ESPN held a media conference call with college football analysts Mark Brown and Brian Griese on Wednesday, Oct. 29. The college football National Championship winners — Brown as head coach of Texas in 2005 and Griese as a quarterback at Michigan in 1997 –touched on a variety of topics, including the first College Football Playoff rankings, Oklahoma and Michigan. A transcript of the conference call follows:
Each provided their thoughts on the first College Football Playoff rankings:
Mack Brown: I thought, No. 1, it was very exciting for the first time that we’ve released the playoff committee poll and it was fun for everybody, more fun than just the normal poll that would come out. I thought even more exciting than the BCS polls. It was about what I thought through the top 11. All of those teams I had in there and Ohio State was lower than I thought. Arizona was a little bit lower, Arizona State. There are some really good teams that are one‑loss teams. Utah is playing great. But I think that what we’ll see is the only poll that matters is on December 7. And when you start looking at all the teams that these other teams play, like Auburn and Ole Miss this weekend, it’s nearly like we’re in elimination, the playoffs start Thursday night at Louisville, and it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on a one‑loss team not to have two because we’re not sure whether the committee will consider two‑loss teams or not if there are a lot of one‑loss ones. There’s such a competitive balance right now in football that it’s a real tough task for the committee to try to separate all the one‑loss teams here in the end.
Griese: I thought it was very exciting. When we boil all of this down, I think probably the most important thing to come out of last night was that this committee got one rep, and one to get together and to go through this process for the group dynamic and the personalities in the room as they naturally will begin to come out, and that group dynamic and how they are going to coalesce and make decisions. That process has now initiated.
I think we are beginning to get a little bit more information as to what the premium will be for each individual as they look at what are the best teams in college football and where would they put the premium versus head-to-head, strength of schedule, eye test, all those things and there were a couple of surprising things. Ole Miss being in the top four coming off a fresh loss was surprising to me. It gives you a little bit of a read on how this committee will treat those strength of schedule versus head-to-head and the importance of head-to-head with them still being ahead of Alabama. So very interesting there.
The Notre Dame and Florida State discrepancy of the second‑ranked Florida State and 10th‑ranked Notre Dame. I think as this season continues to go along, people are going to have a hard time distinguishing eight spots between those two teams with the way that that game played out. So that was very interesting to me. And then again, at the end I think how will these committee members treat the AP rankings versus their own rankings, and despite what everybody says, and I’m not being influenced by those rankings, I think it’s just human nature. So a lot of interesting things, but at the end of the day, I think the most important thing is they just have one rep at it.
Q.) Your thoughts on the possible two‑team situation from the Southeastern Conference getting into the playoffs. Do you think that’s a likelihood or is that something that still is up in the air?
Brown: I think it’s up in the air, but I do not think that it is a likelihood, because those teams in the SEC are very good, and they play each other. When you start looking at Mississippi State’s still got Alabama and Ole Miss. Auburn has still got Ole Miss, Alabama, A M and Georgia. Ole Miss has got Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State. Alabama’s got at LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.
If a team wins out from the SEC that’s in the top six right now, I don’t think there’s any question they’ll be in, but since they all play each other, most will have two losses, and I’m still not sure we’ll see a two‑loss team in the final four.
Griese: I think it’s interesting as you look at the remaining month or month‑and‑a‑half of the season, I think there is a real possibility of having two SEC teams in. If you just think about, the Mississippi State‑Alabama game probably is going to have a huge impact, and then obviously the Iron Bowl as well, but if Mississippi State loses to Alabama and ends the season with one loss, and Alabama goes on to the SEC Championship game and beats a Georgia team, obviously they’re going to be in; and it’ll be very difficult to keep a Mississippi State team out of the final four with only one loss to the No. 1 team in the country potentially.
And the same could be said for Auburn. So I think that it’s still up in the air, but there is a likely ‑‑ not a likelihood – but there is a definite possibility that two teams from the SEC could get into the final four.
Q.) Does that help FSU’s chances to perhaps get back into the final two?
Griese: Does it help FSU?
Q.) Yeah, from the standpoint of the in‑fighting in the SEC.
Griese: Well, I certainly don’t think it helps Florida State that there could be two SEC teams in the final four. It definitely helps FSU if the SEC and those teams beat up on each other enough that really the only player in the final four is that SEC champion.
Brown: And I think FSU has got a great spot because they win out, in my opinion, they’re in.
Q.) This is to Coach Brown. Coach, any interest in the SMU job?
Brown: Let’s see; Mississippi State is one, FSU is two, Auburn is three, Ole Miss is four. I’ve made it very clear that I’m happy with ESPN, ABC, and I’m really enjoying my job, and I haven’t talked to anybody about coaching football at this point.
Q.) Coach, we just saw last week where Bill Snyder’s name was put on the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame. His team, Kansas State, at one time we all remember, the country ranked ninth. You were a contemporary of his, and by the way, I think you will be on that ballot soon, too, as well for the Hall of Fame, but talk about your relationship with him, and what’s made him the man that can take the worst program in the country and make it into the very best.
Brown: Robert, I think, and I’ve said this repeatedly, I think he’s the best coach in the country or he’s done the best job coaching in the country because Kansas State was a team that couldn’t win. And so many different people had fought to get it to six wins or maybe seven wins, but Bill Snyder has consistently been good there. When it’s the Bill Snyder family stadium, and he’s probably the most recognizable person in Kansas when it comes to football and universities because of his tenure there, there’s absolutely no doubt that he’ll be in the Hall of Fame and should be in the Hall of Fame.
And he’s just ‑‑ he’s a master. They do not make many mistakes. They make you beat them. He’s always going to run the ball well. He’s always going to play good run defense, and he’ll beat you in the kicking game. He’s going to turn it over very few times and have very few penalties. And I’ve admired him for the 16 years that we were in the league with him. I knew him before when he was the offensive coordinator at Iowa, when I was the offensive coordinator at Iowa State many years ago in the late 70s and early 80s, he’s a tremendous football coach.
Q.) If you picked up the phone and say, hey, Bill, we saw this; we would kind of like to learn more about it, does he ever share that with other coaches?
Brown: No. He’s the silver fox. He’s smart. He’s going to sit there and try to get you talking. Bill’s going to try to get as much out of you as you can and you’re not going to get much out of him.
Q.) Three SEC teams obviously in the first ranking, the SEC looks like it’s taking a step forward in defense. Most of their teams, I think 10 are allowing fewer yards this year than they did a year ago. I mean obviously every team in the Power 5 and across the country wants to play defense. Why is defense so associated with the SEC when we think about college football?
Brown: When you go back and look at the SEC, it was built on running the ball in the old days historically and stopping the run. And now you’re having a few of the spread teams, like A&M and like Missouri that came from the Big 12 to the SEC that have changed the culture of their offense some. You’re seeing more offenses in the SEC go tempo. You’re seeing more spread teams than you have before.
But that’s just the culture. That’s the way people were raised in the SEC. You’re supposed to play great defense, and when you did, you would end up at the end of the year being in the mix. And that really hasn’t changed. People are getting faster players on defense.
You look at what Ole Miss has done this year. They are one of the best defensive teams in the country because everybody on that defense can run. And they’re playing 34 players because people are learning you have to have depth to be able to hang in there at the end of the ball game against a spread team that’s trying to run 80 to 90 plays a game. But I think that’s why the SEC’s been known for their defense for year.
Griese: One thing I would add to that, Coach, that’s kind of begun to pop up more and more is that you’re seeing, as you said, so many players play on the defensive side in one game. You look at a team like Mississippi State that actually has a 1A and a 1B defense, and they will take an entire series because with the spread offenses, the no‑holds, you can’t substitute as much. So they have taken the approach at Mississippi State, they’ve got to have two defensive sets because you can’t play the guys the whole game, but you got to be able to have those guys that have the ability that can come in and play well, and so I think you’ll see more and more of that.
You know, Nick Saban at Alabama loved to substitute, and he’s realizing ever since he played that game against Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel and they get caught in a lot of situations and the big guys get tired but they’ve got to be able to substitute more. I think you’ll see more teams begin to play a 1A and a 1B defense and that’s been the biggest change in my mind, and the SEC has the athletes to do it, up front especially.
Brown: And because they’re playing a lot more players, it helps the depth. You see teams that have more continuity moving forward because you’ve got a lot of younger guys playing, so you don’t see the big drop off when the senior class leaves. The other things it helps you from is an injury standpoint because your players aren’t as tired as they were with the tempo offenses, and finally, you’ve got a lot better team moral. Those mamas like their kids playing, so the more guys that are playing, everybody’s happy; it helps recruiting.
Q.) Oklahoma’s a team that expected to be up among the top four or five in the show last night just a month ago, and here they are 18 and on the outside looking in. I’m wondering in your opinion if looking back, did everyone sort of fall victim to putting too much stock in what they did to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, sort of setting up wrong or false expectations this season, or is there something else going on with the Sooners that you’d like to address?
Griese: I did the Oklahoma‑Kansas State game a couple weeks back and I went back and watched the Alabama game and watched the Texas game, and you know, I think ‑‑ I went back and obviously watched the TCU game – and I do think that this is an example of the rankings, the pre‑season rankings and the early‑season rankings not doing any service because Oklahoma was ranked very high in the preseason based off that last game. And they were phenomenal. And their quarterback, Trevor Knight, was phenomenal in that Sugar Bowl game.
We come into this season and Trevor Knight has looked more like the inconsistent Trevor Knight from the middle of last year. And it’s not all on him. They lose some outstanding players at the play‑making positions outside in Jalen Saunders, and they haven’t had the consistency outside of Shepherd to get open in man‑to‑man coverage and so their offense has struggled.
And I think we get caught up into the hype of what happened in that game, certainly. And when they go up and play good teams, Kansas State especially, and Texas defensively, we found out that they have not been consistent enough on the offensive side.
Brown: I think you go back and look at the Top 10 teams that were released with the committee poll yesterday. All of them have quarterbacks that are playing at a very, very high level, and it’s become a quarterback game because of the spread and because quarterbacks have to make plays with their feet. They have to make plays down field. And Oklahoma lost a linebacker in Shannon early that was a great player. They also lost Ford, who was one of the better backs in the country – a big strong back that was really fast. So they’ve had some injuries that have hurt them as well.
But I think when you look at what’s happening in the country, especially in the Big 12, the competitive balance is such that you’ve got to play well every week. There is not much difference in the top to the bottom and especially in eight of the teams. Kansas and Iowa State may be struggling a little bit more, but the other eight teams can beat each other at any time.
Q.) Hi, this is for Coach Brown. I was wondering if you got a chance to watch the Cowboy game the other night, Cowboy‑Redskins game, and your thoughts on Colt McCoy’s play.
Brown: I did. I really enjoyed watching the game. Keenan Robinson made some key plays, Henry Melton made some key plays. You got Jackson Jeffcoat, with all of Dallas history, on the team with the Redskins; you’ve got Chris Whaley watching and Donald Hawkins playing. So a lot of Longhorns other than Colt played in that game which made me and all the Longhorn fans happy.
But I thought Colt did what he always used to do for us. I mean he just won the game. He managed the game. He’s not going to get you beat. He’s really smart. He can make plays with his feet, and he’s very accurate. I thought it’s amazing for a guy who’s been a third‑team quarterback, and got very few snaps before last week, to be able to come in last week and lead them to the victory on a one‑minute drill at the end, but also come back to Dallas against one of the best teams in the NFL and play in Dallas, before a rabid crowd where he had won the Big 12 championship in the last second against Nebraska. To be able to handle that pressure and that buildup and come back and win the game Monday night was really special. It just tells you something about the guy.
Q.) Brian, this is for you, and it’s obviously not going to be playoff related, but I’m not sure where to begin with this. What’s your take on everything going on at Michigan? I mean how do you see this playing out? What would you like to see done? I can’t imagine this has been easy for you to watch as a former player?
Griese: No. It’s not been easy for anybody that loves Michigan and that has a tie close by to Michigan, for a number of reasons, probably least of which is the record. But you know, you hurt for the players. As a former player and having been in that program and that situation, you want every young man that comes to school there to play football to have a great experience, and the experience for the young men on that team right now is not fun. It’s not what they signed up for.
And so that’s the thing that hurts the most. And then now in today’s day and age of rapid‑fire opinion that comes from all corners of the country, and typically negative in this case, these kids are having to deal with that on a daily basis. Rather than answering questions about their experience and how they’re growing as young men and players on the field and students in the classroom, they have to answer questions about their coach and about decisions and about ticket prices and about all kinds of different things that should never be in their conversation.
So it’s disappointing, and I feel bad for the players mostly, as you probably can imagine. As far as what needs to happen, I’m not going to go there. I think this will play itself out. There are so many people that are interested and willing to put the time and energy into getting it right, and I look forward to hopefully being a part of the solution and not a part of piling on.
Q.) Does that mean you want to be part of a ‑‑ if there is a coaching search – you’d want to be part of the committee?
Griese: No, no. I don’t need to be a part of the committee. You know, for those people that have a respect for the university and for the way that it’s been through the years and the history, we all stand ready, willing and able to help in any way, shape or form.
Q.) One more follow-up. You talked about – for a number of reasons, least of which is the record – the environment is toxic for a number of reasons. Is that part of what you’re talking about?
Griese: Yeah, you never want to be ‑‑ like I said, I feel for the kids. You don’t want the kids to be in a toxic situation because while certainly I’m sure each one of them would say that they could play better, this is not all their fault. And so I just feel for them, and I love Michigan, and I want Michigan to continue to be that place where kids come and feel they’re going to get a great experience, both in the classroom and on the athletic field. And right now there are all kinds of circumstances that are preventing that.
Q.) I wanted to get both of your thoughts on Notre Dame being ranked No. 10 because knowing Notre Dame’s fan base, they’re really going to be not happy about being ranked so low.
Griese: I was surprised with where Notre Dame came in, No. 10, and I know there are some factors that go into that with who they have played outside of Florida State. You could argue that they have the best loss of any of the one‑loss teams. I even qualify the loss, because in watching that game it would be hard ‑‑ I would be hard pressed if I’m putting my poll together to put as much space, eight spots here in this initial ranking, between Notre Dame and Florida State. After having watched them play in that game, Notre Dame dominated the line of scrimmage in a lot of cases and you could argue, and I would argue, should have won that game.
Notre Dame I don’t think is the 10th best team in the country. That’s not where I would have had them, but this is the initial ranking and they still have, obviously, a game with Arizona State who’s ranked 14th in this poll. Stanford being down really hurts them. They need USC to continue to hopefully get some wins, but Utah kind of taking over the south doesn’t help Notre Dame’s case, certainly.
Brown: I agree that Notre Dame in my estimation should have been much higher. They played very well. Golson is competing as well at quarterback as anybody in the country. And the surprise of their team has been their defense, Brian VanGorder coming in and taking over the defense. They had very few starters back. They had some people that were suspended for academic issues and those guys have played really, really well.
And for the game to come down to a call against Florida State at Florida State, when you’re in Tallahassee, I thought was a show of how good Notre Dame is. So I think Notre Dame fans should be very, very proud. Brian Kelly and his staff have done one of the best jobs in the country and I don’t think they’re out of the mix. There are going to be a lot of people beat each other, and when you start looking at the Top 10, Top 11, if they win out, I think there’s a good chance that anybody in this group can be in the final four.