Where BYU Football Could be Ranked in the First College Football Playoff Ranking
BYU football is 8-0 and ranked #8 in the AP poll. With only North Alabama and San Diego State currently left on the schedule, the Cougars have an 89% chance to go undefeated according to ESPN FPI. If BYU finishes the season undefeated, they will have a chance to play in one of college football's coveted New Year's Six (NY6) bowl games. Earlier this week, we looked at where BYU would need to be ranked to qualify for a NY6 bowl. The College Football Playoff rankings will ultimately determine whether BYU qualifies for a NY6 bowl or not. Today, let's look at where we think BYU will be ranked when the first College Football Playoff ranking is released on November 24th.
How are we going to do this? Let's keep this simple - we will use the AP poll as our baseline and analyze variances in the first CFP ranking of the season versus the AP poll of the same week. We will go back to 2014 when the CFP committee first started ranking teams for the College Football Playoff. Based on patterns and trends we find, we will try to predict where BYU will be ranked and why.
Without further ado, let's start with 2014. Please excuse any typos, there are a lot of words and numbers in this article!
'Winners' are those teams that were ranked higher by the CFP committee than the AP voters. It's important to remember that the CFP committee starts from scratch after watching 10 weeks of football. The AP poll starts before the season even begins and slowly moves teams up or down when they win or lose. Without being anchored to preseason rankings, the CFP committee can come in and establish a brand new pecking order. We will only list those teams that moved at least three spots in the polls.
Ole Miss: +3 vs AP Poll (#7 to #4)
UCLA: +3 vs AP Poll (#25 to #22)
TCU: +3 vs AP Poll (#10 to #7)
'Losers', obviously, are the opposite. These are teams that were ranked highly in the AP poll but received a lower evaluation from the CFP committee.
Notre Dame: -4 vs AP Poll (#6 to #10)
Alabama: -3 vs AP poll (#3 to #6)
LSU: -3 (#16 to #19)
Ohio State: -3 (#13 to #16)
Marshall: -3 or more (#23 to unranked)
The very first CFP ranking did not favor the blue bloods of college football. Notre Dame, Alabama, LSU, and Ohio State fell at least three spots in the first week of these rankings. Marshall and East Carolina were the only ranked non-P5 teams this week, both of them dropped at least two spots in the CFP rankings.
Texas A&M: +6 vs AP Poll (#25 to #19)
Mississippi State: +4 vs AP Poll (#24 to #20)
Alabama: +3 vs AP Poll (#7 to #4)
Notre Dame: +3 vs AP Poll (#8 to #5)
Houston: -7 vs AP Poll (#18 to #25)
North Carolina: -5 or more vs AP Poll (#21 to unranked)
Toledo: -4 vs AP poll (#20 to #24)
Baylor: -4 (#2 to #6)
TCU: -3 (#5 to #8)
There was a lot of movement in the first edition of the 2015 CFP rankings. Two non-P5 teams took major hits: Houston dropped from #18 to #25 and Toledo dropped from #20 to #24. Two non-P5 teams also saw minor improvements in their rankings: Memphis improved from #15 to #13 and Temple improved from #23 to #22.
Of all the teams on this list, TCU and Baylor suffered the most. Normally the top 10 in the CFP rankings is similar to the top 10 in the AP poll. That wasn't the case for Baylor and TCU. TCU dropped from #5 to #8 and Baylor dropped from #2 to #6.
Penn State: +8 vs AP Poll (#20 to #12)
Colorado: +6 vs AP Poll (#21 to #15)
Virginia Tech: +4 vs AP Poll (#23 to #19)
Oklahoma State: +4 vs AP Poll (#22 to #18)
Texas A&M: +3 (#7 to #4)
West Virginia: -6 vs AP Poll (#14 to #20)
Western Michigan: -6 vs AP poll (#17 to #23)
Baylor: -4 (#13 to #17)
North Carolina: -3 (#18 to #21)
Florida State: -3 (#19 to #22)
In case you haven't noticed, there hasn't been a non-P5 team listed as a 'winner' so far. There has been, however, at least one non-P5 'loser' every season. Why does this matter? BYU is not in a power five conference.
Mississippi State: +5 vs AP Poll (#21 to #16)
Oklahoma: +3 vs AP Poll (#8 to #5)
Wisconsin: -5 vs AP Poll (#4 to #9)
UCF: -3 vs AP poll (#15 to #18)
Ohio State: -3 (#3 to #6)
Stanford: -3 (#18 to #21)
2017 is the season that UCF went undefeated and declared themselves national champions. In week 10 of that season, UCF was ranked #15 in the AP poll and the committee bumped them down to #18.
Iowa: +3 vs AP Poll (#19 to #16)
Syracuse: +3 vs AP Poll (#22 to #19)
Mississippi State: +3 vs AP Poll (#21 to #18)
Houston: -9 or more vs AP Poll (#17 to unranked)
Utah State: -8 or more vs AP Poll (#18 to unranked)
Fresno State: -3 vs AP poll (#20 to #23)
UCF: -3 (#9 to #12)
2018 was a brutal year for non-P5 teams in the CFP rankings. Every non-P5 team dropped at least three spots in the rankings. Remember 2018 UCF because that might be the most comparable team we have to 2020 BYU.
Kansas State: +4 vs AP Poll (#20 to #16)
Wisconsin: +3 vs AP Poll (#16 to #13)
Wake Forest: +3 vs AP Poll (#22 to #19)
Minnesota: -4 vs AP Poll (#13 to #17)
Cincinnati: -3 vs AP poll (#17 to #20)
Cincinnati was the highest ranked non-P5 team heading into the first version of the CFP rankings in 2019. Unfortunately, the Bearcats were dropped three spots in the polls. SMU, San Diego State, and Memphis also dropped two spots each.
Where will BYU be ranked?
Why BYU will maintain or improve their #8 ranking
Traditionally, non-P5 teams have always dropped in the CFP rankings relative to the AP poll. Why would 2020 be different? Well the 2020 college football season has been different in every way. The fact that BYU will have played nine games while teams like Wisconsin will have only played three could help BYU maintain a #8 ranking.
As the only team playing out West in September and most of December, BYU had a large stage where committee members would have had multiple opportunities to watch the Cougars. In addition, BYU has passed the proverbial eye test dominating teams by an average of 45.3-13.9.
Why BYU will drop in the rankings
BYU has two major obstacles to overcome in the eyes of the CFP committee: the Cougars are not part of a power five conference and their strength of schedule will not compare to some other teams ranked around them. Like we have seen since 2014, the CFP committee values the power five label and big wins over top 25 teams. BYU has only one victory over a top 25 team this season.
The conditions surrounding college football make predicting the rankings extra difficult this season. History suggests that BYU will fall in the polls, but there are pandemic-related factors that could make this season the exception to the rule. I think BYU will stay in the top 10, but I think they fall a spot or two to #9 or #10. That could change over the next few weeks as surrounding teams win and lose, but that would be my prediction if the rankings were released today.
While dropping in the rankings would be disappointing, no non-P5 team (excluding Notre Dame) has ever been included in the top 10 of the first edition of the CFP rankings. Cincinnati could join BYU in making history as a non-P5 team to make the top 10.