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November 28, 2017

Kirby Hocutt

Grapevine, Texas

GINA LEHE: Welcome to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee teleconference. Joining us tonight is Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, along with Kirby Hocutt, College Football Playoff Selection Committee chair.

KIRBY HOCUTT: Good evening. We have finished our second-to-last rankings, and I look forward to answering your questions.

Clemson is the No. 1 ranked team in the nation. The committee continues to be impressed with how balanced the Tigers are on both sides of the ball and how that has translated into an impressive season-long body of work. Auburn with two wins over three weeks against teams that were No. 1 at the time is ranked No. 2. Oklahoma with three wins over ranked teams is No. 3. And ranked No. 4 is undefeated Wisconsin.

We had a good discussion up and down the rankings this week, and I appreciate the time and effort the committee members make to get this right. They take their work seriously and work hard at it.

I'm happy to answer your questions.

Q. How big is the gap between Alabama and Ohio State?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Reflecting on the discussions over the last two days, obviously there's three spots that separate them right there, but it's close separation from team No. 5, Alabama; 6, Georgia; 7, Miami; 8, Ohio State. Those teams are close. Very little separation in the committee's eyes between teams 5 through 8.

Q. How hung up is the committee on Ohio State's loss to Iowa?
KIRBY HOCUTT: It's a factor. You know, two decisive losses sit on their resume: The Iowa loss that you mentioned, also the loss to No. 3 Oklahoma. That's obviously something that's on their resume and the committee references when we talk about Ohio State.

Q. We've talked about Clemson and their loss at Syracuse without their quarterback for a good part of that game. I had an opposite reference on that. TCU went out to play you guys in Lubbock without their quarterback and were very impressive, won easily 27-3. Do you give a team extra credit when they play without their quarterback and still come through and win in the same manner that you sort of don't fully hold it against a team when they lose without their quarterback?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, obviously the Selection Committee is aware of it. Do they receive extra credit? I would say no. The Selection Committee is aware of it. We evaluate it as part of their resume. We evaluate that particular game and their performance, but you know, to win with a backup at the position of quarterback, that does not factor in to additional credit in the Selection Committee's discussion.

Q. I know the Conference Championships matter in your evaluation. Is there a way to characterize how big it would be for Ohio State to win the Big Ten, beating the No. 4 team in the process?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, obviously it would be an impressive win that Ohio State would add to their body of work. It would also be an important designation to have on their resume when comparing them to any comparable team. That being said, that's probably as far as I would feel comfortable going in just trying to speculate what may or may not happen this coming weekend. But obviously a Conference Championship being added to the resume is important when being compared to comparable teams.

Q. I was curious when you break down the rankings from No. 8 through No. 11, you have four two-loss teams there from Ohio State, Penn State, Southern California and TCU, TCU coming in at 11th. What was the discussion like comparing those four teams, and what were the factors that led TCU to being No. 11?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, really just discussion on each of those teams, 8 through 11. You know, who the Selection Committee believes is the better football team at this point with 12 data points in front of us, their regular season body of work completed, obviously three of those four have an additional opportunity this weekend to strengthen their resume in the eyes of the Selection Committee.

You know, Penn State has a quality resume, their two losses on the road by a total of four points. Southern California is a team that's struggled with a significant number of injuries through the season. As they got healthy the second half of the season, they played better and were really impressive to the Selection Committee.

TCU, we've been impressed with TCU, especially on the defensive side of the ball all year. The Selection Committee has talked at length about how impressed we've been with them on the defensive side of the ball in the red zone especially. We've talked about TCU's team speed being a strength of theirs.

Again, very challenging discussion and conversation, but at the end of the day, the Selection Committee believes that we got the sequencing of teams correct between 8 and 11 this week.

Q. Can you reiterate just in general how you guys do Conference Championships heading into next weekend, the important role that those play as you kind of weigh the final standings?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Yeah, well, you know, the Selection Committee looks forward to championship weekend. We look forward to some great match-ups this week like everybody will. We look forward to watching these games. You know, this is a special weekend because it's the one time a year that the Selection Committee watches these games together in person.

As far as how important it is to become a conference champion, through our protocol which was created by the commissioners, they gave the Selection Committee great flexibility, great flexibility to rank these teams as we deem appropriate. That being said, when we're looking at comparable teams, the commissioners through our protocol has instructed us to look at four criteria: Conference champions being one, strength of schedule being another, head to head match-ups, if they occurred, being the third, and then outcomes against common opponents being the fourth metric there.

That being said, obviously when we're comparing like teams, that Conference Championship designation is very important. To what degree, how that will be weighted is subjective with each individual in that Selection Committee room. So when comparing comparable teams, like teams, that Conference Championship designation is important.

Q. When you look at the Auburn team over the last couple of weeks and the wins they've had, how close are they in the committee's eyes with Auburn, and is the head-to-head win ultimately the deciding factor between 1 and 2 if they were to both win out?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, you know, I would say with Clemson at the No. 1 spot this week, the Selection Committee is really impressed with their resume, and I would say the victory over Auburn is definitely a highlight there. Other quality wins against Louisville, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, South Carolina, but that win over Auburn is significant. The Selection Committee believes that Clemson is one of the most balanced teams that we've seen this year. They've especially been impressive on the defensive side of the ball.

When we talked about Auburn over the course of the last two days, Auburn is a team that's played well all year, impressive win over Mississippi State and then obviously two of the last three weeks over the No. 1 ranked team at the time. Auburn is a physical team. They're balanced, getting solid play from the quarterback position at this point in time in the season. You know, the two losses, obviously the loss to a ranked LSU team but then a head-to-head loss to Clemson. So to answer your question, I think directly, yes, that head-to-head victory for Clemson over Auburn is important in the eyes of the Selection Committee.

Q. I was wondering if you could explain the rationale in including Fresno State this week, a three-loss team, as you've mentioned with Group of Five teams before, lacking the strength of schedule, and the metrics look staggering down in the 90s.
KIRBY HOCUTT: Yeah. You know, the Selection Committee has had Fresno State in front of us the past few weeks. We've been following their season as it's gotten closer to the end of the season. You know, two of their three losses are to top-13 teams in the country. When you look at week 2, they played Alabama; in week 3 they played Washington. Fresno State has played a challenging schedule, and the Selection Committee acknowledges that.

And then last weekend with the quality win over Boise State, a Boise State team that was ranked in our top 25 last year. It's a team that we've talked about in the room over the course of the past few weeks and a team that with their quality win over Boise State who was ranked at the time we believe deserved this No. 25th spot this week.

Q. Now that they're in there, did they come up when you were talking about -- earlier in the rankings when you were discussing where to rank Alabama? That's not one of their top-25 wins.
KIRBY HOCUTT: Yeah. You know, as we look at quality wins at this point in the Selection Committee room, we do find ourselves talking about wins against top-25 teams. You know, Alabama obviously with solid wins over LSU and Mississippi State. When we designate on a particular resume a quality win by a top-25 ranking, obviously Alabama benefits from that 25th ranking for Fresno State.

Was that discussed in the Selection Committee room as we were looking at teams 22 through 25? No, but after we finished our ranking, obviously that gave Alabama another victory against a top-25 opponent.

Q. What was the discussion like concerning UCF coming off that big win over USF on Friday? I wanted to know what the discussion was between the members on moving them up a spot.
KIRBY HOCUTT: You know, we talked a lot about their win over South Florida. I think everybody in the room, if they didn't catch it live, they watched it on the condensed version that the CFP staff provides to us. It was an exciting game, a lot of discussion and comment about how impressed we continue to be with Central Florida on the offensive side of the ball. Boy, they are extremely talented at the skill positions. We spent considerable time talking about their defensive performance. The Selection Committee had questions as to are they as balanced of a team as some others that are ranked just above them, and we analyzed their schedule, have they really been tested on the defensive side of the ball this year, and if so, by who, and based on that conversation, we ranked them in that 14th spot this week. So a team that continues to impress the Selection Committee, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and we look forward to watching them again this coming weekend.

Q. I know that Gene Smith has to leave the room whenever Ohio State is a discussion point, but in a situation or in a world where Ohio State is likely going to be compared directly to other teams, how do you guys handle it when you're talking about the team that Ohio State is being directly compared to because he could have an impact on Ohio State even when he's not talking about Ohio State if you follow what I'm saying.
KIRBY HOCUTT: Yeah, well, first I would say that obviously you're familiar with our recusal policy so that any time that Ohio State is on the board for ranking, Gene is out of the room. You know, Gene can be in the room and involved in discussion when it comes to other teams that are not Ohio State. We do have flexibility to extend our recusal policy, and we did that last year. We did that with Dan Radakovich and Clemson, and not only did Dan not participate in votes pertaining to Clemson last year, Dan did not participate in votes that could affect who Clemson's opponent could possibly be. And we would extend that same approach this year that could impact Dan again, obviously Gene, and then obviously Coach Beamer is recused when we're voting pertaining to Georgia. We'll be consistent with how we handle that, and the precedent was set last year by extending the recusal policy that we have, and we'll follow that same extension to the recusal policy this year.

Q. When it comes to Alabama specifically, it obviously doesn't have as many quality wins as Ohio State has and could have at the end of the road. Can you give me more insight on what eye test means, and can a team get into the Final Four when that's maybe their No. 1 thing that you guys are looking at in terms of how impressive they've looked against some of the bad teams they've played?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, you know, again, Oklahoma has built a solid resume. When you win 11 football games, you're a very good team. Again, I think as you referenced, what makes this Selection Committee different than any process in the past has been we're watching these games, and we've seen an Alabama team this year that's played great defense through some challenging injuries. I think at one point in the season, their top four linebackers were out. But they continued to play solid defense.

Offensively we've seen the talent that they have at the quarterback position, how that young man has had another exceptional season this year.

So Alabama is a very good football team. That's obvious by their No. 5 ranking this year, and we'll continue to evaluate the 12 opportunities that we've had to watch them and how they've performed each week on the field.

Q. Just to follow up on some of the two-loss teams from earlier, could you explain what does the committee see as the primary difference between, say, two-loss USC at No. 10 and Ohio State at No. 8?
KIRBY HOCUTT: So specifically what has the committee seen different between Southern Cal --

Q. The two resumes between those two particular two-loss teams.
KIRBY HOCUTT: You know, Ohio State, the Selection Committee has continued to be impressed. They've put together a solid resume. The win over Penn State, the win over Michigan State, the way that Ohio State has played and executed these last three weeks have been very impressive. You know, I commented earlier about the two losses that are on their resume that the Selection Committee has not lost sight of.

When we look at a Southern California team, it's a team that has had significant injuries over the course of the year. You know, two losses to ranked teams. We looked at Southern California as a team as they have gotten healthier has played better and better, but there again, the loss to Notre Dame in the convincing manner that happened and the three-point loss at Washington State. So again, very difficult, very challenging for the Selection Committee in the sequencing of teams 8 through 11 this week. But as we looked at what we've seen on the film, how these teams have played week in and week out, the Selection Committee believes Ohio State is a little better football team after 12 games than Southern California.

Q. Does the Selection Committee think Alabama and Ohio State are comparable enough that they would need to use those tiebreakers, strength of schedule and Conference Championship?
KIRBY HOCUTT: I will be prepared and able to answer that question next Sunday. You know, we'll need to have the conference champion designation and metric in front of us to answer that question. This week obviously the Selection Committee thought Alabama was the better football team. If that should change, if Ohio State wins a Conference Championship, I don't know how the Selection Committee would make that decision until it happens, and I'll be prepared to answer it next Sunday for sure.

Q. This year is the year of the three-year rotation with what the playoff games are, the year you guys have the most freedom in picking the New Year's Six bowls because three of them are completely at-large. What are the factors you guys will look at this weekend when you set those match-ups?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, obviously you're correct in that when it comes to the New Year's Day assignments for those bowl games, obviously we will look at match-ups. We do not want a rematch to occur from the regular season. We'll look at destination, location, as it relates to the higher-ranked teams that are there for our review, and we will put together the most attractive match-ups for college football fans.

Those principles will guide our discussion and our decision making next Sunday afternoon after the semifinals are announced and we have a chance to make those assignments.

Q. You said no rematches from this year; what about past years, like a Penn State-USC rematch or something like that?
KIRBY HOCUTT: That necessarily won't factor in. If there was a rematch from last year, we may try to discuss it, but I wouldn't say that we would not -- that we would automatically steer away from a rematch that may have occurred in the last few years. We would not want a rematch from this regular season.

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