football Edit

Clay Helton reacts to USC being No. 23 in College Football Playoff rankings

USC coach Clay Helton is hoping to lead his Trojans to a fifth win in six games as they host UCLA on Saturday.
USC coach Clay Helton is hoping to lead his Trojans to a fifth win in six games as they host UCLA on Saturday. (John Hefti/USA TODAY sports)

Many were surprised Tuesday when the latest College Football Playoff rankings came out and USC had jumped onto the list for the first time at No. 23.

The Trojans (7-4, 6-2 Pac-12) have won four of their last five games and are coming off one of their most thorough performances of the season in a 41-17 win at Cal.

The rankings came out during practice Tuesday, and the players who were asked afterward had limited reaction.

Coach Clay Helton, meanwhile, redirected the focus back to the task at hand.

"That's nice. The thing that I'm hoping for is to try to go get the next win," he said. "I love how this team has fought [and] fought to victory, and we've got a chance to get another victory. We want to finish strong this season. That was the goal, and we've got a chance to win five out of the last six and hopefully make it to a Pac-12 championship and a bowl game. So we want to continue building on that.

"We know the expectations here. It's kind of like when I got asked about the sixth win and being bowl eligible. It's really nice, but these kids want to continue on and continue growing and continue getting better. I really appreciate the ranking, but we've got another game to go win and go fight for."

USC hosts UCLA on Saturday in the Coliseum in the Trojans' regular-season finale. If they win, they'll be hoping Pac-12 South leader Utah loses either this week at Arizona or next week against Colorado.

USC holds the tiebreaker with Utah from its 30-23 Week 4 win, but the Utes have a one-game lead in the standings. Considering the Utes just rolled over UCLA, 49-3, it remains highly unlikely they trip up against either the Wildcats or Buffaloes.

But Helton has continued to reiterate for weeks the possibility for his team to back its way into the conference championship game. The Trojans have been doing their part since losing their grip atop the standings with an ugly loss to Oregon, and the CFP ranking -- however irrelevant to the actual playoff race -- reflects that.