Does USC Football have a chance at the College Football Playoff?

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: USC Trojans head coach Clay Helton celebrates after defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions 52-49 to win the 2017 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: USC Trojans head coach Clay Helton celebrates after defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions 52-49 to win the 2017 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /

Does USC Football really have a shot at sneaking into the College Football Playoff? Here’s the Trojans best scenario at ranking in the Top 4.

As USC Football’s date with Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game approaches, the Trojans do have the slimmest of hopes when it comes to the College Football Playoff.

First things first, USC needs to take care of business and best the Cardinal to secure their first conference title since 2008. Doing so would move the Trojans to 11-2 on the season, with five Top 40 wins to their name.

From there, Clay Helton’s squad would need a lot of dominoes to fall their way.

Here’s USC’s best-case scenario:

Clemson wins the ACC

Both No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Miami have one loss on their resume, so either way, one of them will enter the pot of two-loss teams vying for the playoff.

The important thing for USC is that the team knocked down to two losses is Miami. The Hurricanes rank No. 40 in Sagarin Strength of Schedule and have looked almost as unimpressive as the Trojans winning games ugly at times this season. Plus, their loss to Pitt is worse than either USC’s loss to Washington State or Notre Dame.

The trouble is, Miami has a very impressive blowout win over Notre Dame on their resume while USC lost in embarrassing fashion to the Irish.

The saving grace for the Trojans would be the playoff committee’s emphasis on winning a conference title. It’s unlikely the committee would put two ACC teams in the Final 4.

Auburn wins the SEC

No. 2 Auburn put a roasting on No. 6 Georgia just a few weeks ago and if they did it again it’s hard to imagine the Bulldogs getting a potential third shot at the Tigers with a playoff berth.

Georgia would no doubt boast the best two losses of any team, but without a conference title and with an SEC team already represented, they would be a bold and controversial choice by the playoff committee.

TCU wins the Big 12

USC’s best shot at the playoff involves the Big 12 falling out of it completely. No. 11 TCU is the lowest ranked two-loss team in playoff contention heading into championship weekend, and for good reason. The Horned Frogs have an SOS ranking of 46th.

Head-to-head, USC’s resume stacks up well against TCU’s, so if they were to emerge as the Big 12 Champion over Oklahoma, there’s a decent chance the committee would favor the Pac-12.

In this scenario, the No. 3 Sooners would fall to 11-2 on the season. As with Miami and Georgia, the quality of wins on their resume may look better than USC’s, but failing to win their conference would be a black mark that might be difficult to overcome.

Oklahoma could argue that Ohio State got in without winning their conference, but that situation was very different as the Buckeyes didn’t play in the Big 10 title game. To hand the Sooners a playoff berth, the committee would have to pass over a TCU team that just beat them for the conference championship.

Wisconsin wins the Big 10

Here’s where it gets really tricky. Either way, it’s likely the Big 10 would get someone into the playoff. The question is whether or not it’s best for USC to have one playoff spot open for three teams or two playoff spots open for four.

In the first scenario, a win for No. 4 Wisconsin would knock No. 8 Ohio State out of the picture completely with three losses. The undefeated Badgers would then lock in a place along with Clemson and Auburn. That would leave USC and TCU as two-loss conference champions to vie for the final slot, with one-loss Alabama lurking as a potential non-conference winner to spoil the party.

In the second scenario, the Buckeyes would shore up their playoff resume despite their two-losses, but essentially open up a debate for two spots between the Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12 winners, each at two losses, again with Alabama lurking.

Putting the Crimson Tide aside for a moment, the Trojans might be at a disadvantage with a Top 15 win over Stanford paling in comparison to Ohio State’s Top 5 win over Wisconsin.

In a scenario where Wisconsin is the undisputed champ in the Big 10, the playoff debate simplifies.

Alabama is disqualified

It would be very convenient if Alabama’s disqualification were of the official variety, like an NCAA scandal hitting at just the right time. However, it could be of the de facto variety as well.

If the playoff committee decides that winning a conference title matters more than having just one-loss, USC’s chances would greatly increase.

And it’s not outside the realm of possibility to think it might. Alabama’s resume this season is not particularly impressive, with an SOS ranking 54th. They also lost to an SEC team which will already be represented in the playoff.

If all the dominoes fall…

If everything happens in perfect sequence for USC, the Trojans would still be unsure of a playoff spot.

The committee could decide, for a variety of reasons that Alabama, Miami, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Georgia, TCU or even Penn State have been more impressive on the whole this season than USC.

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But if the lineup of Power 5 conference champions includes the Trojans, Clemson, Auburn, Wisconsin and TCU, USC will at least be in the conversation with a perfectly legitimate argument in their favor to make the Top 4.

Of course, they will need a great deal of help and plenty more luck, with results going exactly right and sympathies on the College Football Playoff committee leaning cardinal and gold.

Essentially, USC’s odds of making the playoff mirror the famous scene from the movie “Dumb and Dumber.”

Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas asks the woman he’s been pining for, “What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together?”

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She responds, “Not good…more like one in a million.”

His deaf response? “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”