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Five Questions

Q. Georgia, Michigan and TCU are likely playoff-bound regardless of how they fare in their conference championship games. But what happens if USC doesn't beat Utah in the Pac-12 title game? Who is No. 4 then?

 After Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC claim the top four spots in the coming playoff rankings, it will be interesting to see how far the selection committee drops Ohio State and how much Alabama moves up. They look to be the only viable candidates to have a shot at the fourth playoff spot if USC loses to Utah. There are just no other worthy playoff candidates after Ohio State and Alabama and it will be fascinating to see how the selection committee evaluates the 11-1 Buckeyes off a lopsided home loss vs. a two-loss Alabama team.

Of course, USC can make it simple by exacting revenge on Utah, which handed the Trojans their only loss (43-42) earlier this year.

Georgia's defense against USC's offense -- if they are Nos. 1 and 4 in the rankings -- would be a classic matchup.

Q. Is it even possible the playoffs can take place without the SEC champion?

It has never happened before, but if 9-3 LSU -- which looked lifeless in a 38-23 loss to Texas A&M -- rises up to beat Georgia the SEC champion won't make the playoffs. LSU, which beat Alabama this year, is certainly dangerous enough to cause concern for Georgia next Saturday. But there is no way the committee will allow a three-loss LSU team into the playoffs. Can't happen.

Q. Isn't it interesting how so many people were criticizing Michigan's schedule -- especially the non-conference portion -- before Saturday's rout at Ohio State, yet few people have done a deep dive to talk about how ridiculously easy TCU's schedule has been?

Michigan doesn't have to face questions about its playoff worthiness anymore, but TCU's 12-0 record sure looks largely to be a byproduct of a soft schedule. Let's be up front here: The Big 12 stinks this year. This is the murderer's row TCU has faced to get to 12-0: 1-11 Colorado, Tarleton State, 7-5 SMU, 6-6 Oklahoma, 6-6 Kansas, 7-5 Oklahoma State, 9-3 Kansas State, 5-7 West Virginia, 7-5 Texas Tech, 8-4 Texas, 6-6 Baylor and 4-8 Iowa State.

The Horned Frogs get Kansas State in a rematch, having rallied for a 38-28 win over the Wildcats earlier this year. But TCU's schedule is sorely lacking in quality opponents.


Q. Is it Caleb Williams' Heisman to lose now?

The USC QB has emerged as the clear frontrunner, turning in another dazzling performance in Saturday's 38-27 win over Notre Dame, passing for 232 yards and a score and rushing for three touchdowns. Bryce Young, Max Duggan and Stetson Bennett are deserving of consideration -- as is Washington QB Michael Penix, Jr., the nation's leading passer. Penix threw for 485 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for two scores as the Huskies rolled up 705 yards of offense in a 51-33 win at Washington State. Penix has thrown for 4,354 yards and 29 YDs during Washington's 10-2 season.

Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud, once the clear frontrunner, has been too inconsistent this year. And Michigan RB Blake Corum had just six yards on two carries in his team's biggest game of the year, limited due to an injury.

Q. Is anyone considering Tulane's Willie Fritz for National Coach of the Year?

Here's what you need to know about Tulane's 10-2 season: Fritz's team was picked seventh in the preseason AAC poll and now gets to host the league championship game against UCF -- just the second time since 1949 that the Green Wave will play for a conference title. Friday's 27-24 win at No. 24 Cincinnati was Tulane's first win over a ranked opponent since 1984.

The Green Wave had lost 61 straight games to ranked opponents before upending the Bearcats.

Who's Hot

Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy

Unable to rely on injured star running back Blake Corum, McCarthy took over, passing for 263 yards and three TDs with no interceptions in the 45-23 rout of Ohio State. He had three TD passes of 45 yards or more.

Illinois twins Sydney and Chas Brown

Sydney, a safety, scored on a 47-yard fumble return and a 39-yard pick six while Chase, Illinois' workhorse running back, played through an ankle issue to rush for 61 yards and a score while adding 43 receiving yards in a 41-3 rout of Northwestern. Chase Brown has 1,643 rushing yards this season.

New Mexico State QB Diego Pavia

The junior passed for three TDs and ran for three as the Aggies, under first-year coach Jerry Kill, improved to 5-6 with a 49-14 rout of Liberty on the road.

Who's Not 

Clemson QB D J Uiagelelei

One of these days it's going to dawn on coach Dabo Swinney that Uiagelelei is the not the answer. The junior was 8-of-29 passing for 99 yards in the stunning 31-30 home loss to South Carolina. During a key stretch of three series late, he was 0-for-6 with an interception.

Oregon DE D J Johnson

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We all get it was a tough loss to rival Oregon State. But the sixth-year senior -- which makes him a full-fledged adult -- was caught on video striking an Oregon State fan out of frustration following the 38-34 loss. Suspend him for the bowl game.

Liberty coach Hugh Freeze 

 Since flirting with Auburn about its head coaching vacancy, Freeze has seen his team lose three straight to spoil an 8-1 start that included back-to-back wins over BYU and Arkansas. The three straight losses have been to UConn, Virginia Tech and New Mexico State. Freeze's selfishness has ruined a potentially memorable season for his players.

On the Rise


Terrific season for the 10-2 Huskies, who were denied a spot in the Pac-12 title game due to tiebreakers. Their two losses were by a combined 15 points and they have one of the nation's most dynamic offenses and quarterbacks (Michael Penix, Jr.).

Kansas State

The Wildcats get another shot at unbeaten TCU after improving to 9-3 with Saturday's 47-27 win over Kansas. K-State's three losses have been to Tulane, Texas and TCU by a combined 24 points -- and the Wildcats have been winning without injured QB Adrian Martinez.

South Carolina

The past two games, the Gamecocks have knocked off a pair of Top 10 teams, eliminating both from playoff consideration. Routing Tennessee would normally be the highlight of the 8-4 season -- but the feeling is the 31-30 win at Clemson will be now.

Who's Not


Shut out for the second time this season (37-0 to Maryland), the Scarlet Blights managed all of 136 yards of offense in their fifth straight loss. Their four wins this year came at the expense of 3-9 Boston College, 1-10 Wagner, 3-9 Temple and 4-8 Indiana and they lost five games by 31 points or more. But Ryan Day is on the hot seat for losing to Michigan?

The good news for Rutgers fans: Next year's opener is against 1-11 Northwestern.


Hurricanes' 42-16 loss to Pittsburgh marked Miami's fifth defeat at home this season -- the first time that has happened since 1963. The 5-7 finish matched Miami's worst season in 45 years, with four of the losses by 24 points or more. 

North Carolina

There was a time the Tar Heels were 9-1, on the periphery of playoff consideration and QB Drake Maye was a serious Heisman Trophy contender. No more. Back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and N.C. State have North Carolina staggering into the ACC championship game against Clemson.

Playing it forward (all times Eastern)


Utah vs. USC, Fox, 8 p.m. (Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas)


Kansas State vs. TCU, ABC, noon (Big 12 championship game, Arlington, Texas)

LSU vs. Georgia, CBS, 4 p.m. (SEC championship game, Atlanta)

UCF at Tulane, ABC, 4 p.m. (AAC championship game, New Orleans)

Clemson vs. North Carolina, ABC, 8 p.m. (ACC championship game, Charlotte)

Purdue vs. Michigan, Fox, 8 p.m. (Big Ten championship game, Indianapolis)

Tom Luicci covered college football from 1979 to 2014 for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.