Who makes the semifinals? Our College Football Playoff prediction

The College Football Playoff selection committee was planning to sip champagne and celebrate one of the easiest and least controversial deliberations in the format's history before Southern California lost 47-24 to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game.

Add in Kansas State's win against TCU in the Big 12 championship and you have a suddenly contentious debate including at least five and as many as six contenders, depending on Alabama's place in the conversation.

Two spots are occupied. Georgia completed an unbeaten regular season by beating LSU 50-30 for the program's second SEC championship under Kirby Smart. One week after winning convincingly at Ohio State, Michigan defeated Purdue 43-22 for a second Big Ten championship in a row.

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There is no question that the Bulldogs will be the top seed, followed by the Wolverines. Then things get dicey.

At least there are only so many ways the committee can go for the final two spots in the semifinals, even if every possible playoff arrangement will leave at least one high-profile program up in arms.

With the regular season complete and the final rankings just hours away, here's our best guess at how the selection committee orders the six teams still under consideration.

1. Georgia (13-0)

Motivated Georgia is no fun for anyone, as LSU discovered in Saturday's rout. The Bulldogs have seemed bored at times by the caliber of competition, including more than once in SEC play. When on, Georgia is a crushing combination of brute strength and athleticism that's simply too much for most teams to handle. While that theory could be put to the test should they be matched up with Ohio State in the semifinals, the Bulldogs would be significant favorites against TCU.

2. Michigan (13-0)

Behind the Bulldogs in the penultimate rankings, Michigan's only chance at earning the top seed required an LSU win. That may be a good thing should the committee end up keeping TCU at No. 3, which would then match Ohio State with Georgia in the Peach Bowl. If not, the Wolverines and Buckeyes will face off for the second time in just over a month in what will be a playoff-era history maker: two teams that played in the regular season meeting again in the semifinals.

TCU wide receiver Savion Williams (18) runs with the ball as Kansas State safety Drake Cheatum (21) defends during the first half of the 2022 Big 12 titel game at AT&T Stadium.
TCU wide receiver Savion Williams (18) runs with the ball as Kansas State safety Drake Cheatum (21) defends during the first half of the 2022 Big 12 titel game at AT&T Stadium.

3. TCU (12-1)

The Horned Frogs' argument for staying at No. 3 could be shrugged away by the committee in favor of the more compelling, eyeball-drawing matchup of two Big Ten heavyweights. If so, that sets up an intimidating pairing with Georgia that would represent a substantially more difficult test than those TCU faced in Big 12 play. No matter how you cut it, though, there is no legitimate argument for placing the Horned Frogs behind Alabama, and if the committee decides to do so it would mark the biggest ranking travesty in the format's history — dwarfing the decision to drop TCU out of the top four in the final rankings of 2014 in favor of the Buckeyes.

4. Ohio State (11-1)

A team's reputation matters. What losses by USC and TCU will do for the committee is provide an excuse to ignore one horrible loss, to Michigan, and instead focus on Ohio State's good qualities: wins against Notre Dame and Penn State, an offense that may be the nation's best, a dominant run for most of Big Ten play and a talented roster capable of flipping the switch and winning the national championship. The latter point is what pushed OSU into the field in 2016 and Alabama in 2017: that if given the chance, they'd be able to justify the committee's faith with by winning the whole thing. Whether that's enough to put the Buckeyes ahead of TCU is another thing. It's also interesting to think about how the committee would look at a possible rematch with Michigan in the semifinals and if that would be something they'd want to avoid.

5. Alabama (10-2)

Where the Trojans and Crimson Tide rank Sunday is meaningless — neither will be in the playoff but both will be in the New Year's Six regardless of which teams lands in fifth and which in sixth. Having Alabama ahead of USC would illustrate the committee's respect for the SEC, which could end up being the deciding factor. But could the committee move Alabama to No. 5 without also bumping Tennessee to No. 6, since the Volunteers won the head-to-head battle this season? And even if meaningless, how could the committee explain dropping the Trojans to No. 7 behind two SEC teams? In the end, the committee could move Alabama in front of USC to signal the strength of the SEC and as a reflection on the Trojans' lopsided loss to Utah.

6. Southern California (11-2)

Locked into the top four with a win Friday night, the Trojans will instead earn an at-large bid to the New Year's Six and a matchup with Tulane in the Cotton Bowl. One loss to the Utes would've been easy to overlook; two losses, the second by 23 points, will be impossible to ignore. There's also the potential impact on Caleb Williams' case for the Heisman Trophy, which seemed invincible after leading USC to a win against Notre Dame. While he didn't play poorly against Utah, the sophomore may end up in second behind TCU quarterback Max Duggan.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff prediction: TCU, Ohio State oust Alabama, USC