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Five Takeaways From College Football Playoff Rankings, BYU’s Low No. 14 Spot

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake on the sideline during the Cougars win on November 6th, 2020. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

PROVO, Utah – The College Football Playoff committee made their views of BYU football loud and clear on Tuesday night. Here are my five takeaways from the rankings.

#1 BYU football at No. 14, really?

Heading into Tuesday’s Top 25 rankings reveal, ESPN’s Playoff Predictor gave BYU better odds of landing at No. 4 in the Committee’s poll than the No. 14 spot. Everyone on the ESPN set was stunned at how low BYU was placed.

I think everyone knew BYU probably wouldn’t be in the single-digits like they are in the AP and Coaches polls. But, No. 14? The only logic behind that is to keep BYU out of the New Year’s Six at-large pool at season’s end.

#2 Strength of Schedule is a weak argument in 2020

College Football Playoff Committee Chairman Gary Barta pointed to BYU’s strength of schedule as a metric that lowered the Cougars farther down the rankings than anyone expected. BYU currently has the No. 81 ranked schedule by the metrics the College Football Playoff uses.

But in a year where COVID-19 has impacted everyone’s original schedules, no one more than BYU, should that be the end-all for the Cougars fall in this poll? BYU had six Power 5 teams on the schedule. Tom Holmoe pitched to the Big 12 to play in that league as a one-year fill-in. No P5 or league wanted to welcome in BYU.

Holmoe, Gridiron’s Dave Brown, and Kalani Sitake then pursued anyone willing to play and sign up for a matchup on BYU’s schedule.

Since the early days of LaVell Edwards in the 1970s, BYU has always wanted to play great opponents to measure themselves against the best. It was a silly narrative being thrown around by those in the Pacific Northwest that BYU didn’t want the game against Washington.

#3 Would Cincinnati still play BYU football on Dec. 5?

Short answer, probably not. If Cincinnati beat BYU, the Cougars would probably fall out of the Committee’s rankings. USC will be a team to monitor as they play Washington State on Dec. 4. The Cougs from the Palouse have COVID issues right now. Could Wazzu miss a second straight week? It’s possible. But as always, buyer beware for non-conference teams looking to schedule a Pac-12 team. You could have the rug pulled out from under you.

#4 Top 20 in both total offense and total defense

During a teleconference with reporters after the ESPN show’s conclusion, Committee Chair Gary Barta took questions from college football media. He was asked a question about the differences between BYU and Cincinnati.

“Well, to start with, when you look at the schedule, look at the teams, as I mentioned earlier tonight, right now BYU’s best win is over Boise State, and in that game, I think they got down to their third-string quarterback,” said Barta. “BYU has played three teams against .500 or better opponents, but when you move over to Cincinnati, they’re 4-0 against .500 teams and had quality wins as recently as this past weekend against Central Florida but also earlier against SMU. And Cincinnati is in the top 20 both in scoring offense and scoring defense. Those are some of the differences as we took a look at it.”

Top 20 in both scoring offense and scoring defense? BYU is currently 4th in scoring offense at 47.6 points per game and is 5th in scoring defense at 13.9 points per contest. To bring up that metric knowing full well the BYU/Cincinnati question would probably be asked is nearly as surprising as the No. 14 ranking BYU received.

#5 New Year’s Six is at risk

BYU has been outscoring its competition by 33 points per game through nine games. If BYU’s next game is, in fact, against San Diego State on Dec. 12, the Cougars are going to try and do everything they can to produce the “style points” and deliver the “eye test” that was going to be lauded as key components this year in the Playoff ratings.

BYU needs at least one more game, maybe two, to its schedule. Hard to imagine the Pac-12 and BYU ever getting something together. The Cougars reached out to some of the best G5s the country has to offer right now, but will that help them get into the Top 12? BYU has no guarantees of an NY6 tie-in.

They must get in the Top 12 to be in the pool to qualify for an at-large birth. The same committee that ranked BYU No. 14 this week will also determine if BYU earns an NY6 spot or not.

Regardless, BYU is in the national conversation late into the season, and they have a great chance at an undefeated season. Play what’s in front of you, and see who it all shakes out. But whoever ends up playing BYU next, they are going to get an angry football team, as evidenced by their leader, Kalani Sitake, who went to bat for his team throughout the evening.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.

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