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Where BYU Needs to be Ranked to Make a New Year's Six Bowl

An extensive look at prior NY6 games and where BYU needs to be ranked to qualify for an at-large bid.

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. Without a conference affiliation, however, the Cougars would need to receive an at-large bid to play in a NY6 game. Today, we take a look at prior NY6 at-large bids and determine where BYU needs to be ranked to make a NY6 bowl.

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First, it's important to note that the number of at-large bids can change depending on which NY6 destinations host the College Football Playoff and which conferences go to the playoff. Obviously, we don't know who will go to the playoff. But we do know that the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl host the CFP this year which is the same rotation as 2017 and 2014. Since 2014 and 2017 were on the same rotation as 2020, we'll compare against those two years the most. 

It's also important to note that the College Football Playoff rankings determine those that are invited to the playoff and those that receive at-large bids. The first 2020 CFP rankings will be released on November 24th. If you're wondering how those rankings compare to the AP poll, stay tuned for an analysis on that subject later this week.

Lastly, it's extra important to note that BYU does not qualify for the group of five NY6 spot. I've seen some analysts misunderstand that. The G5 NY6 spot is awarded to the highest ranked G5 team in the final College Football Playoff rankings. BYU is not in a G5 conference. Therefore, they do not qualify for the automatic G5 bid. If the season ended today, the G5 representative would be Cincinnati. BYU is not competing with Cincinnati for the same spot in a NY6 game. 

Without further ado, let's look at 2014:

2014 NY6 Bowls

  • Sugar Bowl: Alabama (1) vs Ohio State (4)
  • Rose Bowl: Oregon (2) vs Florida State (3)
  • Cotton Bowl: Baylor (5, auto) vs Michigan State (8, at large)
  • Peach Bowl: TCU (6, at large) vs Ole Miss (9, at large)
  • Fiesta Bowl: Arizona (10, at large) vs Boise State (20, auto G5)
  • Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech (12, auto) vs Mississippi State (7, auto)

In 2014, the highest-ranked team in the CFP ranking that was excluded from the NY6 was Kansas State at #11. Why was Kansas State excluded despite being ranked in the top 12? They did not qualify for an at-large bid.

To understand at-large bids, you need to understand the difference between the three NY6 contract bowls and the three NY6 access bowls: 

NY6 Contract Bowls

These bowls are under contract with specific P5 conferences. If these bowls don't host the CFP semifinal then they invite the same conferences every year:

  1. Rose Bowl (Big Ten champ/Big Ten runner up if champ goes to playoff vs PAC-12 champ/PAC-12 runner up if champ goes to playoff)
  2. Sugar Bowl (SEC champ/SEC runner up if champ goes to playoff vs BIG 12 champ/ Big 12 runner up if champ goes to playoff)
  3. Orange Bowl (ACC champ/ACC runner up if champ goes to playoff vs highest available from the SEC, Big Ten, and Notre Dame)

NY6 Access Bowls

These bowls take turns hosting the CFP semifinal but they aren't under contract with specific conferences. If they are not hosting the playoff, they host P5 champions that were not invited to the playoff and the highest-ranked G5 team. If there are spots left over, they extend at-large invitations based on CFP rankings. Matchups depend on geography and perceived competitiveness of games.

  1. Cotton Bowl
  2. Fiesta Bowl
  3. Peach Bowl

The good news for BYU fans is that contract bowls are hosting the CFP semifinal meaning more at-large spots are available this season than other rotations.

2017 NY6 Bowls

  • Sugar Bowl: Clemson (1) vs Alabama (4)
  • Rose Bowl: Oklahoma (2) vs Georgia (3)
  • Cotton Bowl: Ohio State (5, auto) vs USC (8, auto)
  • Peach Bowl: Auburn (7, at large) vs UCF (12, auto G5)
  • Fiesta Bowl: Penn State (9, at large) vs Washington (11, at large)
  • Orange Bowl: Wisconsin (6 auto) vs Miami (10 auto)

In 2017, the highest-ranked team in the CFP ranking that was excluded from the NY6 was Stanford at #13. This was a rare year - every team in the top 12 of the CFP ranking was invited to a NY6 game.

So What?

Since the NY6 bids depend on which conferences make the playoff, we don't know exactly where BYU will need to be ranked to qualify for a NY6 at-large bid. However, every team ranked #9 or better has been invited to a NY6 game since 2014. In other words, nine is the magic number where BYU needs to finish this season ranked.

If The Season Ended Today

If the season ended today and the AP poll were the CFP rankings, here is how the NY6 could look:

  • Sugar Bowl: Alabama (1) vs Clemson (4)
  • Rose Bowl: Notre Dame (2) vs Ohio State (3)
  • Cotton Bowl: Indiana (10, at large) vs Oklahoma State (14, auto)
  • Peach Bowl: Florida (6, at large) vs Cincinnati (7, auto G5)
  • Fiesta Bowl: Oregon (11, auto) vs BYU (8, at large)
  • Orange Bowl: Miami (9 auto) vs Texas A&M (5 auto)

Update: Forgot the Big 12 in original projections. This is now updated to include the Big 12.

It's important to remember that the AP poll can vary substantially from the CFP rankings. Again, stay tuned for more analysis on that subject later this week.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section.