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

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

There are plenty of enlightening takeaways, such as Alabama’s record seven appearances, or the fact Oklahoma has made the playoff four times but never advanced past the semifinal round.

But perhaps the most alarming takeaway of all lies within the Pac-12, a conference that has not made the CFP since the Washington Huskies back in 2016.

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

While FOX Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt feels the Ducks’ No. 6 ranking is justified, he was left perplexed about the Bruins coming in four spots behind the Trojans, despite the two programs having 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 I can point to that suggests USC is four spots ahead of UCLA, and there is no rationale to make it make sense.”

Klatt: UCLA shouldn’t be ranked lower than 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 sport an 8-1 record, with each having a loss against a conference opponent: UCLA fell to then-No. 10 Oregon, 45-30, while the Trojans lost to then No. 20 Utah, 43-42.

However, while UCLA does have two victories against ranked opponents on its résumé (Utah and Washington), USC does not have any. In fact, the Trojans only have one victory over a team that has more than five wins heading into Week 11.

From a statistical standpoint, both programs have near-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 at 495.9. Chip Kelly’s club puts up 40.8 points per contest, while Lincoln Riley’s group averages 41 PPG.

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

“This feels all over again like brand bias,” Klatt said. “I know UCLA fans aren’t going to want to hear that, but USC kind of carries the day as far as brand goes.

“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 film you could put on that would suggest USC is four spots better than UCLA.”

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

“From UCLA’s standpoint, you probably don’t want [the committee] to correct this because if you want to get into the playoff, you want as many big opponents as you can possibly knock off,” Klatt said. “So, if you over-rank USC at this point, that’s what you want. You don’t mind this from a consistency standpoint.”

The two Southern California schools will square off on Nov. 19 at the Rose Bowl. USC holds a 50-33-6 advantage 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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