COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 3, 2017
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome. In a moment we will bring College Football Playoff Selection Committee Chair Kirby Hocutt and Bill Hancock forward. Kirby will make brief opening remarks and then we will turn it over to questions.
At this time please welcome Kirby Hocutt and Bill Hancock.
KIRBY HOCUTT: Thank you. Good afternoon.
After a late night last night and a detailed, thorough review this morning, the committee, as you know, ranked Clemson as the No. 1 team in the nation. We ranked Oklahoma No. 2, Georgia No. 3. Obviously the big question the Committee faced was whether the No. 4 spot would go to Alabama or to Ohio State. Let me walk you through it.
First and foremost, the Committee is guided by our protocol. The protocol is the rules of the road. It's the instructions we're obligated to follow. It's how the commissioners established the College Football Playoff from the start.
Our protocol states that our job is to, and I quote, 'select the four best teams from among several with legitimate claims to participate.'
The Committee viewed Alabama and Ohio State as teams with legitimate claims to participate.
We are also instructed that we have the, and I quote again, 'flexibility and discretion to select a non-champion or independent under circumstances where that particular non-champion or independent is unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country.'
The Committee views Alabama as a non-champion that is unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country, and that's why they are in.
Here is why the Committee ranked Alabama at No. 4.
Alabama has one loss, and it was on the road to now No. 7 Auburn.
Ohio State has two losses, one by 15 points at home to Oklahoma, and the other more damaging by 31 points at unranked Iowa.
Alabama is superior in just about every statistical category that we think are important. For example, they are No. 1 or No. 2 in every key defensive category.
As part of our process, we considered the case for Ohio State. They won a conference championship while Alabama did not. Ohio State played three teams in our top 10 and beat two of them, No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 9 Penn State. They also beat No. 16 Michigan State.
The Committee discussed both teams in depth and detail. We challenged ourselves and played the devil's advocate to make sure we thought through this from every direction. We know how important it is to get it right, and that's what we did.
The Committee's conclusion that Alabama is the fourth best team in the nation was widespread and strong. It was unequivocal. It was informative, for instance, to hear the coaches' point of view about how and why they believed Alabama is a better team than Ohio State. It's why the Committee weighted the factors I mentioned earlier, and why we view Alabama as the No. 4 team in the nation.
The Committee also determined the pairings for the Cotton, Fiesta and Peach Bowls. The pairings are based on what we view are the best matchups of the highest ranked teams while also taking into account fan friendly travel accommodations to the greatest extent possible.
The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on December the 29th will feature No. 8 Southern California against No. 5 Ohio State. No. 11 Washington and No. 9 Penn State will play on December 30th in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. On New Year's Day, No. 12 Central Florida and No. 7 Auburn will square off in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
UCF is the highest ranked group of five teams to make the Playoffs in our four years.
The Orange Bowl also announced its matchup. It will included No. 10 Miami versus No. 6 Wisconsin on December 30th.
It's been an exciting year. I want to thank the Selection Committee for their hard work and dedication. The members give their time and expertise to the Playoff, and they do so to a person because of their love for college football and their desire to give something back. I'm grateful.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions this afternoon.
THE MODERATOR: We will now open it up for questions.
Q. Kirby, we heard a lot for the first three years of the Playoffs about quality wins, top 25 wins. Are we now factoring in damaging losses as part of what the Committee will be looking at with what happened this weekend?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, I would answer that by saying it all matters. The quality wins, as it seems to begin with our first couple of rankings above teams with winning records. Then that transitions to quality wins being defined in our conversations as wins against teams ranked in the CFP top 25.
Wins matter, losses matter. How you play in the wins matter, how you play in the losses matter. In this account, where you're doing a detailed discussion, taking a deeper dive on what separates teams, I would tell you all of it matters.
Q. I guess the tenor of your first few press conferences about Oklahoma's ranking was that the Sooners didn't play very good defense. You had some concerns about OU's defense. Were those concerns kind of allayed over the past few weeks? Did they play better defense? Were you guys just that impressed by their offense? Is that how you reconciled that?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, our discussions in our room each and every week, you look at the complete football team. We weigh how a team's performing on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side of the ball and the special teams. You look for that complete team. You look for that perfect team.
All of us know in college football, that perfect team is never going to exist because we're trying to rank an inconsistent product week to week.
We talked a lot about, as a Selection Committee, Oklahoma's offensive power, one of the most impressive offenses in the country. They're scoring a lot of points. At the same time defensively they haven't performed statistically as strong as they have on the offensive side of the ball. But the thing that Oklahoma has done is built an impressive body of work with a 12-1 record.
In the last couple of games, last few games, they've made progress, strides in the eyes of the Selection Committee on the defensive side of the ball, are very deserving to be ranked No. 2 in the final ranking of this year's College Football Playoff selection.
Q. Can you as best you can take us inside the room last night after the conference championship games and paint a picture of what the conversation, the atmosphere, the mood and the debates were like? Especially compared with years past, is it the most difficult?
KIRBY HOCUTT: It seems every year is a little unique and different. I would say last night we were watching the games and ready to get to work. The turf issue happened in the Big Ten game. We watched the young man out there on the turf working hard to get it fixed so we could finish watching that game and get into our meeting room.
We walked into that meeting room I think knowing that we had a big task in front of us. We had a very important conversation to have for that top four ranking.
I would say the first three teams, being Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia, were strong support and widespread agreement those were the top three teams. As I said earlier, it came down to that fourth slot.
We went into the room and we'd already established on Saturday -- actually, we established on Friday afternoon when we came together that there was a good chance that we were going to extend the recusal policy, as we did last year, for those individuals that were recused when we were talking about their teams or any possible matchups that may occur. We recused Dan Radakovich, Gene Smith and Frank Beamer from the conversation.
What happened next was a deep dive into that No. 4 spot. Before I looked up, Bill had nudged me and said, We've been talking about this for over an hour already.
It was great conversation. I left last night, as I do every Tuesday, feeling very proud to be a part of this Selection Committee because it was so important to us to get this right.
Our charge is to rank the four very best teams. We were fortunate that we have that flexibility and discretion given to the Selection Committee, given to the 13 of us, by the commissioners to have that discretion when there's a non-champion or independent involved, to select the four best teams in college football.
I would say it was a serious conversation. It was a detailed debate and discussion. Pretty quickly we established that Alabama, for the reasons that we stated earlier, was in that 4 spot.
We came back this morning at 7:30, revisited that same conversation for probably over an hour easily this morning. Took a break, came back, talked about it again. We were confident that we had the fourth team identified for this year's final ranking.
Q. Kirby, how comfortable are you guys with the fact that, unlike Ohio State last year, who was No. 2 in the second-to-last ranking, you move Alabama from outside the top four to inside the top four by not playing a game? In other words, at least it seems to set the perception that others were penalized for playing on Saturday. Was that a concern in the room at all? How do you feel about that as a possible precedent that you're now setting two years in a row?
KIRBY HOCUTT: I would say that conference champions are important. It's a great achievement for those teams. The last time the Selection Committee is going to have to watch them play to strengthen their rÃ©sumÃ© with that championship trophy, that's important.
When you look at the history of the College Football Playoff, 14 of our 16 teams that have participated have been conference champions. So obviously we see significant value there.
In this particular case, as we looked at Alabama's full body of work over the course of the season, we favored that body of work over Ohio State.
When you go back and you look at the weekly rankings that we do, we start with a clean sheet of paper each and every week. We were consistent, now that we had the full body of work in front of us each and every week, we had said that Alabama was the better football team than Ohio State each and every week.
We watched and we saw Ohio State strengthen their rÃ©sumÃ© this week with a win over Wisconsin, with a Big Ten championship, but it wasn't enough in the eyes of the Selection Committee to overtake Alabama for that fourth and final spot.
Q. TCU, moving down the chart a little bit, they come into the day ranked No. 11 in your ranking. They play a fairly similar game to how they played Oklahoma earlier in the year. Just by them losing and Stanford losing, Stanford jumps them. What is the rationale behind that?
KIRBY HOCUTT: When you look at a Stanford team that finished No. 13 in our rankings, the quality win over Notre Dame is something that stood out on Stanford's rÃ©sumÃ©. Stanford had won eight of their last nine games going into the Pac-12 championship. They had the impressive win over Washington on their rÃ©sumÃ©.
We talked about TCU. TCU was a team that, even through the first half of Saturday's Big 12 championship game, I was sitting beside Tyrone Willingham. Obviously I'd seen TCU play in person. I commented, and Tyrone agreed, how impressive TCU is on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the red zone. Their team speed on the defensive side of the ball is something that we talked about in our Selection Committee room.
Two of TCU's three losses are to the same team, obviously No. 2 ranked Oklahoma. But it was that loss to unranked Iowa State that positioned TCU just two spots below Stanford in our final rankings.
Q. You mentioned the Notre Dame game. You mentioned the loss to Iowa State. Both were true heading into the last ranking. Why was TCU in that case ranked ahead of Stanford?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, I think we had total body of work. We had the final season in front of us. We had every chance to watch these teams that we could have. We watched Stanford and Southern California play Friday night in a very competitive Pac-12 championship game.
The way that Stanford performed the last stretch of this season, the second half of this season, again winning eight of their last nine games before going into the Pac-12 championship game, I would say it was watching Stanford compete toe-to-toe in a very competitive game with the Pac-12 champion Southern California, a Southern California team with only two losses that played extremely well the second half of their season once they started getting healthy. They faced a lot of injuries the beginning of the year, into the middle sections of their season, especially in their loss against Notre Dame and Washington State.
I would say it's more how Stanford made a positive impression down the stretch, more than anything, that gave them the final No. 13 ranking over TCU at the 15 spot.
Q. Kirby, you knew obviously a time would come that two teams from the same conference would make it into the Playoff. I know your job is to select the four best teams regardless. Does that come up in the room kind of knowing the impact that will have in that two conferences will be sitting home during the Playoff?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, it's not talked about in our room. Actually, we remind ourselves at the beginning of every meeting each and every week, and we did so Friday when we came together, we did so last night after the Big Ten championship game, and I started the meeting again this morning with us being very focused and reminded about our focus and our charge from the commissioners: that is the four best teams.
Of course, we all know at the end of the day what the narrative is going to be based on the identification of those four very best teams because we're all in this profession, this is our livelihood, we're very familiar with it. Does that impact our discussion in that room? I can tell you very straightforward, no.
We're very adamant, we're very focused. We remind ourselves on a consistent basis what our charge is. As I read earlier, it is to find the four very best teams in college football, regardless of conference affiliation.
Q. Kirby, the only way to ask this is kind of straight up. Basically from watching the press conference today on ESPN, it does appear that the Committee, you had decided that if it came down to Alabama and Ohio State, it was going to be Alabama all along. Am I seeing that incorrectly?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Respectfully, I would say yes, you are seeing that incorrectly. Up until approximately 11:00, 11:15 last night central time, it had not been discussed. We did not have the Big Ten champion in front of us. We didn't have the final body of work for those teams, being Alabama and Ohio State, to compare side-by-side in that comparison for that last spot.
To say that our minds were made up prior to going into our discussion last night after the Big Ten championship game would not be correct.
Q. Ohio State has I think three wins over top CFP teams this year from a rÃ©sumÃ© standpoint. Obviously the ugly loss at Iowa. I think you said basically, from what you could tell, y'all couldn't get past that ugly loss at Iowa. Is that the gist of it?
KIRBY HOCUTT: You're exactly right. I said teams 5 through 9 were close. I would continue to say it's close, but it's not close enough in the opinion of the Selection Committee to go to the protocol for the four metrics that we are instructed to go to.
So close, yes. Close enough to require us to go to our protocol, not there.
Q. Kirby, for the first two years of the Playoff, it was nothing but conference champions. Now each of the last two years we've seen a non-champion in there. Has the Committee's view of the importance of a conference championship at all changed or evolved over the four years?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Yeah, I don't think so. I think, again, we want to identify the four very best teams. I said conference championships are important. They're important for these young men that play this game. They're important for the coaches and the fans. But it is one piece of a total body of work that we as a Selection Committee have in our evaluation.
Conference championship, important. Is it a deciding factor in our rankings? No. It's a piece of information that we have for our discussions in determining our top 25 rankings and ultimately the four top teams.
Q. Kirby, shifting to the New Year's games. Did you set the matchups and then decide the rotations, especially the Cotton and Fiesta Bowl, did you decide USC and Ohio State would be playing each other, then Washington, Penn State, that's where they would go? How do you go about that, if so?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Actually we were notified by the Orange Bowl for their particular matchup, so the Orange Bowl selected Wisconsin and Miami for their bowl game matchup.
Then the Selection Committee, we looked at the other three games that we had. We try to look at it from a matchup perspective as well as a geographic consideration that ought to be in front of us. We also look at recent history, recent destinations that a particular team may have frequented.
Honestly, this came together, these New Year's Day bowl assignments and locations, pretty quickly. The Auburn-Central Florida matchup seemed to be a natural for the Peach Bowl. Then with Ohio State having been to Phoenix a couple of times in recent history, the 5-8 matchup, Ohio State-Southern California, made sense to bring here to Dallas for the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. That left a very attractive matchup for No. 9 Penn State, No. 11 Washington.
An assignment that was our responsibility today, honestly those matchups came together and seemed quite obvious a lot quicker than what I thought they might have when we began the conversation.
Q. Kirby, just to confirm the obvious, you're watching the game last night. If Wisconsin had scored on its final drive and won by one point, assuming that the Badgers were in for sure, that's the first part. Secondly, how much does precedent factor in, specifically not wanting to set the precedent of a team suffering a blowout loss getting into the Playoff moving forward?
KIRBY HOCUTT: The first part of your question, you know, speculation about what may have transpired last night with a different outcome, I don't want to go there with my own opinion because I'm not the sole voice. I'm speaking on behalf of 12 others. I cannot do that because we did not have that conversation.
The second piece would be the precedent that was set by this year's decisions. I would say there's no college football seasons that are ever identical. Next year's Selection Committee will make the best decisions that they can. I have so much confidence in the process that they will follow, confidence they'll get it right, as we did this year.
Q. Kirby, I realize that you can't know how a football season is going to unfold. But you have two ADs on the Committee from powerhouse football programs, another coach who has a family member employed in college football. It seems like a problem in the system when you have to recuse nearly 25% of your Committee for the most difficult decision. Would you agree that is a problem? It's already a small Committee, then we go from 13 people making this decision down to 10. That seems like a problem.
KIRBY HOCUTT: Respectfully, I don't see that as a problem. I think that keeps the process pure. I think it keeps it above reproach and question when it comes to character and integrity.
I might look to Bill Hancock to talk about the recusal process and his thoughts related to it.
BILL HANCOCK: It keeps the process above reproach. These are high integrity people. It's a high integrity process. But keep the reproach in mind.
When we started this, we modeled the recusal policy in many ways after NCAA sports committees which have the same policy. Ours is a little more stringent because we recuse family members where they don't in the NCAA.
But we're all very comfortable with the recusal policy. And the 10 people who are in the room to make the decisions, we're all 10 college football experts, also people of high integrity, who put in the time and effort necessary to get the right teams.
Q. What is the message that you would say to your fellow athletic directors out there regarding scheduling when it comes to the College Football Playoff? You look at Alabama, some of the teams they've played, fans are saying, Wait a minute, Vanderbilt, Tennessee. Who did they really beat? Who were their best wins against? How do you answer the schedule question?
KIRBY HOCUTT: I would answer it related to the College Football Playoff, wanting to be one of the top four teams, I would say play a competitive schedule and win those games. At the same time my colleagues know that each of our football programs is at a little different point in their building process. They've got to make the best decisions they know better related to their football team and where they're at as a program.
In the eyes of the Selection Committee, I would say play a good schedule and win those games. Those high-quality non-conference matchups are valued in the eyes of the Selection Committee.
Q. Kirby, you look at UCF. Obviously they go through, win all their games, have multiple wins over ranked opponents. Do you think you're sending a message to the group of five that it's virtually impossible for them to make the Playoffs regardless of what they do?
KIRBY HOCUTT: I would not send that message. I think anything's possible. I would look at Central Florida with a highly successful season this year, undefeated. Those young men, coaches, are going to have a great experience in the Peach Bowl against a good Auburn team.
Again, I think it relates back to the question just asked. It's those non-conference scheduling opportunities. Play a strong non-conference schedule, win those games, and you will position yourselves in the best light in the Selection Committee's eyes.
I said all along that the thing that was holding Central Florida back, so to speak, was they had not been as challenged with their non-conference schedule, and their schedule overall, as teams right above them and right below them.
Again, in that particular case, I would say schedule competitive games, win those games, and that will be looked at in favor by the Selection Committee.
Q. How did the Committee view the Alabama win over Florida State, a team at the time ranked No. 3 in the country, a key injury in that game? Did they value it more than just the win over a .500 team?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Good question. We talked a lot about that. We talked about that as recently as this morning.
I would say it was very subjective based around our table. Some looked at it in different ways than the others. Some looked at it as a victory over a 6-6 team. Others looked at it as a quality win against a very talented and athletic team when they were at full strength.
Actually, one of the coaches in the room this morning spoke to that win against a Florida State team with their starting quarterback being a quality win. So I would say it was probably viewed a little differently around our table based upon the circumstances of what happened to Florida State losing their quarterback in the second half of that game and how they performed the remaining portion of the year.
Q. Last Tuesday you said there was very little to separate No. 5 from No. 8. Ohio State added to their rÃ©sumÃ©, Alabama was idle. Today on TV you said it obviously was not that close. How could Ohio State win the Big Ten over an undefeated team and yet it becomes more of a separation, apparently?
KIRBY HOCUTT: That question came up a few minutes ago. What I said then was I did, in fact, say teams 5 through 9 last week were close.
I would say the difference between No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Ohio State today is close but not close enough in the determination of the Selection Committee to trigger our protocol where then we are instructed to go look at the four metrics that the conference commissioners have given to us.
Close but not close enough in the eyes of the Selection Committee for Ohio State to overtake No. 4 Alabama in this week's final ranking.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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