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BYU’s slim New Year’s Six hopes can be helped by this future Big 12 rival

Cincinnati’s drive to become the first Group of Five school to make the College Football Playoff could have a direct impact on the Cougars, if they keep winning

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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and the rest of the BYU sideline begin to celebrate victory over Utah at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake and the rest of the BYU sideline begin to celebrate as they defeat Utah in an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

BYU may need Cincinnati’s help before the two programs even make it to the Big 12.

The Cougars sit at No. 14 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, while the Bearcats come in at No. 5 with three weeks remaining until teams are slotted in their postseason positions.

For BYU (8-2) to have hope of vaulting into a New Year’s Six bowl — the Cougars will likely need to be at least in the top 10 in the final CFP rankings, which come out Dec. 5 — it’s imperative the unbeaten Bearcats (10-0) become the first Group of Five team to ever make the four-team playoff. 

It’s a *simple* numbers game. Here’s why:

How teams in the College Football Playoff are determined

The four teams that participate in the College Football Playoff will be the top four teams in the final CFP rankings. Currently, the top four include No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State.

  • The two semifinal hosts this year will be the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl.
  • The CFP national championship will be held Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.

How teams in the New Year’s Six bowls are determined

That leaves eight spots to be determined in the other four New Year’s Six bowls, which this year are the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl.

Both the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl have conference tie-ins to fill their matchups.

  • Rose Bowl: Pac-12 vs. Big Ten.
  • Sugar Bowl: Big 12 vs. SEC.

The Fiesta Bowl and the Peach Bowl matchups will be filled using at-large bids, though there are two important things to consider here with how everything has played out so far. 

  • No ACC team is projected to make the CFP, and its champion must have a spot in the NY6 somewhere — normally, it would go to the Orange Bowl, but that bowl is being used as a CFP semifinal host this season.
  • Also, the highest-ranked Group of Five team earns an automatic bid in the CFP process and must be slated in a New Year’s Six bowl if it doesn’t make the playoff.

Why Cincinnati making the playoff matters to BYU

If both the ACC champion and the top Group of Five team occupy two of those spots in either the Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl, that leaves just two other at-large bids that will be available.

If Cincinnati were to make the playoff, however, that would open up another at-large position in a New Year’s Six bowl.

If the season ended right now, though, Cincinnati would find itself on the outside looking in. The Bearcats are currently No. 5 in the CFP rankings and would subsequently be placed in either the Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl.

In the seven-year history of the CFP, only twice has an at-large bid not awarded to a conference champion or top Group of Five team gone to someone ranked outside the top 10 in the final CFP rankings.

How high does BYU need to rise in the rankings?

First and foremost, the Cougars need to beat their final two opponents — Nov. 20 at Georgia Southern and Nov. 27 at USC, and they are slight underdogs against the Trojans, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

Winning out would at least keep BYU in the conversation to make a New Year’s Six game.

The Cougars likely would need to climb at least four spots from their current No. 14 ranking to get into the range where being an at-large selection for either the Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl is a possibility.

What BYU fans should watch for as the regular season wraps up

Considering neither Georgia Southern nor USC currently has a winning record, it’s likely BYU will need significant outside help to rise in the rankings. Here’s who to watch over the next few weeks:

  • Notre Dame, ranked No. 9, appears likely to earn at worst an at-large bid, as the Fighting Irish only have two teams with losing records (Georgia Tech and Stanford) remaining on their schedule.
  • There are three Big Ten teams ahead of BYU in the CFP rankings — No. 3 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Michigan State. Most pundits project Ohio State will make the playoff, and the next-best Big Ten would play in the Rose Bowl. Barring an upset loss, that likely leaves the third-highest ranked team of these three occupying at an-large bid. Also, No. 15 Wisconsin could potentially jump BYU in the CFP rankings.
  • The Big 12 also has three teams ranked ahead of BYU — No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 11 Baylor and No. 13 Oklahoma. If none of these teams make the playoff, the highest ranked Big 12 team will play in the Sugar Bowl. The other two would potentially be at-large bid stealers for the Cougars, so BYU needs an upset or two to happen from the Big 12 ranks.
  • Right now, Ole Miss is ranked two spots above the Cougars. The Rebels finish their season at No. 25 Mississippi State, and Ole Miss likely needs a third loss to drop behind BYU in the race for an at-large bid.