For the past two and a half months, ever since their football team walloped Navy 55-3 on national television, BYU football fans have eagerly awaited the Sunday release of the two major college football surveys, the Associated Press Top 25 and the Amway Coaches Poll.

They haven’t been disappointed, as the 8-0 Cougars stayed unbeaten and slowly climbed into the top 10 for the first time since 2009, despite playing a schedule that is the 96th strongest in the country, according to the latest Sagarin Ratings.

BYU, which was idle last weekend, remained at No. 8 in both polls on Sunday, but did lose seven points in the media poll and 12 points in the coaches poll.

That focus on Sunday’s releases changes next week when the rankings that will determine whether the Cougars make the College Football Playoff, a New Year’s Six bowl game, or neither, are released.

“I have said it before: We are trying to keep our team focused on what we can control. Regardless of what happens, I like the way our team is playing and staying focused and not allowing anything to be a distraction for us.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake

Three days after BYU hosts North Alabama at 1 p.m. on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium (BYUtv, ESPN3), the College Football Playoff Committee will release its initial rankings on Nov. 24.

That day looms large in determining where the Cougars will spend the holidays — unless the playoffs are pushed back a month or so as some have advocated.

Because the committee chooses the at-large teams for the NY6 games, BYU will need to be in the top 12 in the final rankings on Dec. 20 to keep its hopes alive to play in the Cotton, Peach, Orange or Fiesta bowls. 

The Rose and Sugar bowls will host the CFP semifinals this year. The Cougars are obviously still a candidate for those games, but a lot would have to happen — a lot of teams such as Clemson, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida and Texas A&M, would have to lose, perhaps multiple times, for BYU to jump into the top four.

The Nov. 24 rankings will provide the first clear glimpse of how the committee regards the Cougars, who have been given an 89% chance by the ESPN FPI index to go undefeated. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe is still trying to add games to the Cougars’ schedule, head coach Kalani Sitake said last Monday, but as of Sunday the only two teams that remained on BYU’s slate were UNA on Saturday and San Diego State on Dec. 12.

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The Lions (0-3) were also idle Saturday, and haven’t played since losing 24-13 to Southern Mississippi on Nov. 7. Their other two losses were to Jacksonville State (24-17) and Liberty, a 28-7 setback on Oct. 3 that now looks mildly impressive considering the Flames are 8-0 and ranked No. 21 in the country in the AP poll.

San Diego State improved to 3-1 with a 34-10 thumping of Hawaii late Saturday in Carson, California, and showed it will be no pushover for the Cougars in the middle of December in Provo. The Aztecs rushed for 326 yards and led 28-0 at halftime before coach Brady Hoke eased up on the gas pedal in the second half.

As for North Alabama, the Lions are a member of the Big South Conference, an Atlantic Sun-affiliated football conference. Before joining the Football Championship Subdivision, they claimed Division II national titles in 1993, 1994 and 1995.

UNA, which is in its third year of transition to the FCS, announced last week it will not participate in the spring football schedule with other Big South teams, so Saturday’s game will be its final game until next fall.

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BYU announced Thursday that attendance for the game will be limited to players’ and coaches’ families only. Spectators will be required to follow all protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including physically distanced seating between households and the wearing of nose and mouth coverings.

A decision has not been made regarding spectators to be allowed on Senior Day against SDSU.

“Well, we love our fans, so I would love to see as many fans in the stands as possible,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said last Monday, after 6,500 or so fans were allowed to attend the Texas State and Western Kentucky games in person. “I am not really worried about that right now, though. I haven’t really worried about fans, and neither has our team, the entire time.

“I have said it before: We are trying to keep our team focused on what we can control,” Sitake continued. “Regardless of what happens, I like the way our team is playing and staying focused and not allowing anything to be a distraction for us.”

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