Imagine being Lincoln or Garrett Riley this week. Imagine being Marilyn or Mike Riley, the parents of two sons who are squarely in the middle of the College Football Playoff drama for the 2022 season as it enters its final, fateful weekend.
Garrett Riley’s TCU Horned Frogs are No. 3. Lincoln Riley’s USC Trojans are No. 4. Both the Frogs and Trojans are one win away from the playoff. They have both come so far in such a short period of time at their current schools, and yet one loss this coming weekend could take it all away.
Two brothers embark on one of the most amazing, thrilling journeys of their lives. Let’s explore the nuances and plot points attached to this incredible story within the Riley family:
THE PLOT HAS CHANGED — PROBABLY
One week ago, it seemed that Garrett Riley might prevent Lincoln Riley from making the playoff.
Then Saturday happened.
Ohio State, Clemson, Oregon, and especially LSU lost. Two teams ahead of USC in the College Football Playoff rankings lost. Two teams right behind USC lost. Leaders and pursuers both lost.
USC and TCU are both in with wins, with zero debate. Lincoln and Garrett can now make the playoff together. That’s different … to a certain extent.
If they both win.
WHAT IF THEY DON’T BOTH WIN?
A raging controversy will ensue.
SCENARIO: USC WINS, TCU LOSES
USC is obviously in, but Garrett Riley and TCU would be in a precarious spot. TCU would go up against one-loss Ohio State.
We all saw how that worked out for TCU eight years ago, when OSU leapfrogged the Frogs for the final spot in 2014, the first year of the playoff’s existence.
TCU getting snubbed at the hands of Ohio State would be an explosive controversy. One Riley brother would get the short end of the stick.
SCENARIO: TCU WINS, USC LOSES
TCU is in, and USC has to sweat.
USC versus two-loss Alabama and one-loss Ohio State. What a debate.
USC made its conference title game, whereas Bama and OSU did not.
USC did not get blown out the way Ohio State did at home.
USC has some arguments to make, but Alabama’s SEC reputation and Ohio State’s brand-name presence, plus a road win at Penn State, would be hard to conclusively overcome. One of those three teams would be excluded. It would not be obvious that one team clearly deserved to be in over the others.
SCENARIO: TCU AND USC BOTH LOSE
This would be even more chaotic than a “one wins, one loses” scenario for the Riley brothers.
TCU and USC would join Alabama and Ohio State in a four-team scramble for two spots. TCU would have only one loss, but it would also have the least amount of drawing power and box-office presence. On merit, TCU would probably deserve to get in, but in terms of economics and politics, the Frogs — as noted above — don’t have the backroom clout Ohio State and Alabama do. Both Riley brothers could get left out, but it would not be a clear-cut situation.
USC might get in over TCU if it came down to the final spot. Alabama might get in over Ohio State. It’s not completely obvious.
SCENARIO: MICHIGAN LOSES, USC AND TCU WIN
This would be incredible. USC and TCU would move up to spots 3 and 2, They would meet in the playoff semifinals. Lincoln or Garrett would coach in the national championship game in January.
SCENARIO: MICHIGAN LOSES, USC AND TCU LOSE
It wouldn’t be obvious that USC and TCU still get in, but Michigan — if it does lose to Purdue — would do one very specific thing: It would make Ohio State’s loss to Michigan look far worse, thereby undercutting the Buckeyes’ case.
This brings us to the other scenarios we haven’t considered yet.
SCENARIO: MICHIGAN LOSES, USC WINS, TCU LOSES
Michigan’s win over Ohio State still gets UM into the playoff with Ohio State out. That much seems likely, if not certain.
USC obviously gets in and would go to the Fiesta Bowl as the No. 2 seed.
ESPN might find it irresistible to put Alabama against USC in the Fiesta, and TCU — with only one loss — goes at No. 4 against No. 1 Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
The key reminder: A Michigan loss likely locks Ohio State out of the playoff. (Also: A Michigan loss is a very unlikely scenario.)
SCENARIO: MICHIGAN LOSES, USC LOSES, TCU WINS
TCU goes to the Fiesta Bowl as the No. 2 seed.
Ohio State is still likely out due to Michigan losing.
The Riley brothers angle might actually convince ESPN that the Trojans versus TCU might still make sense as a semifinal, with Michigan playing Georgia.
But wait: Michigan and Georgia met in last season’s semifinals. That would lead ESPN to slot USC or Alabama against Georgia in the Peach and put Michigan and TCU in the Fiesta.
RILEY BROTHER PARALLELS
Lincoln Riley has thrived in Year 1 of his new tenure at USC.
Garrett Riley has thrived in Year 1 of his new tenure at TCU.
USC came back from 14 down to win at UCLA and won in the last two minutes at Oregon State.
TCU came back from 17 down versus Oklahoma State and 18 down against Kansas State. TCU won on the final play versus Baylor.
TCU has won a 43-40 game (Oklahoma State).
USC has won a 48-45 game (UCLA).
USC has been a tremendous third-quarter team, reversing the Clay Helton nightmare.
TCU has been an elite fourth-quarter team this season, making two comebacks of at least eight points in fourth quarters this year.
BEATING FORMER USC COACHES/COORDINATORS
USC defeated former Trojan coordinator Justin Wilcox and Cal.
TCU defeated former Trojan head coach Steve Sarkisian and Texas.
USC won the Victory Bell game against in-state rival UCLA.
TCU won the Iron Skillet game against in-state rival SMU.
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
The Riley family will watch Lincoln in the Pac-12 title game Friday night, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m. Eastern, 5 Pacific, when USC plays Utah.
BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
The family will then watch Garrett Riley in the Big 12 title game on Saturday at noon Eastern, 9 a.m. Pacific, when TCU faces Kansas State.
2 GAMES, 20 HOURS APART
The Riley family will watch USC Friday night, go to bed, wake up, and watch TCU early Saturday afternoon. From the start of the USC game to the end of the TCU game, these two brothers’ likely playoff fates will be decided in a 20-hour span. Rarely has any football family had a 20-hour moment of truth the way the Rileys will this weekend.