New Year’s Six: BYU beat Utah football head-to-head, so why are the Cougars ranked behind the Utes?

BYU will face UAB in the Independence Bowl, while Utah prepares for Ohio State and the Rose Bowl

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake meet at midfield as BYU defeats Utah 26-17 in football action between the Utah Utes and the Brigham Young Cougars at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

As the final College Football Playoff rankings and New Year’s Six bowl pairings were revealed on Sunday afternoon, two questions arose. Why was No. 13 BYU left outside the top 12 of the final rankings, and why did the Utes finish ahead of the Cougars at No. 11?

The BYU football team finished its regular season 10-2 against an independent schedule. Of those 10 wins, five came against Pac-12 teams, including a 26-17 decision over the University of Utah in Provo on Sept. 11.

Nevertheless, BYU finished No. 13 in the final CFP rankings, behind Utah and No. 12 Pitt.


“The two teams that are ahead of them both won conference championships over the weekend, Utah and Pittsburgh,” CFP selection chair and Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Sunday afternoon on a Zoom call with reporters. “Utah did lose head-to-head early in the season to BYU, but Utah went through a quarterback change when (Cam) Rising came in, and since him being added to their lineup, Utah has gone on to win nine of ten.

“In that stretch, in the last three weeks, they have not only beaten a good Oregon team, but beaten them soundly.”

Utah won its first Pac-12 title on Friday night, defeating Oregon, 38-10, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. That marked the Utes’ second win over the Ducks across 13 days. In the first meeting on Nov. 20, a 38-7 decision at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Oregon was ranked No. 3. On Friday, the Ducks were No. 10, meaning Utah had two top-10 wins in three weeks to close the regular season.

Behind Heisman Trophy candidate Kenny Pickett, Pitt won its first ACC title in its ninth season as a member thanks to a 45-21 rout of Wake Forest at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

BYU’s lone win over a team ranked in the final College Football Playoff rankings was that Sept. 11 win over the Utes. Its two losses were Oct. 9 in Provo to a Boise State team that finished 7-5 and the following week at Baylor, which won the Big 12 championship on Saturday, finished No. 7 in the CFP rankings, and will face No. 8 Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.

Now the Utes are headed to Pasadena to take on Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

BYU will face UAB in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. on Dec. 18.

“It’s that combination of things that placed Utah ahead of BYU and also Pittsburgh ahead of BYU, but again, the committee thinks very highly of the season that BYU had,” Barta said.