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Bowl projections: Are BYU’s New Year’s Six hopes extinguished?

BYU players celebrate after stopping Southern California wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. (1) short of a first down to turn over the ball.
BYU players celebrate after stopping Southern California wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. (1) short of a first down to turn over the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Los Angeles, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Ashley Landis, Associated Press

If the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings are any indication, BYU will be the odd man out in the race for a New Year’s Six bowl berth.

In the latest CFP rankings, the Cougars moved up one spot to No. 12. That would leave them one spot on the outside looking in for a New Year’s Six spot, if the season ended today.

BYU must hope for outside help, considering its regular season is over and the independent Cougars have no conference title to play for.

There is still some hope, albeit extremely slim, that BYU could earn its way into one of the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls.

Utah, meanwhile, jumped from No. 19 to No. 17 in the latest rankings. The Utes will have their chance to win their way into a New Year’s Six spot — the Rose Bowl — when they face No. 10 Oregon in this weekend’s Pac-12 championship.

The final CFP rankings, as well as playoff and New Year’s Six bowl matchups, will be announced Sunday beginning at 10 a.m. MST on ESPN.

The New Year’s Six bowl selection process

The top four in the final rankings will make the College Football Playoff. Beyond that, here’s the New Year’s Six lineup this year, with two of the four bowls contractually obligated to select teams from certain Power Five conferences:

  • Sugar Bowl: SEC vs. Big 12.
  • Rose Bowl: Big Ten vs. Pac-12.
  • Fiesta Bowl: At-large vs. At-large.
  • Peach Bowl: At-large vs. At-large.

The ACC champion — No. 15 Pittsburgh plays No. 16 Wake Forest in that league’s title game — will take one of the at-large spots. A second could go to the top Group of Five finisher, if Cincinnati doesn’t make the playoff (which it is currently in line to do).

That leaves, right now, three at-large spots open, and the CFP committee would fill those with the highest ranked teams not already in contracted spots.

In the penultimate rankings, those three are No. 6 Notre Dame, No. 9 Baylor and No. 11 Michigan State.

What the latest CFP rankings mean for BYU’s NY6 hopes

If the favored teams win on championship weekend, here’s what the New Year’s Six and CFP lineup could look like, with a likely No. 11 BYU being the odd one out in this scenario:

At this point, there are basically two teams BYU could hope to jump in the rankings — No. 9 Baylor and No. 11 Michigan State — and make a New Year’s Six bowl as a result.

Having the Cougars jump the Spartans seems unlikely, as neither team plays this week.

The best scenario is having BYU vault Baylor, which fell one spot in the rankings this week, though a lot of results would need to accompany that for the right combination of spots (at-large and contracted) to occur.

What needs to happen to keep the Cougars’ NY6 hopes alive

No. 3 Alabama beats No. 1 Georgia, SEC championship: If the Crimson Tide pull the upset, it keeps both teams in the four-team playoff — Georgia is considered a lock — while also slotting No. 8 Ole Miss into the SEC’s contracted spot in the Sugar Bowl.

No. 2 Michigan beats No. 13 Iowa, Big Ten championship: This would keep Michigan in the playoff picture while also preventing Iowa from jumping BYU.

No. 4 Cincinnati beats No. 21 Houston, AAC championship: The Bearcats have to stay in the playoff picture for BYU to have any chance at a NY6 bowl, because if Cincinnati falls out of the playoff, it — or another Group of Five team — would occupy an at-large spot in the NY6.

No. 5 Oklahoma State beats No. 9 Baylor, Big 12 championship: This is where it gets tricky. BYU needs Oklahoma State to win, but not convincingly enough to pass Cincinnati into the playoff.

The Cougars also need the Bears to lose convincingly enough to fall at least three spots to get behind BYU in the rankings.

Most experts project that if Oklahoma State wins, the Cowboys will jump Cincinnati and into the playoff picture.

BYU, though, needs Oklahoma State in the Big 12’s contracted spot in the Sugar Bowl, not the playoff, while also having Baylor fall out of NY6 contention. It seems unlikely.

No. 17 Utah beats No. 10 Oregon, Pac-12 championship: While this wouldn’t necessarily be mandatory for BYU to jump Baylor, the Utes winning their way into the Rose Bowl would boost the Cougars’ resume, with their top win coming over the Pac-12 champion.

Where else could BYU play in the postseason?

BYU has a contract to play in the Independence Bowl (Dec. 18 in Shreveport, Louisiana) this season against an opponent from Conference USA, if the Cougars do not qualify for a New Year’s Six bowl.

BYU could also potentially play in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl — there’s a clause in the Cougars’ ESPN contract that they could be a replacement if either the Big Ten or Big 12 cannot fill their spot in that bowl.

The Big 12 would seem to be the most likely to not have enough bowl eligible teams to send someone to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, if both Oklahoma State and Baylor make a CFP semifinal or New Year’s Six bowl.

In that case, BYU could face someone like the Big Ten’s Minnesota, Maryland or Purdue in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 28 in Phoenix.

The latest bowl projections

Most experts are expecting Michigan to win the Big Ten championship, and that would move idle Ohio State into the Rose Bowl, while Utah is the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-12 championship and earn that league’s spot in the Rose Bowl.

BYU’s most likely landing spot is the Independence Bowl, where most prognosticators predict they will face UTSA, which lost big to North Texas last week to snap its unbeaten season.

Two predictions also call for the Cougars to play LSU in the Independence Bowl.

Utah State is the underdog in the Mountain West championship, which would change these bowl projections if they win.

The Aggies still have a wide variety of teams/places they are being projected to play during the postseason.


Utah Utes

(9-3, 8-1 in Pac-12)


BYU Cougars

(10-2)


Utah State Aggies

(9-3, 6-2 in Mountain West)