Key questions facing the College Football Playoff committee

The fourth edition of the College Football Playoff rankings will be revealed Tuesday night (7 ET, ESPN), and there are, at most, two more opportunities for contenders to impress the 12 members of the selection committee.

On Dec. 4, the committee will release its final rankings, with the top four teams meeting in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31.

There wasn't a lot of drama in Week 12, as 10 of the committee's top 11 teams won, but there could be some movement, especially outside of the top four. Here's a look at the top questions facing the committee this week:

1. How high can three-loss USC rise?

If Colorado loses to Utah on Saturday, USC will win the Pac-12 South division and play for the conference title. If the Trojans win, would the committee consider a three-loss team that looks completely different from how it looked in September, when it lost to Alabama, Stanford and Utah -- three ranked opponents that they played either on the road or at a neutral site? Right now, USC sits at No. 13, so it has a lot of ground to make up, but with Louisville and Utah both losing, it should get at least a little boost this week. USC has improved drastically under quarterback Sam Darnold. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since the start of October, USC has the highest average game score in the country (87 out of 100). Game score accounts for quality of the opponent, location of the game, the final result and how well a team controlled the game. The Trojans have certainly impressed the five former coaches on the committee. As committee chair Kirby Hocutt said, "Honestly, when you talk to the coaches that are in the selection committee room, I don't think any of them if they were coaching today would want to play that Southern California team right now."

2. How will Wilton Speight's injury affect Michigan?

Saturday's game against Indiana was the first time the committee had a chance to evaluate Michigan with backup quarterback John O'Korn, and while UM got the 20-10 win, it wasn't pretty. It was Michigan's weakest passing performance in 15 years, as O'Korn was 7-of-16 for 59 yards, the fewest yards passing for Michigan since 2001. Michigan ran the ball well, as De'Veon Smith had a career-high 158 yards, but the offense was one-dimensional and lacked the creativity it displayed with Speight. Because of that, it's possible Michigan drops in this week's rankings. The bigger issue will be Saturday in Columbus, where it will take more than a strong running game to beat the Buckeyes. If Michigan wins, it will clinch the Big Ten East division.

3. How does Oklahoma stack up against the two-loss Big Ten teams?

The Sooners earned their first win against a ranked opponent, and it came against West Virginia in Morgantown, a tough place to play. They also have two decent losses: to Houston, which could be ranked this week after beating Louisville, and Ohio State. The question is whether that win at West Virginia will be enough to bump OU ahead of Wisconsin this week. If it does, that would mean it's time to take OU's playoff hopes more seriously, because then the committee might take a two-loss OU ahead of a two-loss Wisconsin if they were their respective conference's champions. As long as Wisconsin and Washington are both ranked ahead of the Sooners, though, Oklahoma remains on the outside looking in and will need the Huskies to lose.

4. What's Oklahoma State's record again?

Mike Gundy thinks he has 10 wins. His official record -- the one the committee is using -- has his team at 9-2. In spite of Gundy's protests, the Cowboys' controversial loss to Central Michigan stands, and Hocutt has repeated that for two weeks now. "We treat it as a loss," he said, "However, the selection committee is aware of what transpired in that football game." That's not the Cowboys' problem. The bigger issue is a weak strength of schedule that includes a loss to Baylor and a one-point win against Texas Tech at home. Right now, the committee thinks there are four two-loss teams better than the Cowboys, and they all won in Week 12. A win at 5-5 TCU is unlikely to sway the committee's perspective on Oklahoma State.

5. Where does the Group of 5 race stand?

The highest-ranked champion from a Group of 5 conference is guaranteed a spot in a New Year's Six bowl, and this year it would be the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Last week, one-loss Boise State was ranked one spot ahead of undefeated Western Michigan, a decision that "went back and forth in our room," according to Hocutt. In the end, No. 20 Boise State's win over Washington State carried more value than any opponent No. 21 WMU had beaten. Will that philosophy still stand now that Washington State lost? The committee also will consider the impact Wyoming's last-second win against San Diego State had this week on a two-point attempt that failed. If the Cowboys had lost, Boise would have been in control of the division and favored to win the Mountain West. So now what? According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Western Michigan is the only Group of 5 team currently ranked by The Associated Press that is even favored to win its conference (71 percent chance to win the MAC). Boise State (25 percent), Navy (35 percent), South Florida (5 percent) and Troy (20 percent) are all long shots, according to FPI. Houston has already been eliminated from its conference title chase.

Related Video
What actually matters to the CFP selection committee?
What actually matters to the CFP selection committee?
Heather Dinich and Ryan McGee debate the most important criteria, including strength of schedule and conference titles, when trying to decide which team is the most deserving of a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Related Topics:
sportsespnoklahoma soonerscollege footballcollege football playoffoklahoma state cowboysusc trojansmichigan wolverines
(Copyright ©2018 ESPN Internet Ventures. All rights reserved.)