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Here are BYU's odds of going 12-0. The bigger question is whether 12-0 would mean Playoff.

The chances are remote, but the fact that an unbeaten BYU would quite possibly make the Playoff speaks volumes about independence.

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Something written during the season can be outdated the moment the world sees it. Players get hurt, teams hit rough patches, bucking-the-odds upsets happen. If you're swimming around in the moment, you are guaranteed to end up writing about topics that make people laugh a couple of weeks later.

Case in point: this "Mississippi, the center of the college football universe" piece from last October. Ole Miss and Mississippi State were the two hottest teams in the country and were tied for third in the AP Poll. The Rebels had just taken down No. 3 Alabama, and MSU had just walloped No. 6 Texas A&M. The former had the nastiest defense in the land; the latter had a Heisman candidate at quarterback.

This was the biggest story in college football that week. And the two teams went 9-7 the rest of the way.

This is a long way of saying AP No. 19 BYU probably isn't going to the Playoff. The simple raising of this question might seem silly after Saturday's game at UCLA. But there's a purpose to the question that goes beyond 2015.

The Cougars have beaten two pretty good teams with last-minute touchdowns, and "win every game via Hail Mary" isn't an approach that pays off long-term. Plus, the biggest obstacle against an undefeated run pops up this Saturday.

Still, Bronco Mendenhall's squad has cleared two of the larger hurdles on what is a pretty challenging schedule. And on the off chance that they clear two more in the coming weeks, BYU-as-contender will become a legitimate story line. And that tells us a lot about the Cougars' progress as an independent.

Using S&P+ win probabilities, let's look at the Cougars' odds right now of going 12-0. And then let's look at whether a 12-0 BYU would even make the field of four.

The Cougars vs. the Playoff

Can they go 12-0?

BYU has played in two tossup games and won both. The Cougars were given a 41 percent chance of beating Nebraska, lost starting quarterback Taysom Hill, and won. They were given a 40 percent chance of beating Boise State at home, fell behind, then surged. There was only a 16 percent chance they would make it to 2-0, and here they are.

So what's left?

Team Opponent Proj. margin Win probability Potential record
1 BYU Nebraska

2 BYU Boise State

-16.8 16.5% 2-1
4 BYU at Michigan
-6.2 35.9% 2-2
5 BYU Connecticut
21.8 89.6% 3-2
6 BYU East Carolina
12.3 76.2% 4-2
7 BYU Cincinnati
6.9 65.4% 5-2
8 BYU Wagner
33.9 97.5% 6-2
10 BYU at San Jose State
11.1 73.9% 7-2
11 BYU Missouri (neutral site)
-6.9 34.5% 7-3
12 BYU Fresno State
20.0 87.7% 8-3
13 BYU at Utah State
2.3 55.3% 9-3

Given these win probabilities, there's only about a 0.3 percent chance of the Cougars reaching 12-0. But looking at how the schedule takes shape, you can see how this might change.

Beat a UCLA with a freshman quarterback (albeit an awesome one), and that rises to 1.9 percent. Beat a Michigan still finding its way, and it rises to 5.3. Win out in a four-game October home stand, and you're at 12.4 percent. Beat a Missouri with a good defense and no offensive punch, and you're at 48 percent, and the season-ending trip to Utah State will feature another opponent without many offensive threats.

Would they make the Playoff?

The Cougars almost certainly aren't finishing 12-0, but that was only part of the reason for bringing up the topic. They are in an ongoing battle for legitimacy, and that battle has begun to seem more winnable over the last year.

First, scheduling bigger games got easier. With other schools worried about their schedules being strong enough for Playoff status, BYU's phone started ringing.

How much has the Playoff changed perception? An SEC athletic director in late November, before the bracket:

'The league's decision [not to count BYU as a power opponent; the decision was since changed] didn't make a lot of sense to some of us. When you consider how difficult it's becoming to find quality home-and-home series as other conferences go to a nine-game schedule, I would've thought BYU would be a great partner. As it stands, it's hard to see a team with an eight-game SEC schedule and a requirement to play one other Power 5 team also put a tough game against the Cougars on.'

And that same AD in February:

'I think we'd consider it now, if we could make the dates work for getting our minimum home games in and handle the Power 5 issue. Still a very tough road game, but impressive if you win.'

Suddenly, BYU's schedules are nearly Playoff-caliber. This year's road slate features Nebraska, Michigan, UCLA, Missouri (in Kansas City), and Utah State and visits from mid-major powers Boise State, ECU, and Cincinnati. Look at the numbers, and those games match up well with the conference slates of many Power 5 teams.

Next year's schedule is impressive as well. Home: UCLA, Mississippi State, Utah State, and Arkansas-killer Toledo. Road: Arizona, Utah, Michigan State, Boise State, Cincinnati.

It's about the same for 2017. Home: Utah, Wisconsin, Boise State. Road: LSU (in Houston), Utah State, Mississippi State, East Carolina.

It is an ongoing question. Is this independence thing working out? And really, answering this just means asking whether or not a 12-0 Cougar team would make the Playoff. If yes, then the Cougars need not think about joining a conference.

For this year and the coming seasons, I'm beginning to think the answer is yes. BYU's strength of schedule still won't be at the level of a team in the SEC West or Pac-12 South, but a 12-0 squad this year would boast wins over a potential top-10 UCLA and up to four top-25 squads. That would do the trick.

It's probably not going to happen, but the fact that it could tells us independence is working out. Sure, there would still be reasons to say yes if the Big 12 were to call with an invitation, but it isn't a requirement.

As I put it in this year's BYU preview, "I think this independence thing is going to work. Now the Cougars need to keep winning their share of these big games." So far, so good. Now if only the Cougars would cut out the dirty crap so we could actually root for them to become bracket busters ...


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