East Carolina was ranked 23rd in the Week 9 College Football Playoff Rankings, the first-ever playoff rankings after 17 years of the BCS system and decades of ambiguous and often outlandish national championship claims. The Pirates were the only Group of Five team in the Week 9 rankings but dropped out a week later and exactly zero of the 75 total spots in the next three rankings were occupied by Group of Five teams.
One year later, four Group of Five teams appeared in the first playoff rankings of the 2015 season and at least two Group of Five teams appeared in each of the final five rankings that year. At No. 13, undefeated (8-0) Memphis led the quartet in the Week 9 rankings and, five years later, remain the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the first rankings of any season. That will change on Tuesday when at least one G5 team will earn a top-12 spot in the first College Football Playoff Rankings of the 2020 season.
Entering this season, 60 active FBS teams have never appeared in the playoff rankings, among them BYU, who is one 50 Group of Five teams without an appearance. From 2014-19, the first six years of the playoff era, the Cougars won at least eight games three times and made six appearances in the AP top 25 over that time. Entering Tuesday’s rankings, they already have another eight-win season and 10 AP appearances this year alone. And on Tuesday, they’ll land in the playoff rankings for the first time ever.
Both BYU and Cincinnati could break Memphis’ 2015 record as the highest-ranked Group of Five team in the first rankings of the season, and Cincinnati has a chance to break UCF’s all-time G5 high of No. 8, set in the final rankings of 2018. Cincinnati defeated UCF last week to reach 8-0 for the first time since their 12-0 regular season and Sugar Bowl appearance in 2009. That year, the Bearcats finished third in the final BCS Standings and were a Texas loss to Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship away from playing Alabama in the national championship.
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, there is no realistic path to a national championship opportunity this season. Despite mediocrity across the Big 12 and Pac-12, Luke Fickell’s team needs mass chaos across ACC, Big Ten, and/or SEC to become the first Group of Five team to beat a stacked playoff deck. BYU, meanwhile, needs a level of chaos never before seen in college football or any other high level of American team sports to sniff the four-team field. Even with the blowout win of Boise State, the Cougars have the 109th-ranked strength of schedule in the FBS and the 113th-ranked remaining strength of schedule, which would’ve marginally improved had they accepted an offer from Washington to play this weekend. Instead, BYU has a bye in Week 13, while Cincinnati is a heavy favorite over Temple in Week 13 college football odds.
Despite no realistic shot at the playoff, both Cincinnati and BYU could make history as the highest-ranked Group of Five teams in the first playoff rankings of the season. And Cincinnati might break UCF’s all-time record, too.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor, a college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @adoughty88.