Realistically, BYU needed to increase its strength of schedule in order to have a prayer at the College Football Playoff. By tacking on what will be their most difficult game of the season — at Coastal Carolina on Saturday — 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 our guide.
Should the Cougars have a chance?
Even “should” can be split up into multiple categories.
Let’s start with: Should the Cougars have a chance based on the historical precedent of the selection committee? Yes.
Although no non-Power 5 school has gotten into the playoff, an 11-0 BYU would have several metrics in its favor for at least a shot.
BYU ranks 11th in ESPN’s College Football Power Index (FPI) and would likely rank seventh in strength of record (SOR) if it wins out. On the surface, that doesn’t sound great (more on that in a minute), but the Cougars would benefit from a couple of other factors.
First: BYU’s independent status. In the past, the committee has given independents less credit than conference champions, all else being equal, but also more credit than teams that could have won championships but didn’t. That gives BYU a little boost in the event that there are not four clear-cut, conference-champion playoff teams.
Second: the loss column. While SOR encapsulates losses — and therefore the committee shouldn’t need to use it if using a résumé metric like SOR — the committee historically has overweighted the number of losses in its decision-making. Thus, if BYU ends up 11-0, it would receive a further uptick from that.
(A medium-length aside: With its current 11-game schedule, BYU would have the worst strength of record of any undefeated team in the playoff era except for 2016 Western Michigan. On the other hand, comparing this season to past seasons is a bit silly. All that SOR comparison really tells us is that BYU wouldn’t be a contender in a normal season, but this is not a normal season, and the bar for the playoff is lower.)
Thus: The Allstate Playoff Predictor — based on the committee’s past behavior — gives BYU a 47% chance to reach the playoff if it wins out. Pretty strong! It means the Cougars would likely need help elsewhere — Notre Dame winning the ACC, for example, but nothing unreasonable. Caveats incoming, however.
The first of those caveats is the other way to answer “should BYU have a chance to get in” question. If the committee says it looks for the “best” teams and typically heavily factors in which are the “most deserving” teams, then BYU probably finds itself in the top four of neither category, with potential strength of record and FPI ranks of 7 and 11, respectively. It’s an easy out for the committee to avoid considering the Cougars for the top four if it doesn’t want to.
Ultimately, that might not be relevant, and it’s not the point of the Predictor — which operates on the committee’s past behavior and thus gives BYU a better shot — but I think it’s worthwhile to note anyway.
QB Zach Wilson has put himself in the Heisman conversation, playoff berth or not. Would a win at Coastal Carolina vault the Cougars into the top four? AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool
Do the Cougars have a chance?
This is a trickier question. As we’ve said all season, we’d be naive to think that 2020’s particular brand of mayhem doesn’t add some uncertainty to the playoff.
There’s also a pretty crucial piece of information that we know that the model doesn’t. The committee thus far has thought less of BYU than what we’d expect. The Cougars are 13th in this week’s CFP rankings, despite current FPI and strength of record ranks of 11 and 9, respectively, plus a zero in the loss column. That’s surprising.
While the committee is not always consistent, it does mean that BYU probably has more ground to make up than the Playoff Predictor anticipates.
Another factor: The committee currently seems to have a higher opinion of Coastal Carolina than our metrics do. The Chanticleers rank only 32nd in FPI — in contrast with their No. 18 CFP ranking. That should work in the Cougars’ favor; however, should BYU beat Coastal Carolina, there’s no guarantee the latter would remain in the top 25 anyway.
While an undefeated BYU team certainly has a chance, ultimately my semi-qualitative take based on all these factors is that the Predictor’s 47% chance for BYU if it wins out is probably high.
What about Coastal Carolina?
Coastal Carolina (9-0) actually is the team set up for the better résumé here. After increasing its own strength of schedule by bringing in the Cougars at the last minute, the Chanticleers would be projected to finish fifth in strength of record if they win out. So are they suddenly a playoff contender?
The Playoff Predictor does not think so, giving the Chanticleers just a 3% shot if they win out. What’s the difference? Team quality. While Coastal Carolina’s résumé would be a little better than BYU’s, FPI does not consider the Chanticleers nearly as good of a team. Our model thinks BYU is about eight points better than Coastal Carolina on a neutral field.
Lauren Poe contributed to this article.