Everything has come together for the College Football Playoff selection committee.
There were 13 unbeaten or one-loss teams in the Power Five conference just four weeks ago. That number was trimmed to 11 one week later, while adding a two-loss playoff contender in No. 14 LSU.
From those dozen teams, just five have emerged as realistic playoff options with one Saturday left in the regular season.
No. 1 Georgia is a lock heading into the SEC championship game against the Tigers. Likewise with No. 2 Michigan entering the Big Ten championship against Purdue. No. 3 TCU is in great shape even with a loss in the Big 12 championship game. No. 4 Southern California is set for a rematch with No. 11 Utah to settle the Pac-12.
And at No. 5, the committee weighed Ohio State and Alabama and landed on the Buckeyes, who didn't fall far after an ugly loss to the Wolverines.
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The penultimate playoff rankings of 2022 show how easy deliberations have become for the committee, which should be able to avoid much if any controversy in picking this year's field. Those teams on the verge of a playoff berth lead Tuesday night's winners and losers:
Georgia, Michigan, TCU and Southern California
At least two of this foursome is locked into the playoff regardless: Georgia and Michigan can lose Saturday and still land in the semifinals. Last weekend's rout of Iowa State, combined with No. 9 Clemson's loss to No. 19 South Carolina, dramatically raised the odds that TCU could lose the rematch against No. 10 Kansas State and still finish in the top four. The only one of this group without that sort of safety net is USC, but even the Trojans have some room for error heading into the Pac-12 championship game.
The only debate that mattered heading into Tuesday's release was whether Ohio State or Alabama would land at No. 5 and be ready to potentially fill the void should USC suffer a second loss to Utah. That they were tapped for that key ranking doesn't mean the Buckeyes are a lock for No. 4 should the Trojans lose; even with a loss, USC could keep OSU at bay with a deeper resume of wins and a better performance against a common opponent in No. 21 Notre Dame. But these penultimate rankings strongly suggest there are only five teams with a shot at playing in the semifinals — and the Buckeyes are the fifth and final team in the conversation.
As expected, both teams in the American championship game were ranked by the committee: Tulane at No. 18 after beating Cincinnati and Central Florida at No. 22 after an emotional rivalry win against South Florida. This guarantees that Saturday's winner will earn the access-bowl bid to the New Year's Six as the best team in the Group of Five, fending off a challenge by Sun Belt members Troy and Coastal Carolina.
Coming in behind Ohio State officially ends No. 6 Alabama's chances at reaching the playoff, since there's no reasonably plausible scenario that could unfold this weekend and open up two spots in the four-team field. Doomed by narrow losses to No. 7 Tennessee and LSU, wins in just one of these games would've given the Crimson Tide the SEC West crown and a spot in the conference championship game. As the 11-1 winners of the West, Alabama would've entered Saturday already in the top four and been able to secure a playoff berth by beating the Bulldogs or through a USC loss to the Utes.
With four teams in the playoff rankings but two on the very back end — No. 23 North Carolina and No. 25 North Carolina State — and none higher than No. 9, the ACC brings up the rear among the Power Five. The SEC has six teams in the Top 25, including three in the top seven. The committee ranked six teams from the Pac-12, all in the top 17. The Big Ten has three ranked teams, all in the top eight: Michigan, OSU and No. 8 Penn State. And while the Big 12 also has just three teams in the Top 25, two land in the top 10 in TCU and Kansas State.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College Football Playoff rankings: USC, Alabama lead winners, losers