COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For the second year in a row, Ohio State will not compete in the Big Ten championship game. As the Buckeyes watch Michigan play Purdue on Saturday, they instead will root for chaos and perhaps a way into the College Football Playoff.

The Associated Press and USA Today polls, released Sunday, put Ohio State at No. 5, so the playoff committee could follow suit when it announces its new rankings Tuesday night and make the Buckeyes the first team out. That’s behind an anticipated top four of Georgia, Michigan — which beat Ohio State 45-23 Saturday at Ohio Stadium — TCU and USC.

All four of those teams are playing this weekend in conference championship games. An upset or two could create an opening for the Buckeyes. And this is not unforeseen territory. Ohio State made the playoff in 2016 at 11-1 over the 11-2 Big Ten champion Penn State, which had beaten OSU earlier that season.

Here is a breakdown of how the Buckeyes could get into the playoff.

USC loses the Pac-12

Three undefeated teams remain at the top of the rankings, but Southern California has one loss — to Utah, the team it’s playing Saturday for the Pac-12 championship.

The Trojans, under first-year coach Lincoln Riley, are competing not just for their first playoff appearance but the first for the Pac-12 since 2016. Led by Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback Caleb Williams, USC will play in Las Vegas against the Utes, who won the regular-season match 43-42 in October.

If the Utes beat the Trojans again, advancing to the playoff seems unlikely for USC. It could create a scenario where Ohio State is the No. 4 seed and could potentially meet No. 1 Georgia in a semifinal on New Year’s Eve, probably at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

What about TCU?

The wild card heading into championship weekend is Texas Christian, which plays Kansas State on Saturday in the Big 12 championship game. This game is also a rematch, but the Horned Frogs won 38-28 in October.

If TCU wins, there is little doubt it will make the playoff. But if the Wildcats exact revenge, that could open the door for Ohio State.

The playoff committee kept Ohio State ranked ahead of TCU when both teams were undefeated, a sign it may view the Buckeyes as the better team overall. If each ends up with one loss, the committee might favor OSU again.

Are Georgia and Michigan locks?

Georgia has been a force all season, with only one opponent coming within 10 points of beating the Bulldogs — unranked Missouri, which lost 26-22 on Oct. 1. Their opponent in the SEC championship game in Atlanta is no pushover, though: No. 11 LSU.

The Tigers are 9-3, but they’re coming off a 15-point loss to unranked Texas A&M. Even if LSU were to beat Georgia, it wouldn’t necessarily knock the Bulldogs out of the playoff picture. In fact, the teams it might help the most are two others from the SEC: Tennessee and Alabama, sitting at two losses each.

And if Michigan were to suffer a major post-Ohio State letdown and fall to Purdue in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, that wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the Wolverines from playoff consideration, either. But exposing the Wolverines like that might make the playoff committee evaluate Ohio State more critically rather than open the door more widely.

Other teams with an outside shot

Ohio State is the most likely team not playing this weekend that could find its way into the top four. But attention has to be paid to Alabama and Tennessee.

The playoff committee has traditionally rated the Southeastern Conference as the toughest in college football. It’s also the only conference to get two teams in a playoff, accomplishing this feat in 2017 and 2021. Alabama’s losses were to Tennessee and LSU, and Tennessee’s were to Georgia and South Carolina.

One major factor going against the Crimson Tide and Volunteers is that the playoff committee has never put a two-loss team into the field. But if TCU or USC loses in an unimpressive performance, that could open the door for not just Ohio State, but maybe Alabama or Tennessee.

What if there are no upsets?

If this weekend’s games to go according to plan, with Georgia, Michigan, TCU and USC all winning their conference championships, it almost certainly leaves Ohio State on the outside, perhaps as the first team out.

That scenario would put the Buckeyes in position to return to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California with a likely opponent of Utah or Washington. The game is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 2.