Why 2020 was BYU's Year to Make the Playoff
They said no Group of 5 Team could do it, BYU aimed to prove otherwise.
Since the inception of the College Football Playoff in 2014, many have wondered, is it ever possible for a non-Power 5 school to make the Playoff? 2017 UCF being the poster-child of scorned Group of 5 contenders, having beaten an Auburn team that previously defeated both National Championship participants (Alabama & Georgia). Detractors point to the relative ease of UCF's schedule as the reason for their exclusion. "If 2016 Houston had won out they could have made it" is usually the lip-service given to the Group of 5 schools who complain to the powers that be. What made that 2016 Houston team different though? A fantastic schedule with quality non-conference opponents. Let's compare 2016 Houston vs 2017 UCF vs 2020 BYU and explain why BYU had the best opportunity of any of these teams (prior to covid).
#15 UH vs #3 Oklahoma. W 33-23, A win over Baker Mayfield and Co. propelled Houston into the Playoff Conversation as a legitimate contender
#6 UH vs Lamar. W 42-0, FCS victories don't count for much towards playoff
#6 UH @ Cincinnati. W 40-16, solid conference victory over a down Cincy team
#6 UH @ Texas State. W 64-3, blowout of a lowly FBS team
#6 UH vs UConn. W 42-14, another bad opponent but still 5-0 with a win over Oklahoma
#6 UH @ Navy. L 40-46, an upset by eventual division champ Navy wasn't enough to end all playoff hopes but it did damage the Cougars confidence
#13 UH vs Tulsa. W 31-24, American West runners up fell to the Cougs
#11 UH @ SMU. L 16-38, this was an inexcusable loss to a bad Mustangs team. 2 losses made UH a virtual non-factor in the playoff race
UH vs UCF. W 31-24, bounce back win over year 1 Scott Frost rebuild
UH vs Tulane. W 30-18, Cougars dominated Tulane the entire game
UH vs #3 Louisville. W 36-10, after a post-Oklahoma let down, Houston trounced a Louisville team poised for the playoffs
#18 UH @ Memphis. L 44-48, the success couldn't be sustained after the Louisville win
UH vs San Diego State. L 10-34, from contending for a playoff spot to getting crushed in the Las Vegas Bowl. Houston had given the Power 5 elites exactly what they wanted, a team they claim COULD have made the playoff if only they had won out. The conference strength was down in 2016 but two out of conference wins over top 5 teams could have been enough to sneak in undefeated.
UCF vs FIU. W 61-17, an electrifying performance out of the gate crushing a bowl winning FIU team
UCF vs Georgia Tech. Canceled due to Hurricane Irma
UCF @ Maryland. W 38-10, a major victory over a Big 10 team put UCF on the radar
UCF vs Memphis. W 40-13, a victory over undefeated Memphis put UCF at the front of the American
#25 UCF @ Cincinnati. W 51-23, the Knights high scoring offense propelled them into the top 25
#22 UCF vs ECU. W 63-21, a weak schedule was made up for by margins of victory
#20 UCF @ Navy. W 31-21, perennial darkhorse Navy put up a good fight
#18 UCF vs Austin Peay. W 73-33, UCF could have put up 100 points in this game
#15 UCF @ SMU. W 31-24, a much improved Mustangs team proved the toughest challenge yet
#14 UCF vs UConn. W 49-24, the Knights continued to sweep the competition and rise in the polls
#14 UCF @ Temple. W 45-19, continued dominance over bowl teams
#13 UCF vs #22 USF. W 49-42, a spectacular shootout over a ranked Bulls team proved legitimacy
#12 UCF vs #16 Memphis. W 62-55 2OT, another crazy game against a great Tigers team should have been enough to put UCF in the playoff conversation after sitting at 12-0
#10 UCF vs #7 Auburn. W 34-27, in arguably the most shocking game of the year, UCF pulled off the improbably and stunned Auburn. UCF claimed the national title considering they had defeated Auburn by a larger margin of victory than Clemson had, AND Auburn had beaten both Alabama & Georgia, the title game participants.
BYU @ #22 Utah
BYU vs Michigan State
BYU @ Arizona State
BYU @ #19 Minnesota
BYU vs Utah State
BYU vs Missouri
BYU vs Houston
BYU @ Northern Illinois
BYU @ Boise State
BYU vs San Diego State
BYU vs North Alabama
BYU @ Stanford
What we immediately notice is that for a Group of 5 school, BYU is basically playing a Power 5 slate of games (6 Power vs 5 Group & 1 FCS). If there were EVER a Group of 5 schedule that would qualify as strong enough to make the playoff, this is it. Three road trips to Power 5 schools in the first four weeks with another at home is rather daunting considering two are top 25 teams with Arizona State sitting just outside at #29. Further down the schedule is a visit from an SEC team and an always strong Houston outfit, the premier MAC program, #28 Boise State, perennial bowl team SDSU, and of course PAC 12 powerhouse Stanford. What more could the Playoff Committee ask for?
Through two games BYU is outscoring opponents 103-10, including a 55-3 blowout of a Navy team coming off an 11-2 campaign in 2019. How good is BYU? We may never know. Even though they are currently ranked #18, BYU's playoff worthy schedule has gone down the tubes. Houston and North Alabama remain the only original games still scheduled to play as Louisiana Tech, UTSA, Texas State, and Western Kentucky have been substituted instead, hardly a playoff resume. Even the game against #22 Army scheduled for last week had to be canceled for covid related reason, dashing chances of a victory over a ranked team. Much like Cinderella teams San Diego State or Dayton in this year's March Madness that may never replicate the same level of success, BYU may never have this golden opportunity again. It is tragic that such a talented team may never have its true potential realized so our speculation remains that 2020 was the year for a Group of 5 Playoff break through in the BYU Cougars.