College Football Playoff rankings: Should USC be four spots ahead of UCLA?

Dissecting the short eight-year history of the College Football Playoff can be quite an entertaining exercise.

There are plenty of enlightening takeaways, like Alabama’s record seven appearances or the fact that Oklahoma has made the playoffs four times but never made it past the semifinal round.

But perhaps the most alarming fact of all lies within the Pac-12, a conference that hasn’t made the CFP since the Washington Huskies in 2016.

That streak could end this season, as the Pac-12 has three teams ranked in the top 12 of the most recent College Football Playoff rankings. Oregon leads the way at No. 6, while USC is No. 8 and UCLA is No. 12.

While FOX Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt thinks the Ducks’ No. 6 ranking is justified, he was perplexed by the Bruins coming in four spots behind the Trojans, even though both programs have identical records.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me … it’s an oversight,” Klatt said on a recent episode of his podcast, “The Joel Klatt Show.” “There is no data point that I can point to that suggests USC is four spots ahead of UCLA and there is no justification that makes sense.”

Klatt: UCLA shouldn’t be ranked below USC

Klatt: UCLA shouldn't be ranked below USC

Joel Klatt reacts to the College Football Playoff rankings and questions UCLA’s position four spots behind USC.

When comparing the two programs, the first point that jumps out is that both teams have an 8-1 record, with one loss coming against a conference opponent: UCLA fell to the no. 10 Oregon, 45-30, while the Trojans lost to then-No. 20 Utah, 43-42.

However, while UCLA has two wins against ranked opponents summary (Utah and Washington), USC has none. In fact, the Trojans have just one win over a team that has more than five wins heading into Week 11.

Statistically, both programs have nearly identical numbers on the offensive side of the ball. The Bruins rank second in the Pac-12 in yards per game with 508.4, while the Trojans rank third with 495.9. Chip Kelly’s club is averaging 40.8 points per contest, while Lincoln Riley’s group is averaging 41 PPG.

This leads Klatt to a simple conclusion as to why USC is ranked higher.

“This again looks like brand bias,” Klatt said. “I know UCLA fans won’t want to hear this, but USC leads the day in terms of branding.

“The bottom line for me is that this is a ranking about Lincoln Riley, about perception, about Caleb Williams and about the logo on the side of the helmet. Because there’s no number or game or movie you can put that suggests that USC is four spots better than UCLA.”

However, Klatt notes that the Bruins could ultimately benefit from the Trojans being ranked four spots above them.

“From UCLA’s point of view, you probably don’t want that [the committee] to get it right because if you want to get into the playoff, you want as many big opponents as you can knock out,” Klatt said. “So, if you outrank USC right now, that’s what you want. You don’t care about that from a consistency standpoint.”

The two Southern California schools will face off on Nov. 19 in the Rose Bowl. USC holds a 50-33-6 lead over UCLA all-time, but it was the Bruins who had the last laugh, defeating the Trojans 63-33 last season at the Coliseum.

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