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AP top 25: USC, Ohio State, Alabama or Tennessee at No. 4 on our ballot?

We also welcome Kansas State and Utah to our top 10, and Troy cracks our penultimate ballot.
Does USC deserve to be in the top four after Friday night's loss to Utah?
Does USC deserve to be in the top four after Friday night's loss to Utah? [ WALLY SKALIJ | Los Angeles Times ]
Published Dec. 4, 2022

The College Football Playoff selection committee and I were likely trying to answer the same question Sunday morning.

Who’s No. 4: USC, Ohio State, Alabama or Tennessee?

I settled on the Buckeyes on my Associated Press top 25 ballot. Last week, I bought into the argument that the playoff field should have been set before the conference championship games. If USC was better than Ohio State a week ago, why should we punish the Trojans for playing an extra game the Buckeyes didn’t have to play? I still find that argument compelling, and the fact that it’s a discussion point reveals a flaw in the system.

Related: USF hiring Tennessee’s Alex Golesh as next football coach, reports say

But I don’t control the system. I only control my vote, based on teams’ performances. That includes USC’s 47-24 loss to Utah on Friday — the Trojans’ second loss of the year, compared to one for Ohio State. Both teams had some shaky showings during the year, but every Buckeyes win was by at least two scores (including a top-12 win over Penn State). Those facts, combined with advanced metrics’ preference for the Buckeyes, cemented my decision to put Ohio State at No. 4.

We have the Buckeyes as one of our top four teams, despite the lopsided loss to Michigan.
We have the Buckeyes as one of our top four teams, despite the lopsided loss to Michigan. [ JAY LAPRETE | AP ]

I only dropped USC to fifth, just ahead of Alabama and Tennessee. The Trojans have top-20 wins over Notre Dame, Oregon State and UCLA; Alabama’s best wins are by one point against Texas and a victory over Mississippi State. Though the Crimson Tide have more talent, they were weighed down by a close win over a mediocre Texas A&M team and a six-point win at a Mississippi team that faded down the stretch. I continued to rank Alabama ahead of Tennessee, despite the Volunteers’ head-to-head win, based on the beatdown South Carolina gave Tennessee last month.

Elsewhere on my ballot:

Kansas State is up to ninth after beating TCU to win the Big 12. I had been underrating the Wildcats all year by stubbornly keeping them behind Tulane (which beat them head to head). But giving TCU its lone loss of the year deserves a big jump.

Utah is also in my top 10 after beating USC. What a weird season for the Utes and Gators, based on their Week 1 thriller in Gainesville.

Who would have thought Florida would finish 6-6 after starting the year with a win over Utah, while the Utes would end up as Pac-12 champions?
Who would have thought Florida would finish 6-6 after starting the year with a win over Utah, while the Utes would end up as Pac-12 champions? [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
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Florida State remains the only state team on my ballot. The Seminoles are down one spot to 13th because Utah and Kansas State leapfrogged them. I did, however, move FSU ahead of LSU after the Tigers’ 50-30 loss to Georgia in the SEC title game.

Boise State and North Carolina both dropped off my ballot this week after losses to Fresno State and Clemson. Their exits made way for South Carolina (whom I probably should have ranked last week) and 11-2 Troy, which blew out Coastal Carolina to win the Sun Belt.

Related: What if the next USF football coach wins big, then bolts? ‘You made a great hire’

My AP top 25 ballot

1. Georgia

2. Michigan

3. TCU

4. Ohio State

5. USC

6. Alabama

7. Tennessee

8. Clemson

9. Kansas State

10. Utah

11. Penn State

12. Washington

13. Florida State

14. Tulane

15. LSU

16. Oregon State

17. Oregon

18. UCLA

19. Texas

20. Notre Dame

21. Mississippi State

22. UTSA

23. South Carolina

24. Minnesota

25. Troy

• • •

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