BYU fell from #8 in the AP poll to #14 in the first edition of the 2020 College Football Playoff rankings. Given BYU's ranking, the Cougars will need some help to qualify for a NY6 bowl. While we wait for the updated CFP rankings on Tuesday, let's look at the teams that BYU is competing against for an at-large spot in a NY6 bowl.
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 were released on November 24th.
Lastly, 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.
Let's use 2014 as an example:
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:
- 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)
- 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)
- Orange Bowl (ACC champ/ACC runner up if champ goes to playoff vs highest available from the SEC, Big Ten, and Notre Dame)
The Orange Bowl is the only contract bowl this season
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.
- Cotton Bowl
- Fiesta Bowl
- 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.
Given what we know about the NY6 system and the CFP rankings, who is BYU competing against for an at-large spot in a NY6 bowl?
Big Ten runner-up(s) (Likely Indiana or Northwestern)
Assuming Ohio State wins the Big Ten (this is likely as long as Ohio State meets the minimum games requirement) then BYU will be competing against Indiana and Northwestern for an at-large spot.
Why? The Big Ten is not guaranteed a spot in the Orange bowl if an SEC team (that is not in the playoff) is ranked above the Big Ten runner-up. That will almost certainly be the case this season as Georgia, Florida, and Texas A&M will be ranked in front of Northwestern and Indiana on Tuesday.
PAC-12 runner up (Likely USC, Colorado, Oregon, or Washington)
The PAC-12 champion will earn an automatic bid for a NY6 game so BYU is not competing against the PAC-12 champion. By mid December, however, they could be competing against the PAC-12 runner-up if that team is undefeated heading into the PAC-12 championship game. BYU fans need to hope that the PAC-12 runner-up suffers a loss before the PAC-12 championship game. Oregon already has one loss, BYU fans need to hope that Washington, USC, and Colorado lose before December 18th.
BYU is directly competing against Georgia for an at-large spot in a NY6 bowl. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs are ranked ahead of the Cougars and only have one game remaining this season against a terrible Vanderbilt team. ESPN gives Georgia a 98.5% chance to win that game.
Lowest ranked between Florida & Texas A&M
If neither of these teams qualify for the playoff, then the highest ranked between them will go to the Orange Bowl. The team that doesn't qualify for the Orange bowl will compete against BYU for an at-large spot.
Texas A&M has two more games remaining at Auburn and Tennessee. Florida has to travel to Tennessee and host LSU.
If both Notre Dame and Clemson qualify for the CFP, then Miami will earn an automatic bid to the Orange bowl as the highest-ranked ACC team that is not in the playoff. If Notre Dame or Clemson is knocked out of the CFP then they will earn the Orange bowl spot and BYU will be compete against Miami for an at-large bid.
In other words, BYU fans should hope that the ACC only gets one team in the CFP.
Why not the Big 12 runner-up?
Given the current Big 12 standings, the Big 12 runner-up will have at least three losses and will likely be eliminated from NY6 contention.
In summary, BYU is competing against five different groups - the PAC-12 runner-up, the Big Ten runner-up(s), Miami (maybe), Florida/Texas A&M, and Georgia - the Cougars need to be ranked above two of these five groups in the CFP rankings to qualify for a NY6 bowl.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments.