For the segment of college football fans who blackout with anger every time Notre Dame makes the College Football Playoff, this season could not have started better. Marcus Freeman’s team came up short against Ohio State and then stumbled trying to get back up against Marshall, and there’s really no conceivable route for college football’s most notable independent to get back in the CFP.
Yet, before prematurely celebrating two bids for the SEC, down South supporters might want to keep an eye on BYU. However, that would’ve required keeping CST and EST eyes open into last Sunday morning, as it took two overtimes for the hometown team to outlast No. 9 Baylor, 26-20, in Provo.
The Bears were one of the ranked teams to falter during the second (official) weekend of college football, but the outcome wasn’t unexpected. BYU head coach Kalani Sitake is 23-4 since 2020, and his team beat all five Pac-12 teams they faced a year ago utilizing a physical brand of football that is zero fun to face.
They held the reigning Big 12 champ to less than 300 yards of offense, and got some luck by way of missed field goals and extra points to get the W, but we know how much luck factors into college football.
For example, when BYU scheduled Oregon and Notre Dame for the 2022 season, it probably thought it was setting up massive clashes with perennial powerhouses. Well, that’s not quite the case. The Ducks got embarrassed against now No. 1 Georgia to kick off the season, and we’ve already touched on the Irish.
For one more week at least, Oregon (No. 25) is ranked, and analysts won’t have to scream about a start time as they welcome BYU to Eugene in the late-afternoon window Saturday. With a victory, Sitake’s team could be sitting in the top 10 less than a month into the season, and longevity in the polls matters when it comes time to debate deserving teams.
While I doubt Notre Dame will regain a top 25 ranking before they host BYU in early October, there’s a possibility that Freeman’s squad ends up playing more like the team that hung with Ohio State than the one we saw Saturday against Marshall. Going into South Bend and earning a W needs to be looked upon favorably, and unfortunately the only thing the Cougars’ control is their play.
The current state of Oregon and Notre Dame football is a bit of bad luck for BYU’s strength of schedule argument. Neither can be complete garbage if BYU wants to sneak into the CFP. There is another hope for a statement win though, and that hinges on No. 10 Arkansas. The Hogs are dangerous with a backfield of QB K.J. Jefferson and running back Rocket Sanders, and visit Texas A&M and host Alabama prior to a mid-October trip to LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Even though the Aggies aren’t living up to their top 10 preseason ranking, neither is the Crimson Tide. It’s September, so Nick Saban could, and likely will, correct his team’s flaws. That said, he only has two weeks and as many tomato cans to ready his team for its trip to Fayetteville.
If the Cougars can knock off another top 10 team — Arkansas might even be top five if they can beat Alabama — they could run the slate as Stanford, East Carolina, and Boise State account for the toughest games in the back half of the schedule. There’s a world where an undefeated BYU team has as much right to be in the CFP as Cincinnati last year or Brian Kelly’s teams that earned a bid with “meh” resumes compared to the other entrants.
Jaren Hall is an experienced quarterback who can make plays with his legs, arm — and hands. He was on the receiving end of a touchdown pass against Baylor. The defense, hell the entire team, is full of grown men who fear no school and are gaining confidence every week.
We know BYU doesn’t have the cachet that Notre Dame does with voters and the eclectic group of “football” people that make up the CFP committee. What they do have is a good-to-great program that could crash the playoff with some luck and a lot of hard-nosed football.
So my apologies to those of you who need all power five teams in your CFP. Maybe when the fascists finish their takeover of the U.S., they’ll make their way to the NCAA.