.”
Utah remains USC’s lone blemish this season, a game in which the Utes’ passing game stood toe-to-toe with Williams.
In the end, it was Cameron Rising whose touchdown and ensuing 2-point conversion decided the game.
Since that game, the Trojans have rarely even looked susceptible, and Williams has become the face of college football. It’s been incredible to see USC get the swagger back for the first time in a decade-and-a-half.
There is a reason USC is in the position it’s in. They deserve the right to control their Playoff fate.
On the one hand, it couldn’t be simpler: Win, and USC is in.
On the other, there are the Utes.
And beating the defending Pac-12 champion is anything but simple.