If No. 9 BYU were 8-0 with its original 2020 schedule, then the Cougars would have a legitimate argument for being the No. 4 seed in this year’s College Football Playoff. COVID-19 destroyed that slate, however, and the replacement lineup makes their perfect start a lot less intriguing.
Instead of taking on two Pac-12 opponents, two Big Ten schools and an SEC team in the first eight games, they’ve faced an all-Group of 5 slate. The toughest foe has been No. 21 Boise State, which BYU crushed 51-17 on Friday night in Boise to remain unbeaten.
WEEK 10: Bowl projections | Playoff picture
Before this week, the top opponents on the Cougars’ revised schedule were AAC schools Navy (55-3 in Week 1) and Houston (43-26 in Week 7). The other victims: Troy, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, Texas State and Western Kentucky, by a combined 213-65. All that stands between BYU and a perfect regular season now are FCS team North Alabama on Nov. 21, San Diego State on Dec. 12 and Army if the teams’ postponed game is rescheduled.
The schedule switch isn’t BYU’s fault, naturally: The Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC all went to conference-only schedules as they scrambled to save their seasons amid the coronavirus outbreak. That took away early-season matchups vs. Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota and Missouri and a season-ending game vs. Stanford.
Independent BYU, in turn, had to scramble to fill those spots. Boise State was one of four holdovers from its original 12-game schedule.
The Cougars dominated their former Mountain West Conference rival Friday. They outgained the Broncos 573-249. Tyler Allgeier rushed for two touchdowns, including an 86-yarder that opened the scoring in the first quarter. Quarterback Zach Wilson threw for 359 yards and two scores on 21-of-27 passing. Gunner Romney caught six passes for 133 yards. BYU was plus-2 in the turnover battle.
Doing all that against a ranked opponent on the road is impressive, and BYU needed that type of performance because the game will be the Cougars’ last chance at adding much to their body of work if they don’t eventually face Army (6-1).
A lot of college football fans will be rooting for BYU to go 11-0 and force the playoff committee to seriously consider it, but the panel will have too many better options next month. A rundown of what the Cougars are up against just this weekend:
Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame occupy the first four places in the Associated Press Top 25. Even if Clemson loses at Notre Dame, an ACC school for this year, on Saturday night, it’s likely that both schools will remain in the top four when the new polls come out Sunday. The Crimson Tide are off and the Buckeyes face Rutgers.
No. 5 Georgia will have a strong case if it beats No. 8 Florida on Saturday afternoon and goes to 5-1. No. 6 Cincinnati (Houston this week) and No. 7 Texas A&M (South Carolina) are favored to hold serve. No. 10 Wisconsin is in limbo because of COVID-19. No. 11 Miami (Fla.) won Friday at N.C. State to move to 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the ACC. The Hurricanes’ only loss was to Clemson. No. 12 Oregon will look to impress voters as it opens vs. Stanford.
All of those schools will make reaching the top four, or even the New Year’s Day Six, difficult for the Cougars, no matter how dominating they have looked. They just can’t match the resumes. That’s not their fault, but that’s the reality.