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December 8, 2016

Nick Saban

Dabo Swinney

Urban Meyer

Chris Petersen

Grapevine, Texas

GINA LEHE: We'll go ahead and get started. Good evening. My name is Gina Lehe with the College Football Playoff, and on behalf of Bill Hancock and Michael Kelly we'd like to welcome you all to tonight's news conference. We will ask each coach to make a brief opening comment and then we will open it up for questions. We'll go ahead and begin with the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. On my far left, please welcome Urban Meyer. Coach, welcome.

URBAN MEYER: Well, thank you very much. On behalf of the Big Ten Conference and the great university I represent and our team, we're honored to be here and be back in the College Football Playoff. I was telling Chris Petersen that when I first heard about the playoff, like most of us, we were very concerned, but after being a part of it, just the reception, the people that work, the volunteers and all the time spent to put on this event is incredible, and we're honored to be a part of it, so thank you very much.

GINA LEHE: Next please welcome Dabo Swinney.

DABO SWINNEY: First of all, congratulations to these guys here. You obviously don't get to this point without having a great staff and a great team, and certainly well-represented here on this stage. So we're just honored to be back in it. You know, it was a great experience for us last year, and I'm proud of our team for having a great season this year and earning the opportunity to go compete with these other three great teams. It's good to be here, and happy for our fans and our university, and appreciative of the administration and the job that they've done to give us the opportunity to compete at the highest level.

GINA LEHE: Next we'll turn it over to the coaches competing in the Chick-Fil-a Peach Bowl. We'll start with Coach Petersen. Welcome.

CHRIS PETERSEN: Thank you. Thanks for having us. The rookie up here, so I'm just kind of eyes wide open, kind of echoing what they say and what they do. On behalf of the Pac-12 and the University of Washington, we're so thrilled to have an opportunity. Unbelievable challenge playing this great Alabama team and program. But we are so excited. Very appreciative of our administration, our players, our coaches to have an opportunity to get here. Thank you.

GINA LEHE: Next we'll welcome Nick Saban.

NICK SABAN: It's great to be back representing the University of Alabama. Very proud of our staff, our coaches, our players, all the people at our institution who make our team strong in terms of their support for our student-athletes. I'd like to congratulate the coaches up here and their players for the great season that they have, and I think this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us, all of our players, to be able to compete against the best teams in the country based on their full body of work for this season.

We're excited to be back here and excited to be a part of this again, and I know our players are looking forward to competing against a great, great University of Washington team who had a fabulous year, and Coach Petersen and his staff did a wonderful job.

Q. Nick, there was a report today from USA Today saying Houston was closing in on Lane Kiffin to be their new head coach. Have you spoken to Lane? Can you give us any update on his status?
NICK SABAN: Yeah, I've spoken to Lane, and as far as I know, I don't think anything has been decided about that officially. I'm sure that the University of Houston will make an announcement about who their coach is when they're ready to do that. We are very supportive of Lane in terms of him having an opportunity to be a head coach again after the great job that he did for us. Hopefully that or some other opportunity will work out well for him so that he gets the opportunity to be a head coach again.

Q. Nick, I just wondered if you'd talked to the quarterbacks, Cooper and David were talking about transferring. Do you know if they'll be here for the bowl game?
NICK SABAN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. They have every intention of finishing the season. I think these are situations when a younger guy won the job this year that these guys want to play someplace, and we want to -- Cooper is a graduate, so he'll be a graduate transfer, and we're very supportive of these guys. They've done a fantastic job for us, and we hope that they get a good opportunity and a chance to play someplace. But they will be with our team, and they're all anxious to finish the season with us.

Q. Coach Petersen, just wondering what you thought of Alabama's defense now that you've had a chance to watch them a little bit.
CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, I watched them a little bit, so I was coming out here today on the plane, and I know about their offense, and I know about their defense. Didn't get real excited about watching them, so I put on their special teams, and I was even more depressed showing up here today. So I think that puts it in context for you.

I mean, they're -- it's that thing. And I know you hear this all the time from coaches, it's like, yeah, they've got great players, they're well-coached, these teams that have done well. But I think you put that tape on, and they've got really good players and they don't give you anything. I mean, they're excellent. There's a reason that they're ranked how they are.

Q. For Coach Saban, do you expect Lane Kiffin to be with the team through the College Football Playoff?
NICK SABAN: We'll make that decision when we have something to make a decision about, and we'll do what's best interest for Lane, for our program, our players. But I think he'll want to finish the season with us, but I can't speak to that right now because we haven't discussed something that is a hypothetical situation to this point. And I'm not going to answer any more questions about hypothetical situations.

Q. Coach Swinney, this question applies to all of you coaches up there if you have anything to add after Coach Swinney. Deshaun is a finalist for the Heisman award again. Some people feel that had the voting taken place after the National Championship game last year, he might have won it being the only player with 4,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing. How do you feel about the timing of the voting? Do you think that will ever change and be moved until after all the games have been played, and would you advocate that?
DABO SWINNEY: I haven't really given it any thought to be honest with you. I've never really spent a lot of time worrying about when they vote on all that stuff. You know, I'm glad that he's been honored as a finalist two years in a row, and he's been the MVP of our championship game two years in a row. As far as the voting, I mean, I guess to me you would wait until the games are played. That's how we do a national champion.

But I don't really have any control over that and don't have any input in it and don't expect to have any input. That's about the extent of it.

NICK SABAN: I don't have any input, either, but after playing him last year, I'm voting for him, but I don't have a vote. I think he's a fantastic competitor and a great player and played a fantastic game against us. I don't get to see him all that much during the season, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guy. He did a fabulous job.

Q. This is for the three coaches that have been here before. Can you talk about this experience, Coach Saban, I know this is your third time, and for these two down here it's your second. Can you talk about the experience and what you learned from all the times you come and now as you try to get your teams ready for this run for a National Championship?
URBAN MEYER: When I first started studying the playoff, I thought maybe we'd split our staff and start having guys work on different teams, and then you find out with recruiting and with all the stuff going on Christmas holiday that you have just all hands on deck for the one game. I was very concerned about the parents getting their -- or the families being able to go visit the games, and I'm glad to see after the Sugar Bowl a couple years ago that the NCAA acted quickly and made that decision. That's the right thing to do.

I still think we could do more for the players' families because you start putting a conference championship, bowl game, or the semi playoff and then the final game, and you're talking about $15,000 at times, and that's just -- I know the assistant athletic director's kids are going to go for free, so I always say, what about our players' families. But I'm glad to see that worked out and we're very grateful, I know our families are, to get out to Phoenix this time.

I thought once again, the way Mr. Hancock and the entire crew, the way they did their business, the way we were treated was over the top. I was very skeptical to begin with, but it was a great experience for all involved.

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, same here. Really kind of coming into it somewhat blind last year, but it was a great experience. We really just put everything that we had into the game we were playing, to be honest with you. I mean, just like we do every week. It was a great experience at the Orange Bowl. Our guys were able to somewhat enjoy the bowl experience, and I thought the CFP folks, Bill Hancock and Michael Kelly and them, did a great job with the structure of it. We had great preparation, and the new thing to me was you win the game. So that was a lot of added thought for myself in trying to map out a good plan as far as how we get ready, how we transition, the logistics, all the stuff that goes with -- most time you go to a bowl game you win the game, you feel good about your season and you move on. Now you're loading up and coming back and getting ready for the National Championship, and we were starting school, so there was just a lot to manage, and we had not been through those waters.

But I think that it was a great experience, really not anything I would change. We learned a lot, and we had great preparation. We lost to a great football team, and I thought once we got to the National Championship site, it was really just like a little bit of a longer away game, and it was very businesslike and very well structured. I think a great experience for our guys, and I'm glad that we're getting an opportunity to go compete again.

NICK SABAN: I personally think that all the people who work to put this playoff on have done a phenomenal job of hosting the teams. Last year in Dallas, the year before the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl a year ago, these people did a phenomenal job of having the respect of not only being at a bowl game but also the respect of these guys are playing a playoff game. And it was a little different approach, and I think it was a good approach, and we appreciated it. I think each year we've learned a little bit more about how much do you need to practice, how much time do you have to give your players off, what do you do on the turnaround if you happen to win the first game and get a chance to play in the next one. Some of those things we managed well, some we've not managed so well. I think every time we do it, we learn a little more, and hopefully we'll do it a little better each time.

Q. Coach Petersen, you've helped turn Washington around. You've pulled off some big upsets in your career, but how are you going to embrace the underdog role going into the game with Alabama?
CHRIS PETERSEN: You know, like we do any game really. We're just going to study tape, like Coach Saban is saying, try to figure out the best way to practice our guys with a combination of getting better but also getting them fresh and healed up and ready to play a really big game. I mean, I think that's one of the things that I think coaches have different philosophies on in terms of this time that we have, so much time between when you play, some guys like to practice a whole bunch, some don't, and I don't know what the right answer is, but I think we're always trying to tinker with that and figure out what the best thing for our players is.

Q. This is for the two coaches in the Chick-Fil-a Peach Bowl. Coach Petersen, I guess it's made for Alabama for this to be an advantage for them to play in Atlanta. Do you see that as a disadvantage for your team coming so far from home? And Coach Saban, your record in the Georgia Dome is just incredible; what do you like about playing in Atlanta?
NICK SABAN: Well, first of all, we certainly appreciate the hospitality that we get when we come to Atlanta. I don't think that any of the success that we've had in the past is going to have any effect on the next game that we have here in Atlanta because -- and I don't really think that there's any advantage or disadvantage. It's a neutral-site game for both of us. I think the field when we played there against Florida was 53 yards wide and 100 yards deep, so I think it'll be that way for both teams. They're both very good teams with a lot of good players. It's going to be who can execute the best and play the best with the most consistency, and none of those other things are really going to have a lot to do with the outcome of the game other than what the players do when they play.

CHRIS PETERSEN: Yeah, I think it'll be -- playing inside is going to be loud any way you cut it, but it's something we've dealt with all year long. I think most of the venues that all of us play in get really loud, and you practice with that all the time. Yeah, it'll be a challenge. I think it always is. I think the big challenge is not getting too emotional about the whole situation and keeping emotions in check and not letting the pageantry and the emotional part of the game get too big, and that's easier said than done. But it's something that we work on all the time.

Q. Coach Saban, what is unique about the University of Washington's quarterback Jake Browning?
NICK SABAN: Well, I went to California yesterday, so I got to watch Washington all the way out and all the way back. I was very, very impressed with their offense in terms of how they execute, the balance that they have and their ability to run the ball with some very good backs, some very talented receivers. But a quarterback who really understands his offense very well, executes it very well, gets the ball out of his hand quickly, knows when to throw the RPOs and when to hand the ball off and can make plays down the field, as well, and is athletic enough to scramble, extend plays and make plays with his feet. This is probably as good an all-around player at that position that we've played against all year long.

Q. Urban, I've got to ask you about what's going on in our neck of the woods. What kind of coach did you get from Iowa State, and what kind of coach did you send to Houston, and what kind of person does Texas have at the controls?
URBAN MEYER: I imagine you're talking about Tom Herman, right? A great person, a great family man, a guy that understands football, very smart. Came into a tough situation of we asked him to learn our offense and help coordinate it, and he did a wonderful job. I think he matured and was really ready to take on his own program. I'm glad he went to Houston because of all the great players, and he was looking at some other jobs previous to that, and I kept discouraging him because it's all about can you go get good players in your program.

I think he's ready for the task. I know he's always felt very strongly about the University of Texas, having been there with Mack Brown years ago, and obviously everybody has great respect for that school.

Q. Urban, what do you remember about the Orange Bowl with Clemson a couple years ago, and are you surprised at all by the success they've had since?
URBAN MEYER: No. Clemson and Alabama, we see them all the time. We know their players because we recruit against each other constantly. I know Clemson very well, and it was, I think, 48-35. We had a hard time stopping them. They had Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd and very good players on defense, too. No, not surprised at all, plus I think Dabo -- he's a great friend, but he's also an excellent coach, one of the top coaches in the profession.

Q. Coach Meyer, how difficult was it for you, the process of actually waiting to find out whether you guys were going to get in, considering you guys didn't get a chance to play in your actual Conference Championship?
URBAN MEYER: That was a good question. That was hard. Like most everyone else, I just listened to the people who thought they knew, and I didn't find out. I had a grandson born at 5:30 in the morning, and I watched it from the maternity ward and watched Ohio State pop up on the screen, so it was a great day. That was a day you put in the win column. It was a good day.

Q. This is for both Coach Petersen and Coach Saban. First off, what have you heard about the bowl experience here in Atlanta with the Peach Bowl? And also, Coach Saban, the fact that you don't have to travel as far, does it change up your preparation in terms of when you leave, when everything else comes into place?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I don't know a bunch about the Peach Bowl, but I do know Gary Stokan and we've been out here before, and I know the tremendous job they do with their bowl games. So we're thrilled about that. A little bit different for us, just in terms of with the time change. You know, as coaches you're trying to make sure your guys are as much in the routine as they possibly can be, so we'll get out here with enough time to adjust and get the cobwebs out, and so the next day we can be focused and really get into a normal week practice.

NICK SABAN: We haven't played in the Peach Bowl but we've played in several Kickoff Classics here. We've been associated with Gary for a long time. His organization and his people do a fabulous job in every way of being very gracious in the way they host you and very thoughtful in the way they sort of carry on their event and understand the competitive nature that everyone is sort of going through. We've always had a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for the way they've done things here.

I don't really know much relative to the distance being a factor. Maybe a little bit easier for our fans, maybe a little easier for our parents to get to this game, so from that standpoint, it is a little more convenient, and that's probably a blessing for us.

Q. This question is for the Fiesta Bowl coaches. How have you guys both prepared for each other's quarterbacks, and what are you going to do differently on your defense?
URBAN MEYER: Well, our offenses are somewhat similar, so we play with tempo. We have some run-pass options, and the difference is obviously the athlete, and very rarely do you find a guy that's that big and athletic and can throw, so we're still trying to figure that out. The first part of our practices are always just fundamentally based and then we move into game planning, which will take place next week, so we'll have those conversations this weekend, who will play Deshaun, and then as difficult as those three receivers are to defend, as well. But those are all discussions we'll have this weekend.

DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, same here. We are similar in a lot of ways. They're a tempo team, a lot of shifts and motions built into what they do, and they're going to run their quarterback, similar to us, as well. But it's not just those guys. I mean, they're surrounded by a great cast. You know, two really good football teams, and we've got great respect for Ohio State. I watch them whenever I get the opportunity just like these guys just now, playing time, getting the opportunity to start studying them a little bit. But this is an outstanding quarterback team led by two great quarterbacks, certainly. But a lot of weapons around them. It's going to be a tough challenge.

Q. Nick, you said you watched tape there and back from California. Overall impressions, first initial impressions of Ross and Pettis, and what does having two receivers like that do to a defense that can basically do a little bit of everything?
NICK SABAN: I think when you have skill players, good runners, good receivers, good quarterback, and some pretty fair tight ends that they have, they have a lot of options and a lot of weapons on offense, and I think they're very well-coached, and they do a lot of things to utilize those weapons, and I think that's always a real challenge when a team has that kind of balance and all those weapons.

I think this is by far probably the most explosive, most balanced offensive team that we've played all year long.

Q. Coach Petersen, all the other coaches up here have already been in the playoff before, so for you, it's a bit of a disadvantage. Have you reached out to any coaches who have been in this previously, and what are the plans to approach this game knowing that you possibly have a quick turnaround for another game?
CHRIS PETERSEN: I have not. I'm going to talk to all three of them after this meeting right here and see if they'll tell me anything.

I mean, we have good time to prepare, and it just comes down to preparation. That's all you can do as a coach is get your guys to watch as much tape for our coaches to put together the best plan we can, to get our guys rested up and ready to compete and go and play another football game, you know, against the best in the country is really what it is. That's our plan, unless these guys will give me something that they're holding out on.

Q. This is for all four of you. Considering the increase in summer camps and some of the upsets we've seen the last few years, have you noticed the talent gap in college football between smaller schools and bigger schools kind of narrowing recently?
URBAN MEYER: You know, I hate to answer something without giving a lot of thought. The talent gap between --

Q. Between smaller schools and bigger power --
URBAN MEYER: Smaller Division I?

Q. Yes.
URBAN MEYER: I'd like to pass on that. I haven't really studied -- I'm just worried about our own team and who we play, so I really haven't -- I hate to act ignorant, but I'm really very ignorant on that. I haven't watched a lot of football other than our games, and championship weekend I did watch some football games, but that was all not small schools, so I can't answer that question.

DABO SWINNEY: I would say that you'd better show up ready to play every week. Watch college football, you see 1-AA teams beating Division I teams. I think the way recruiting is now, so many guys committed so early, we all miss out on a lot of great seniors. Guys still develop. I can't tell you how many great seniors that I've seen over the years because of where recruiting is now, they end up at some of these other schools that were certainly good enough for Clemson or Alabama or whoever. So you'd better come ready.

Now, they may not have the depth, but they're going to run 11 out there that can beat you, and so I think, again, that's what makes our game so great. To say that it's closer, I don't know where it was 20 years ago. I'd have no idea how to measure that. But I just know you'd better show up every week because everybody has got good players. I think it's a product of the scholarships and the recruiting cycle and the timing of it and how it's changed. You're seeing some great kids at some of these programs. You can look at the NFL and look at where some of these guys are getting drafted from. That's the biggest thing. That's why you'd better treat every opponent with great respect, because if you don't, you get beat. All you've got to do is be better that day.

CHRIS PETERSEN: I would say exactly what Dabo just said.

Q. Have the increase in camps helped that over the last few years?
NICK SABAN: How does the increase of camps help? I mean, I think players get lots of exposure. I think it's great that players get opportunities in camps, but we all have an opportunity to see these players, and I think they all get evaluated. I think one of the critical things is what Dabo said, and this is one of the reasons I hate to see us change the recruiting calendar, have early signing date, because there are a lot of players -- football is a developmental game, so a guy can be a totally different player when he's a senior than he is when he's a sophomore or junior relative to his development. So when we have to all make decisions early on about physical ability, character, intelligence, academics, all these things, it makes it more difficult so you can make more mistakes in recruiting because you don't see a guy that's more mature physically, emotionally, academically in every way that we try to evaluate players. I think the fact that some of these guys have really good senior years, and we've already sort of passed them up, is one of the reasons that some of these other schools get very good players.

But I also think there's an expectation that is very difficult for players to manage. You know, when you go in a game and you're favored, everybody loves the underdog. The underdog has tremendous motivation. Our team was not the underdog one time all year this year. The expectation is always tremendous for -- whether you're going to win this game and by how many points and all that kind of stuff. It really takes a very mature competitor and a very mature team to be able to play to a standard and not be affected by these external factors and expectations, and that's one of the things that I was really pleased with our team this year, was able to do that for 13 games. I do think we were affected a little bit before the Florida game by external factors, people running around saying you don't have to win this game. We're playing in the SEC Championship game, you don't need to win this game and you still get in a playoff. I've never played in a game I didn't want to win. I've never played in game that wasn't important to win. But I do think that we were affected a little bit by our approach and preparation in that game by that, and hopefully we won't have to deal with that any time soon.

GINA LEHE: We thank you all for your time this evening.

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