College Football Playoff 2020: Can Cincinnati, BYU sneak into the field?

The Cincinnati Bearcats were ranked No 7 in the first College Football Playoff rankings and BYU was No. 14. Could either team get into the playoff?

In Tuesday night’s first College Football Playoff ranking, four Group of Five teams were ranked. Tulsa was ranked No. 25, Marshall No. 21, Coastal Carolina No. 20 and Cincinnati No. 7.

BYU is technically not a Group of Five school since it’s an independent. Football independents are outliers existing neither in the Group of Five nor the Power Five. For this piece, BYU — ranked No. 15 — is categorized with the Group of Five.

The Group of Five to the national semifinal is a difficult conversation. While some teams might have deserved to get into the playoff — 2018 Central Florida comes to mind — it was never intended to allow Group of Fives in. The goal of the playoff is not to “crown a champion” but to find the “best team”. Yes, those are mutually exclusive.

Still, is there a route for a Group of Five team to get in? The short answer is no since chalk holds in college football often, but there are some scenarios — unlikely but not impossible scenarios — for a Group of Five team to get in.

What are the best scenarios for Cincinnati and BYU?

For both teams, chaos would have to ensue. The Cougars and Bearcats need teams at the top and the bottom to lose games. BYU would need that more than Cincinnati because of their schedule. BYU is heating teams by an average of 33 points, but their combined record of their opponents this season is 33-40. It is easy to see Texas or Oregon jump the Cougars if either team runs the table.

BYU would likely need every conference champion to have two or three losses, with the underdog winning every championship game. Even then, the committee might take a two-loss champion over BYU because the schedule is so bad.

The path for Cincinnati

This is why Cincinnati has the clearest path to the Semifinal. The Bearcats first need to run the table and continue to dominate how they have the last month of the season. The Bearcats have the benefit of playing No. 25 Tulsa twice, which will help their resume there.

The Pac-12

The Bearcats’ hope is for the Pac-12 to do what it does every season; beat up on one another. Whether it is fair or unfair, the Pac-12 is the only conference that could have a one-loss champion eliminated from consideration for the Playoff. To pad their chances, the Bearcats would love for unranked Colorado or Washington to upset USC and Oregon along the way, and a two-loss USC finds a way to win the Pac-12 against a one-loss favored Oregon.

The Big 12

The Big 12 might already be eliminated since their top four teams have two losses, except Iowa State. If Iowa State — which has a loss to Louisiana — and Oklahoma play, it would be better for Cincinnati if Iowa State won since the Sooners would likely be favored.

The SEC

This is the toughest because we’ve seen a one-loss champion and a one-loss team that did not win its division get to the playoff. Cincinnati would need No. 1 Alabama to lose the Iron Bowl to Auburn and then lose the SEC Championship to Florida. They would need to lose once more before the conference championship game and defeat a heavily favored Alabama.

The ACC

Cincinnati needs Notre Dame, Clemson and Miami to lose one more regular-season game. Notre Dame and Clemson would still play for the conference title, but the loser would be eliminated from the national semifinal contention.

The Big Ten

If Ohio State loses two conference games, then Indiana would play for the Big Ten title, possibly against Northwestern, two teams behind Cincinnati. The Bearcats would need Northwestern to get upset by one of their opponents before playing Indiana for the conference title. That way, the loser has two losses.

The result

This scenario gives a two-loss Pac-12 champion (USC), a one-loss Big-12 champion (Iowa State), a two-loss SEC champion (Florida), a one-loss ACC champion (Notre Dame), and a one-loss Big Ten Champion (IU or Northwestern). The key is every team that lost their conference championship has at least two losses. Texas A&M would be a concern, but the committee would have to choose between several one and two-loss Power Five champions and the at-large Aggies. That’s Cincy’s best chance to get in the semifinal.