Realistically, BYU had to increase its schedule to be able to pray in the college football playoffs. With the toughest game of the season on Saturday in Coastal Carolina, the Cougars did just that.
Could it be enough to give the cougars a chance? Should it be? Let’s break it down using the Allstate Playoff Predictor as a guide.
Should do the cougars have a chance?
Even “should” can be broken down into several categories.
Let’s start with: Should the Cougars stand a chance based on the selection board’s historical precedent? Yes.
While no non-Power 5 school made the playoffs, an 11-0 BYU for at least one shot would have multiple metrics in their favor.
BYU ranks 11th in ESPN’s College Football Power Index (FPI) and would likely rank seventh in record strength (SOR) if it won. That doesn’t sound too good on the surface (more on that in a minute), but the Cougars would benefit from a few other factors.
First, BYU’s independent status. In the past, the Committee has given less credit to independents than conference champions, everyone else is equal, but also more credit than teams that could have won championships but didn’t. This gives BYU a little boost in the event that there aren’t four distinct playoff teams with conference champions.
Second: the loss column. While SOR encapsulates losses – and so the committee shouldn’t have to use them when using a resume metric like SOR – the committee has historically overweighted the number of losses in its decision making. So if BYU ended 11-0, it would get one more rise.
(Aside from median length: With its current eleven-game schedule, BYU would have the worst record of any undefeated team in the playoff era with the exception of 2016 in West Michigan. On the other hand, comparing this season with previous seasons is an all we can the SOR comparison really says is that BYU wouldn’t be a competitor in a normal season, but this is not a normal season and the bar for the playoffs is lower.)
So: The Allstate Playoff Predictor – based on the committee’s behavior in the past – gives BYU a 47% chance of making the playoffs if it wins. Pretty strong! This means the Cougars would likely need help elsewhere – Notre Dame, for example, who won the ACC, but nothing unreasonable. Incoming reservations.
The first of these limitations is the other way to answer the question of whether BYU has a chance to get in. If the committee says it looks for the “best” teams, and typically searches heavily for the “most deserving” teams, BYU is likely in the top 4 of both categories with a potential record strength and FPI ranks of 7 and 11. It’s easy for the committee to avoid considering the Cougars for the top 4 if it doesn’t want to.
Ultimately, that may not be relevant, and it’s not the point of the predictor – which has influenced the committee’s behavior in the past, giving BYU a better shot – but I think it’s worth pointing out anyway.
Do do the cougars have a chance?
This is a tougher question. As we’ve been saying all season, we’d be naive to believe that the particular kind of chaos in 2020 doesn’t add some uncertainty to the playoffs.
There’s also some pretty important piece of information that we know the model doesn’t. So far, the committee has thought less of BYU than expected. The Cougars are in 13th place in the CFP rankings this week, despite the current FPI and the record strength of 11 and 9 respectively plus a zero in the loss column. That’s surprising.
While the committee isn’t always consistent, it means BYU likely has more reason to catch up than the playoff predictor expects.
Another factor: the committee currently seems to have a higher opinion of Coastal Carolina than our metrics. The Chanticleers only take 32nd place in the FPI – in contrast to their CFP ranking No. 18. That should work in favor of the Cougars. However, should BYU beat Coastal Carolina, there is no guarantee the latter would stay in the top 25 anyway.
While an undefeated BYU team certainly has a chance, ultimately my semi-qualitative mindset based on all of these factors is that the predictor’s 47% chance of BYU if it wins is likely high.
What about Coastal Carolina?
Coastal Carolina (9-0) is the team that is set up here for the better resume. After increasing their own strength of the schedule at the last minute by bringing in the Cougars, the Chanticleers would likely finish fifth in record strength if they win. Are you suddenly a playoff contender?
The Playoff Predictor doesn’t believe this and only gives the Chanticleers a 3% shot if they win. What is the difference? Team quality. While Coastal Carolina’s résumé would be a little better than BYU’s, FPI doesn’t consider the Chanticleers nearly a good team. Our model assumes that BYU is about eight points better than Coastal Carolina on a neutral field.
Lauren Poe contributed to this article.