Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide are among four SEC teams appearing in the top nine of the initial rankings, along with No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 6 Florida and No. 9 Georgia. (Auburn, at No. 24, gives the conference five teams in the overall rankings.) Georgia is the highest-rated two-loss team despite double-digit defeats to both Alabama and Florida, while Clemson, which lost its only game to Notre Dame in two overtimes while playing without starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence, is the highest-rated one-loss team.
Although BYU appears behind three two-loss teams — Georgia, No. 11 Oklahoma and No. 13 Iowa State — Cincinnati received a more favorable initial ranking at No. 7, despite playing one fewer game than BYU. The Bearcats have league wins over SMU, Memphis, UCF, Houston, East Carolina and South Florida, and on Dec. 12 are scheduled to visit Tulsa, which debuts at No. 25 in the CFP rankings.
BYU’s original 2020 schedule featured games against six Power 5 opponents — Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, Missouri and Stanford — all of which were canceled when the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC went to league-only schedules because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As an FBS independent, BYU revised its schedule and has wins over Boise State, Houston, Navy and Troy, winning all but one of its games by 17 points or more and outscoring its opponents 428-125 for the season.
“Great motivation for our guys,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said of his team coming in at No. 14. “Love our team, love our players — I think we play a great brand of football with excitement and passion, and we have a lot of work to do and a lot to prove, obviously, in a short amount of time, and hopefully we can get that done.”
CFP selection committee chair Gary Barta, appearing on ESPN’s rankings reveal show, indicated the committee is “very impressed by BYU,” but acknowledged, “schedule compared to the teams around them came into play.”
“Zach Wilson is definitely a Heisman candidate playing at a high level,” Barta said. “They’ve beaten three or four teams above .500. But as you look at their schedule — and that’s certainly where the committee went and looked at — their best win is against Boise State. Boise was short-handed in that game.”
The Cougars have open dates both this week and next week, and have only one remaining regular-season game scheduled, Dec. 12 against San Diego State. BYU is No. 8 in both the AP and Coaches polls this week.
Sitake said BYU had an opportunity to play Washington this week, but “it just didn’t work out for whatever reason.”
He continued, “There’s this narrative out that we were hiding or ducking or waiting, and that’s just not true. It is a false narrative. I want to make sure everybody understands that we aren’t afraid of anybody. … We have two weeks left that are open, December 5th and 19th, that we’re willing to play football — and if there’s anybody that actually has availability to play those games, we would like to do it.”
Ohio State (4-0) is the Big Ten’s highest-ranked team in the CFP rankings, followed by No. 8 Northwestern, which is 5-0 and likely set to face the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game for the second time in three seasons. The Big Ten tied the SEC for most teams in the initial rankings with five (No. 12 Indiana, No. 16 Wisconsin and No. 24 Iowa also appear).
The Pac-12, the final FBS conference to kick off its 2020 season, has only two teams in the rankings: No. 15 Oregon and No. 18 USC, both of which are 3-0. Two undefeated Pac-12 teams — Washington (2-0) and Colorado (2-0) — are unranked.
The CFP selection committee is scheduled to release rankings on Dec. 1, Dec. 8 and Dec. 15 before announcing the final selections Dec. 20. Conference championship games and other contests are set for Dec. 18 and Dec. 19.
The pandemic didn’t stop the selection committee from meeting in person as usual at the Gaylord Hotel in Grapevine Texas, just outside of Dallas. And the playoff itself is scheduled to go off as scheduled with the semifinals on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl and the championship game Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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