LOS ANGELES — About 15 minutes into the start of USC’s practice on Tuesday, the College Football Playoff selection committee released its weekly rankings.
When the Trojans trudged off Howard Jones Field later in the evening, they were left unaware of the latest entry.
Some players were asked to guess their ranking.
Right tackle Chuma Edoga thought they might be No. 11 or No. 12.
Others politely declined to make any declarations.
Turns out, it pays to play.
The Trojans were, in fact, No. 11, moving up six spots, among the biggest one-week jumps since the playoff rankings was instituted with the 2014 season. The top four teams make the field.
When informed he was correct, Edoga grinned.
After a blowout loss at Notre Dame in October, its second loss of this season, USC was thought to have been eliminated from playoff contention. No team with more than one loss has ever made the playoff.
But amid some commotion last Saturday, with both Ohio State and Penn State stumbling in upsets, the Trojans, who debuted at No. 17, shot up, suggesting a potential opening to crack the playoff.
“College football this year has been really unpredictable, teams have been losing, other teams have been losing,” Edoga said. “We really don’t know. We just got to keep playing.”
The widely cited forecasting FiveThirtyEight increased the Trojans chances of making the College Football Playoff to 28 percent should they win all of their remaining games.
USC has two games left in the regular season, at Colorado on Saturday and against UCLA on Nov. 18. It can clinch the Pac-12 South Division championship by defeating either team and would then advance to the conference championship game.
In recent weeks, players have frequently cited winning the conference as their top remaining goal, what would be a first for the program since 2008, seemingly because a playoff appearance appeared out of the cards.
Asked if they also held out any hope of still making the playoff, quarterback Sam Darnold said, “100 percent. We do have that hope, but at the same time, we’re focused on one week at a time.”
“That’s what we’re working every day for,” added running back Stephen Carr.
The Trojans were more hopeful, in part, because they have won consecutive games since losing at Notre Dame, including one of their more dominant performances at Arizona State on Halloween weekend.
“I feel like our past two games have shown what kind of team we are,” Falah said, “about how we’re starting to turn around our season right now.”
If USC captures the South division, it might face Washington in the Pac-12 championship game. The Huskies are No. 9 in the rankings.
To be sure, the Trojans need significant help to climb higher in the rankings.
The closest a two-loss team has ever come to making the College Football Playoff was last season. Penn State, which was 11-2 and won the Big Ten Conference championship, finished No. 5 in the final rankings.
Several teams ranked ahead of the Trojans will also face each other this season, including No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 7 Miami on Saturday.
USC coach Clay Helton downplayed their position.
“It’s still so early in November,” Helton said. “There’s still so many games still to be played and decisions to be made. It’s nice to be thought of that way.”
But there is more hope and intrigue.
USC will hold kicker Chase McGrath out of practice this week because of a groin injury. Reid Budrovich will take kickoff duties at Colorado, though Helton said he hopes McGrath can handle field goals and extra points. … Cornerback Iman Marshall, who has been held out of the past two weeks because of a knee sprain, has a “chance” to play against the Buffaloes. Marshall took part in practice on Tuesday. … Tight end Tyler Petite (AC sprain), outside linebacker Connor Murphy (hip pointer), outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (ankle) and left tackle Toa Lobendahn (sore knee) were held out of practice. They are all day to day, Helton said. … Running back Vavae Malepeai, who was out last week because of a knee injury, returned.