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COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 11, 2014
COACH NICK SABAN:Â We're all excited to go to the Sugar Bowl.Â We have a great tradition at the University of Alabama with the Sugar Bowl.Â I think we've been there 14 times, and their staff, their folks, the people in New Orleans do a fantastic job.
I'd like to congratulate the other coaches that are in the playoff.Â Each and every one of their teams have done a fantastic job for them:Â Florida State, Jimbo; Mark at Oregon; and Urban at Ohio State, our opponent, which we have a tremendous amount of respect for.
Urban has done a fantastic job as a college coach wherever he's been and we've played some tough games when he was at Florida.Â We certainly have a lot of respect for the tradition and the great team that he has at Ohio State this year.Â I think this is going to be a fantastic matchup and I know a very challenging match up for our players.
I'd also like to congratulate our guys that are up for awards tonight:Â Amari Cooper for the Biletnikoff; Landon Collins the Thorpe and JK Scott, a freshman, who is up for the Ray Guy Award.
It's really, really exciting to be a part of anything that's a first.Â I just hope that because it's a first that we do the best job that we possibly can for all teams involved, all players involved, all families involved, assessing how we do this so that we can make it better for the families in the future.
I think that when I stay make it better, I think for the travel that's involved with all the families, that maybe we should do something for the family so that they have an opportunity to get to the game so that they can see the players play.Â And I think that would be something great and I think that's something that all the coaches up here really, really support.
COACH URBAN MEYER:Â A lot like Coach Saban, honored to be a part of the first College Football Playoff.Â As someone who has devoted pretty much my entire life to college football, it's an incredible honor, and for our players to be a part of history.
This is something, I remember all the conversations for many, many years about the BCS and the only true champion would be a playoff, and so to actually be here in 2014 and be a part of it, it's an honor.
Special thanks to our players.Â Incredible year.Â A year that if you would have told me back in August when I saw our starting quarterback go down that this would happen, you just never can devalue the chemistry on a team, the closeness of a team.Â And then when you deal with tragedy and other things that our team has experienced throughout the year, it was a learning experience.Â I learned more from our players maybe this year than in a long time.Â Really want to say thank you to our players.
Also congratulations to the four coaches.Â Tremendous programs.Â Playing Alabama, I know Alabama very well, a lot of respect for Coach and his team.Â I got to take a sneak peak at the video already and our players already know what they are in for.
So we have to be on point, and I think it's going to be a great opportunity to go back down to the Sugar Bowl and do the best we can to represent the Big Ten Conference and Ohio State.
Once again, just very appreciative to be here and be a part of, this be a part of college football history.
COACH MARK HELFRICH:Â To echo a lot of things that Coach Saban and Coach Meyer said, it's an absolute honor to be here, to represent our team, our program and the University of Oregon and our fans in something fresh and new, the College Football Playoff, and thanks to ESPN and everybody for putting this all together and congratulations to everybody else for being here.
Certainly what these three coaches have done in their careers is something we're shooting for and is incredibly impressive.Â As I said about Coach the other day, Coach Fisher, to win 29 games in a row; to stay focused for 29 seconds in this business is really hard for some of our players, and they have done it for 29 games and that's incredible.Â And Coach Meyer and Coach Saban have done something, if not better, very similar, which is incredible.
But it's been a great year.Â Our work is not done.Â Flipping on the film with Florida State actually gets our guys sitting up straight, and we'll be very excited to represent the Pac 12 and our university in the Rose Bowl.Â Growing up in Oregon, the granddaddy of them all, is the pinnacle of college football and we'll be fired up to represent the university.
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â Again, the same thing, very proud to be here to represent Florida State university and again to be in the inaugural playoff; is ironic that Florida State was in the original BCS game, also.Â A lot of history that has been accomplished there and very proud of that.
But also to represent the Atlantic Coast Conference, I think we have a tremendous conference and very willing which a to be able to get through that conference this year and very proud to be here to be able to represent all the schools in that.
But also to represent our players, again, like Urban has said about his players, ours are very amazing.Â Last year we had such a dominant team, and I think that people looked at our team this year in a different way because we were so dominant a year ago.Â This group is an amazing group, and very much like he said, I think our players taught me a lot this year, the things they could overcome, the things they could withstand, how they could handle pressure in certain situations.
And I think a great tip much the cap to our assistant coaches.Â I love our staff.Â I think we have a tremendous staff here and I'm very blessed to be a part of and they do a great job with our players and I think that translates into our players and why they are able to do the things they do from that standpoint.
At the same time, very excited to play Oregon.Â It's a program we've had a ton of respect for for a long time.Â They have been on the scene here and they are as good as anybody in America.Â And to play a new opponent that we have never played and to be able to go back to the Rose Bowl:Â You spend your whole life on this coast saying, I'll never get to go to the Rose Bowl; I'm in the Sugar Bowl, I'm in the Cotton Bowl, I'm in the Orange Bowl, and you never get to go to the Rose.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â And now to be able to go two years in a row, that's quite an experience, and it is a very unique experience to walk in that locker room and feel that history in that stadium; to play an opponent the caliber of Oregon.Â Like Mark says, when we turn that film on, they get our attention very quickly.Â And Mark has done a great job and to be where he's at and doing what he's doing right now is amazing.
But also, a tip of the cap to Nick and Urban, what they have done and their programs have done for such a long time; one has 14 national championships, one has won two.Â I mean, some of the best coaches in America, and we are proud to be part of this whole inaugural playoff and looking forward to the challenge.
Q.Â What's it like to prepare for the team that "doesn't lose," as they are known?
COACH MARK HELFRICH:Â Yeah, it's been incredible what they have been able to accomplish and sustain.Â A lot has been made of them being a second‑half team and all this stuff and not winning decisively.Â Winning is really hard, and again winning once is hard, and you're going to get everybody's best shot.Â Every program up here is going to get everybody's best shot trying to knock them off or the other guys.Â And to be able to come back, come back out at half‑time and say, hey, we are better than you and win is very, very impressive and it's very, very difficult.
Q.Â Last time you guys faced each other in a championship setting, the 2009 SEC Championship Game, Coach Saban, that sort of elevated your program to the national title level.Â What did that mean for your program to mean that game and then to go on and win that first national title?
COACH NICK SABAN:Â I think Florida was a dominant program at the time.Â We lost the SEC Championship Game in 2008, so this was sort of a rematch.Â They went on to win the National Championship.
I think maybe the two best teams might have been playing in the SEC Championship Game in 2009.Â We played a phenomenal game.Â Our players did a fantastic job.Â Our coaches did a fantastic job in that game.Â They went on to win the National Championship.
I think the combination of‑‑ look, I put a tremendous amount of value on winning the SEC.Â I think it was a great accomplishment for our team this year to win the SEC.Â It's a special league.Â There was a lot of good teams, and our players and our team overcame a lot to do it, and it was no different in that year.Â I think we were ranked one and two, if I'm remembering correctly in both those championship games.
So it was a playoff game in a sense and they won one and we won one.Â Both teams went on to win a championship.
Q.Â For you, that was probably not a good memory for you.Â You lost the game and you were having health issues at the time; you were frazzled.Â Just talk about coming back from that and being where you are right now.
COACH URBAN MEYER:Â Oh, I have a hard time remembering our address or phone number but I could tell you every play in those games.Â It was classic.Â 2008 was a classic game.Â We scored at the end.
But what was it, 2009, Alabama team, arguably the best team that I can remember going against or getting ready to prepare, very well balanced, very well coached.Â Very clear picture what that was like.Â I've already shared that with our team.
When you face a team like any of these four teams, you're going to see all three phases.Â You have to be on point.Â When you get to this level of competition, whether it's a punt team, whether it's a punt block or obviously offense and defense, you'd better be on it.
So great memories‑‑ not necessarily great memories, but very clear memories of those games, what we can expect on January 1.Â So look forward to it.
Q.Â This is a good problem to be celebrating your players accomplishments and the playoff berth but you're also trying to recruit and the window is closing.Â How do you juggle being here and kind of paying the tribute to your players and the event, while also recruiting and how do you manage that?
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â Very carefully (chuckles).Â Time management is a key.Â As I say, we lost a week because of being in the Championship Game, and they have taken two weeks away in recruiting.Â So it is very critical, the organization part.Â We are on a hectic schedule right now.Â It's a long, 16‑, 18‑, 20‑hour days trying to get in and out of where you have to get to because you only have that certain amount of time.
At the same time right now, the good thing about our kids, they are in exams this week.Â So we have kind of backed off the football part and we'll start back on Sunday in that part.Â But very organized, and it is a hectic schedule because tough to get to where you have to get to, and recruiting is the lifeline of all programs.
COACH MARK HELFRICH:Â Yeah, I think the biggest thing is our staff, our support staff.Â I think it's led by Jimbo's cousin, our own Jim Fisher who runs our recruiting, and our coaches that are out there right now do an incredible job.Â It's a great problem to have.Â It's a great problem to have.
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â I'll have to call him.Â (Laughter).
Q.Â Do you feel that your team was slighted a little bit when it came to the college football committee, you were a third, fourth, bouncing all over the place in your undefeated season?
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â I don't think we're slight.Â But it gets back to opinions, and you get committee and when people are involved, it is; it goes back to opinions.Â That's what it is.
I think as we push forward in the playoff, I think criteria will be greater.Â And I think we are all in a learning process right now.
The key was getting in the playoff.Â Whether you're first or fourth, it doesn't matter.Â You're going to play a great football team.Â I mean, there is no‑‑ there's no easy wins and everyone in this playoff can play, and you knew that whether you were going to be first or fourth.
Sp to me it was an honor to be in the game and as the process moves forward in the playoff and all the selections and everything, we all will continually get better I hope.
Q.Â Being a nine‑point underdog, does that serve any more motivation to your kids, knowing they are a big dog?
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â I never know if we were a nine‑point favorite or a nine‑point under ‑‑ I never pay any attention to that.
COACH MARK HELFRICH:Â 29‑point favorite.
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â Yeah, we'd be a 28‑point favorite and I'm trying to sit here figure out if we are going to win by one.Â I don't ever pay attention to that, and if that motivates you, then you're probably not the program you thought you were.
Q.Â Does it bring any solace to you knowing you have three weeks to prepare for an offense like Oregon's?
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â I'd like to have three more, but it is; you do have time because they are so diverse and they create so many problems and different looks.
The thing about that, they have three weeks to adjust and change little things on them, too.Â I think that's what makes this whole thing kind of unique in college football.Â It's different than your pro playoffs and things, you don't have that off‑time.
And in college, the team you are when you finish a season is not always the team you are when you start a playoff.Â I think being able to manage that time is very critical and one of the unique things about college football.
Q.Â As you see FSU get close wins week‑in and week‑out, how do you perceive that?Â Do you perceive FSU winning the game, or something the other team didn't do right and you would have coached differently?Â How do you perceive that?
COACH MARK HELFRICH:Â It's a combination of the other team‑‑ every team that plays any of these guys the week before, they are having their best week of preparation all year; they are having their best, most intense, dialed in, most focused week to get ready to try to knock these guys off.
That's hard.Â There's going to be‑‑ they have scholarships, they have coaches and they are going to be ready to rock, dialed in, 100 percent.Â Not that they are not, but it's that much more when you are going up against, whether it's the Heisman Trophy winner or the Coach of the Year or defending champ, which they are all those things.
They are coming out, you know, guns blazing, and so I think it shows how well they are coached, I think how confident they are, how much of just the mind‑set of winning takes over in the end.
Q.Â Being the new system with the playoff, having to be asked every week about the playoff, did it get old?
COACH NICK SABAN:Â You looking at me to go first?Â (Laughter).Â I don't really think that we‑‑ maybe I shouldn't speak for the other coaches.
But I personally, our staff, doesn't really look at the rankings of week‑in and week‑out, because I think we all realize that it's not where you are right now; it's where you end up that's most important.
So you have to keep focusing on the next game and try to do the best you can to get your players to be well prepared and to play their best and continue to improve throughout the season; so that you end up in the right place.
I think the challenge is to get the players and the people in your organization, your staff and everyone to, you know, realize that, sell that, and stay focused on the things that are going to affect their performance and not get sort of affected by the external factors like a poll, like a ranking, like a scoreboard.Â All those things sort of can change how you compete and how you play.
So I'm not speaking for everybody else, but to me, it's just another distraction that you have to sort of over come with your players to stay focused on what they need to do to play well.
COACH URBAN MEYER:Â We took a little different approach.Â We had a young team and we utilized that, lost the second game of the season, the furthest thing I ever thought we could get there this year.Â I thought as we grew up, maybe next year with a lot of guys coming back.
But as we started to play better, I would throw that nugget out there every once in a while on Sunday, because everybody watches it.Â You can't‑‑ like you said, you get tired of hearing it.Â I actually like‑‑ if we lose another game, you probably wish you would hear about it.
Our players were very well aware.Â That was the talk of college football.Â I had a very young team, and anything I could do to motivate them, they wanted to be a part of this.Â And so we would discuss it and have a quick conversation about it every week, because I know they are hearing it from home.
So if I had a much more mature team, probably take a little bit more of an approach, just don't worry about it.Â But we utilize that.Â This is college, you want to tell your children some day, you played in the first College Football Playoff, so we used that quite a bit.
COACH MARK HELFRICH:Â We didn't talk about it that much for whatever that's worth, just in terms of the direct comparison, I think it's very similar to the BCS days, and now the question was prefaced by a College Football Playoff.Â So very similar in terms of degree of distraction.
But other than Jimbo who has not lost a game, the key was getting your guys dialed back in through that next week after a loss and to have them realize the sky didn't fall, everything is okay and just get back to getting better each and every day.
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â Similar but we did acknowledge it, because as you say, it's out there.Â The kids know it; they hear it; they see it, but we didn't spend much time on it.Â Kept it for what it's worth, got the information out, processed and moved on.
Q.Â Obviously Jameis has already won the Heisman and looks like Marcus is going to win the Heisman very soon.Â What do you see in the opposing quarterback that makes him really stand out?
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â I think he's dynamic.Â One, he's a leader.Â When you see the guys following him, you see the energy it creates, you see that he is a winner.Â When they have so many different line combinations, all the things going on, he was still the constant that was there.
And he creates so many things for them, I, mean, as a player, not only when he's in the pocket making the throws or reading the quarterback zone or the runs they have designed for him; but managing the team, processing the team.Â You can tell when a guy is in total control of his offense, and he definitely is that.
The thing on top of that, when it did break down or guys were covered, he could create so many plays with his legs and then his ability to protect; make so many big plays but still protect the football at the same time, that's unbelievable.Â The way he protected the ball, and was still able to make so many big plays and still score so many touchdowns.
COACH MARK HELFRICH:Â Well, yeah, obviously it's going to come down to‑‑ in this game, a bunch of, much ado about Jameis versus Marcus or whatever, but obviously it's their program versus our program.
And Marcus, along with a bunch of other leaders, did a great job of getting a bunch of young guys either ready to play this summer that we knew that we had to count on or as Coach Fisher has alluded to, maybe getting some guys ready to go that we didn't expect would be needed.
But credit to our players forever blinking when that happened or our assistant coaches who did a great job of really putting those guys in with total confidence; not, hey, good luck, yeah, we believe in you, but total confidence in those guys and just competing.
And obviously Jameis is, again, a winner.Â Hasn't lost a game in two years.Â You can tell that absolutely when they need a play, when they need to throw, it usually involves him making something spectacular.
Q.Â You talked about Oregon jumping off the film a little bit.Â Could you talk about what it is, is it the talent or execution?Â And also, how good is this time for you guys to get healthy, especially Jameis, I know he's had the ankle.
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â The health problem, it is great.Â I think it's great for all of us.
These games, they are taxing in that, to me, the way college football‑‑ I mean, the limitation of scholarship makes everybody good.Â All these games are physical.Â And we keep adding games in college football, and these kids, they don't get to lay in a training room and work eight hours a day because they are a pro guy.Â They have got class; they have got things to get to, and I think their bodies do need a rest.Â And their young minds, I think their minds need a rest, there's no doubt, to get healthy and be able to go into this playoff and the level of ball in which you have to play.
And your first question?Â Oh, one, their athleticism.Â One, they have tremendous athleticism, tremendous speed, length but at the same time, they are coached extremely well.
Â Â Â Â Â Â They make very few mistakes.Â They don't turn the ball over.Â They keep greatest leverage on the ball on defense.Â They tackle very well.Â They give up very few big plays behind them.Â Special teams, they have tremendous‑‑ they rotate returners and it doesn't matter who is back there running it; they seem to always have breakaway speed and can create break big plays.Â They cover kicks very well.Â This is an extremely well‑coached team and a very talented team.Â I mean, it's both.
Q.Â You made a key move late in the season on the offensive line, just has sparked the running game and a lot of the offense.Â Just talk about doing that that late in the season and how tough that is for a coach, and then how have those two pieces really worked?
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â I didn't sleep well that week, I promise you that.Â But we had to do ‑‑ in center, we had some great young guys that were playing well.Â But the size of your tackles inside, and he was a young center.Â We wanted to get some more girth inside and athleticism, along with Cam.
But then you say, well, let's just move our left tackle, move him to center.Â Well, then you create a hole at tackle.Â And we had to wait till that young guy was ready to play.Â And big Rod on the tackle, Rod is 6‑7, 325 pounds, and I think is going to be a tremendous football player in the future for us and have a great career in this game.Â When he was ready, it allowed us to become a different team because of his girth and size, and he's tremendous on the edge.
But then what the athleticism it gave us at center, to be able to get that to that second level, and to be able to pull and to be able to get movement on your inside tackles, 320 pounds it creates that game.Â And Dalvin's emergence with that, we were able to create a lot more balance in our team, which I always like ‑‑ I like to throw it, but I want to have balance in the run and pass.
But being able to get Cam in there, and him to be a senior and to be able to do that that late in the year, what a selfless act that was by him, and his ability to do that, he's made a great transition.
Q.Â For your defense, how does the preparation, how is that affected when the opposing quarterback has obviously played limited amount this season?
COACH NICK SABAN:Â Well, I think that just what I've seen so far, is the style of the quarterbacks is a little bit different.
Urban has always done a really good job of utilizing what his players can do well.Â And I thought they played a fantastic game against Wisconsin, obviously scoring 59 points and they made a lot of big plays, throwing the ball down the field, utilizing their skill guys outside, which is‑‑ their speed is one of the strengths of their team in my opinion.
So I think it's going to be a little different.Â Exactly how it's going to be different, it's hard to figure out, because we only have a bit to go on with the way this particular quarterback played versus the way the last quarterback played, who was a very good runner and ran a lot of quarterback running plays.Â So I think when you go into games like, this you've got to be ready for just about anything.
Q.Â As somebody who has spent a lot of time in the SEC, a lot of talk this year about SEC bias among the media and all that.Â Do you believe there's an SEC bias and what would it mean for your program to knock off the SEC in the inaugural playoff?
COACH URBAN MEYER:Â I'm not quite sure what the SEC bias is.Â I think it's hard‑pressed to say top to bottom they are not the best league in the country.
So I don't usually normally get involved in those conversations, because we have enough issues to deal with just getting ready to go play.
I think right now ‑‑ and we were there.Â When you are at the top of the heap; and Alabama, what they have done the last five, six, seven years, they are the No.1 program in America.Â I know Jimbo is pushing it real close.
But to take a shot and swing as hard as you possibly can for a team that lost seven games, just three years ago, and coming off of a probation and some tough injuries, I think this would be‑‑ it's a very exciting time at Columbus, Ohio because our guys are competitors.Â You never know how competitive they are until you get in the grinder with them, and they are grinders and they are competitors.
Before I left, I saw them and I can see a nice look in their eye.Â They understand the challenge that's ahead of them.
What would it do as far as the SEC ‑‑ I think the question was the SEC and their bias, and what would it mean to knock them off.Â I'm not into bias and all that off.Â I think it's arguably the best program in America the last five, six, seven, eight years.Â And to go take a swing and knock them off would be a monumental achievement for a bunch of guys in Columbus, Ohio.
Q.Â When you look back at your relationship with Marcus from recruiting at St.Louis and being his quarterback coach and his first few years as head coach, what will your emotions be on Saturday night if he were to win the Heisman Trophy?
COACH MARK HELFRICH:Â I think I would obviously proud of him for him.Â There will be a lot of teammates celebrating back home that know how much they will be thanked and truly thanked by him if that were to happen.
But I think that again, the greatest thing about him is he's improved in a ton of areas while remaining one hundred percent true to who he is, which is a humble, tough, competitive worker.Â He makes us better every single day as coaches.Â He obviously makes our team better, and you know, again, like a lot of these guys, we love our players.
Everybody up here loves their team, and our whole team is better for having been around Marcus; not just a dynamic guy you see making highlights but every single day in the weight room, every single day running in the summer, all the things they does behind the scenes, community, all those things are immeasurable.
Q.Â You guys have had a couple days to let this match up marinate.Â Coach Saban and Coach Fisher, what's it like knowing these other coaches are symbolically right in between you guys and that trophy in the middle?
COACH NICK SABAN:Â I don't know that I understand exactly what the question is.Â But I think that all the teams that are represented here are fantastic teams that certainly garner a tremendous amount of respect from us and our program and our players in terms of what they were able to accomplish this year.
I know that our team overcame a tremendous amount of resilience‑‑ had a tremendous amount of resiliency this year to overcome a lot of adversity, win some tough games, come back in some games.Â Great team chemistry, great competitive character, improved as the season went on, and finished with an SEC Championship win which was huge for us.
I thought this would be a rebuilding year for our team based on what we lost, having a new quarterback, and been really proud of the way our team has responded.
I would say that if you looked at every one of these teams:Â Urban has talked about this is his third quarterback of the season, some of the injuries that they had, early season loss that we had, they had; lore gone had a loss; Jimbo has had some really tough games to come back in.
I would say that probably everybody would sort of voice the same kind of sentiment about the resiliency, the competitive character that their teams have that you have to have to get here, the consistency and performance.
I would also say that every one of these teams represented up here gets the other team's best shot about every time they go out and play, because they are sort of well respected when they play, and the other team wants to really beat them and beat us every time we play.
So there's a competitive character that your players have to understand with that, as well.Â So I think there's four great teams represented here, and it's certainly an honor and a privilege to be a part of it.Â It's a great opportunity for our players to get to play what's going to be some of the best games in college football, be a part of some of the best games in college football.
COACH JIMBO FISHER:Â Reiterate the same thing.Â To be up here and understand what it takes to get here and what each program had to overcome to get here.Â Everybody says, well, you have good players; you have this.Â But that doesn't put you up here on this platform; the resiliency of yours players and the organization and the culture which is created.
Everyone had a hard road to get here.Â It's extremely tough.Â And to be sitting up here with the caliber of coaches and players that these young men ‑‑ that these guys represent and how they coach, it is a great honor, and to be in the first college playoff.
And all of us sitting up here are not content to be here.Â We all want to win it.Â That's why we're here and that's why these programs are where they are at.
But it is a great honor.Â It's going to be a great challenge, but to me that's what college football is all about, and that's what has been created here by this playoff, and we are all looking forward to it.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports