PROVO — BYU, ranked in the top 10 by both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches poll for over a month, fell out of the top 10 in the first rankings that determine postseason bids.
The Cougars were ranked No. 14 nationally in the initial release from the College Football Playoff committee Tuesday evening, as announced by ESPN.
The Cougars have been ranked since their first game of the season, a 55-3 rout of Navy seen by most reporters and observers on ESPN on Labor Day. They entered at No. 21 nationally in the Associated Press Top 25, and rose steadily most weeks, entering the top-10 Oct. 2 after Week 9 and rising to their highest ranking since 2009 with their current No. 8 standing by November.
But the CFP rankings are a different beast. Instead of a nationwide ballot of sports reporters and writers, the College Football Playoff committee selects its own top 25 based on the opinion of people meeting over two days in a hotel conference room in Texas, and a value of metrics that includes conference championships and strength of schedule — which Jeff Sagarin's ratings project at No. 112 nationally for the Cougars after athletic director Tom Holmoe rebuilt BYU's schedule on the fly.
To that regard, BYU considered scheduling Washington when the Huskies' annual Apple Cup rivalry game was shut down as a result of COVID-19 and contact tracing within the Washington State program. But the move was never guaranteed, and within 72 hours, the Huskies were the presumed opponent this weekend for Utah, whose game with Arizona State was canceled Tuesday night.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake wants to make it perfectly clearly, though: The Cougars were not "ducking" the Huskies. They even went so far as to hold practice Monday, despite a number of players who had plans to leave town for the Thanksgiving holiday.
"When we told them there was a possible game, we had a lot of people cancel plans with hopes it would happen," Sitake said. "When it didn't, our team was very disappointed. But the narrative that we were ducking or hiding or waiting for an announcement to happen is clearly not true. It's a false narrative.
"If it was up to our players, this game would've been scheduled and played as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Zach Wilson and the players don't schedule games."
The initial rankings were not without its detractors or surprise moments.
"I'm still blown away we've got BYU down at No. 14, and Indiana at 12," said ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit, who called the Cougars' opener against Navy. "BYU's AD better get on the phone with Seattle and get as many games as it can."
AP voters and a panel of coaches compiled by USA Today are not the CFP committee, which not only determines the four-team playoff
"The AP poll generally has treated these teams, not drastically better, but usually about two places better," AP college football reporter Ralph Russo told BYUtv on Tuesday morning. "Traditionally again, it also has taken these teams — being non-Power Five teams — a little while to build up some momentum. And they haven't started very well.
"The Coaches Poll and the AP poll have generally been more open-minded to giving non-Power Five teams the benefit of the doubt. And what I've seen traditionally from the committee is that they need a little while to warm up to these teams.
"I'm not saying that's right, but that's what they've shown."
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, who chairs the CFP selection committee, said that while members of the committee have been impressed by the Cougars — who are the only 9-0 team in the country — the low ranking comes down to scheduling.
"The committee is very impressed with BYU. Zach Wilson is definitely a Heisman candidate playing at a high level," Barta told ESPN. "But as you look at their schedule, with the best win against Boise State that was short handed in that game. The committee is very impressed with BYU, but certainly (the Cougars') schedule compared to the teams around them came into play."
Immediately following the broadcast, Barta further explained his decision on a conference call with reporters. Comparing the Cougars to Cincinnati, he said the Bearcats' 4-0 record over .500 teams was a larger data point than the Cougars' overall strength of schedule.
He also compared the two in total offense and defense, noting that the Bearcats rank in the top-20 in both key metrics. The Bearcats are ranked No. 3 in scoring defense and No. 13 in scoring offense, while the Cougars are No. 6 in scoring defense and No. 9 in scoring offense.
"To start with, when you look at the schedule, right now BYU's best win is over Boise State and in that game, they got down to their third-string quarterback," Barta added.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake was less than impressed with that ideal, as well.
"We know how hard it is to win with your third-string quarterback. We did it last year," Sitake said. "I just know that we have a team that is really deep.
"We've never been full-strength, but we don't cry about it, either. We just go on and play."
Alabama was ranked No. 1 for the 19th week in the seven-year history of the CFP. The Tide were followed by Notre Dame, Clemson, Ohio State, Florida and Texas A&M, while Cincinnati became the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the committee's initial rankings in seven years at No. 7.