CFP takeaways: What Tennessee’s loss means for USC, Clemson and the Big Ten

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of Indiana University

The big, bad SEC suddenly looks human again.

No. 5 Tennessee, a team that had made the entire playoff picture more interesting with its potential to unseat a Power 5 conference champion on Selection Day without even winning its division, is done. Kaput. An afterthought in the playoff race after its embarrassing 63-38 loss to unranked, four-loss South Carolina.

With Tennessee joining Alabama — Alabama! — in the two-loss club and out of the SEC championship, the likelihood of the conference having multiple teams finish in the top four has drastically diminished. The most realistic scenario remaining is one team — No. 1 Georgia. If No. 6 LSU manages an upset in its conference title game, the SEC would likely have two teams in, as LSU would become the first two-loss team to finish in the top four after wins against Alabama and Georgia, and the one-loss Bulldogs would still have a chance as the SEC runner-up after gaining separation from the field as the committee’s No. 1 team in November.

Tennessee’s loss was a huge gain for USC, Clemson and the loser of the Ohio State-Michigan game — all contenders who no longer have to worry about competing against the Vols for a top-four spot on Selection Day. With the SEC champion, the Big Ten champion and undefeated TCU unofficial locks to finish in the top four, the final spot remains open.

In addition to the SEC’s shrinking field, here are the top four lessons learned from a wild Week 12 that will impact how the selection committee will cast its final votes on Selection Day:

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