BYU Cougars Need a Ton of Help to Make College Football Playoff

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ESPN college football analyst Danny Kanell joined the SVP & Russillo show on Tuesday afternoon and commented on what bothers him about the polls, Alabama’s quarterback situation, and how the BYU Cougars are a sleeper team to make the College Football Playoff.

Wait, what? BYU?

“I’m big on BYU, they’re going to run the table,” said Kanell on the 3-0 Cougars. “I want them to run the table just so it throws a wrench into the College Football Playoff so we can push for eight teams. That’s my motive and my agenda behind it, but they’re a good team.”

OK—that makes more sense. Kanell wants eight teams in the College Football Playoff, and I would imagine that most of the United States population would agree with him in that aspect. But he also mentions that BYU is a “good” team, and good teams simply don’t make it to the top four.

That’s not taking a shot at BYU, because I also believe it can run through the rest of its remaining schedule and finish 12-0 as an Independent. The Cougars have already made it clear that they’re capable of doing so with three solid wins; beating Connecticut and Texas by a combined 59 points shouldn’t go unnoticed, and holding off a scrappy Houston squad hungry for a win was encouraging.

It helps that BYU has a dark horse Heisman candidate starting under center in junior Taysom Hill, whose dual-threat abilities already have him as a top-15 rusher nationally—the second-most for a quarterback—with 356 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.

“I need to take care of my responsibilities on and off the field and make sure the teammates around me are doing the same thing,” said Hill, who also made an appearance on the SVP & Russello show Tuesday. “Ultimately, those things are out of our control—whether we have an opportunity to make four-team playoff. But we need to win week to week and that’s the thing we can control and what we need to manage.”

Unfortunately, the schedule isn’t something Hill, his teammates, or coach Bronco Mendenhall can control, either—because the quality isn’t College Football Playoff caliber.

According to ESPN.com’s Football Power Index, BYU has a 21.6 percent chance to win out and finish the regular season undefeated—the highest of any FBS team—which is nearly three percent higher than the No. 2, Oklahoma. It should also be noted that although it has almost a one-in-four chance of getting through the season unscathed, BYU’s projected win-loss record 10.6-1.4. In comparison, fellow Independent Notre Dame is looking at 8.9-3.1.

However, the Cougars also have the No. 72-ranked remaining strength of schedule, and in a new era with a human selection committee, the eye test will become all the more vital.

There are a lot of things that need to happen in order for BYU to somehow slip into the playoff.

Virginia needs to win the ACC Coastal; Utah State, Nevada, and Boise State all need to vie for the Mountain West, and Central Florida has to bounce back from an 0-2 start and win The American.

Middle Tennessee has to beat Memphis this weekend and then Marshall in a few weeks, and Cal needs to make a bowl game.

UConn needs to keep improving and reach the six-win plateau; Charlie Strong needs to get Texas playing like Texas, and Houston needs to be the Houston that BYU saw in Week 3 for the rest of the 2014 campaign.

It also wouldn’t hurt if Savannah State stopped getting beat by 80, too. (And while we’re here, it really isn’t a good thing that Savannah State and UNLV are on the schedule in November—the most important month of the season.)

Oh, and probably the most important necessity of them all if BYU wants a shot at making the first College Football Playoff: it needs to win every single game.

Despite the percentages, that might be more challenging than it looks on paper. BYU’s remaining opponents are a combined 13-12 on the year (and are 6-1 against the FCS), but there are some “not-so-fast” matchups awaiting the Cougars.

This conversation could be void by Saturday night. It’s in Provo, which helps tremendously considering how far it is from Charlottesville to Utah, but Virginia has had a quiet, yet strong start to the season. The Cavaliers nearly upset then-No. 7 UCLA in the opener and did beat then-No. 21 Louisville last week.

Kanell gave Virginia some love on the radio show, saying that it’s “better than anyone is giving [it] credit for,” and that BYU has “a really tough test” this weekend.

That’s not the most daunting task that remains on BYU’s schedule, however. The Cougars have to take a trip to Orlando and see a UCF defense that, if finally has found its moxy, can be one of the best in the nation.

BYU also has a road trip to Boise State, and a late-November visit to California. (If Cal is playing at a bowl-caliber level and needs a win to make the postseason, then seeing an 11-0 BYU team could get interesting.) And I’ll never discount a Chuckie Keeton-led Utah State squad, albeit I’ve yet to see the real Keeton in 2014.

Another significant factor that plays into whether BYU can reach the playoff is that it started the season unranked, and is currently ranked No. 21 through the first three weeks. That’s going to have to be quite the climb, and I’m not so sure the schedule will allow the Cougars to enter the conversation.

What BYU needs is complete and utter chaos within the top 10—a repeat of the 2007 season, where six of the top 10 teams had two losses, and seemingly no one wanted to be crowned national champion. But even then, Kansas’ 11-1 record was only good enough for a No. 8 ranking by Week 15.

It’s a total longshot (and frankly, just very unlikely), but there’s an incredibly slim chance BYU can make the College Football Playoff this season. All odds are against its favor, but college football is weird and magical and this is the kind of thing—a chance—is what makes this sport so wonderful.

That said, BYU needs to worry about one thing and one thing only: winning. (And for its sake, winning big.)