ESPN Experts React to College Football Playoff Final Rankings and Semifinal Matchups

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ESPN Experts React to College Football Playoff Final Rankings and Semifinal Matchups

College Football Playoff Semifinals: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Selection Show photos via ESPN Images

ESPN exclusively revealed the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s playoff teams at approximately 12:15 p.m. ET with host Rece Davis and analysts Kirk HerbstreitJoey GallowayJesse Palmer and David PollackChris Fowler, Greg McElroy, Booger McFarland, Jim Mora and Heather Dinich also joined the show.

2021 College Football Playoff SemifinalsFriday, Jan. 1, 2021:

College Football Playoff Semifinals at The Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame | 4 p.m. ET, ESPN | AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

College Football Playoff Semifinals at the Allstate Sugar Bowl

No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State | 8 p.m., ESPN | Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La.

The following are instant reaction quotes:

On No. 1 Alabama:

Davis: “Every even-numbered year of the Playoff, Alabama has started at No. 1. They have not won the National Championship in any of those years.”

Mora: “I don’t know that Notre Dame has enough weapons on offense to really challenge Alabama on defense, but I know that Alabama has weapons on offense to challenge that Notre Dame defense, in particular that secondary. It’s unbelievable to me how open the Alabama wide receivers are able to get when everybody knows they’re going to throw it.” 

On No. 2 Clemson:

Pollack: “Alabama and Clemson going 1-2, you could’ve done that before the season.”

On No. 3 Ohio State:

Davis: “Ohio State is capable of winning it all, but I think the argument is valid: six games – that’s an advantage now. It might have been a disadvantage before. It is a HUGE advantage to Ohio State in terms of freshness.”

Galloway: “No. 3 is where they belong. Nothing has been given to them. They have earned it and they deserve it.”

Herbstreit: “They have not played their best football yet.”

Herbstreit: “I thought he (CFP Committee Chair Gary Barta) made a strong statement that the six games wasn’t even a factor. In that room, whether you agree or disagree, it seemed like it was a non-factor.

Palmer: “If you’re the committee, you have to be impressed by the way they’ve won.”

Fowler: “If you talk to the coaches, the ‘what should happen’ debate doesn’t include Ohio State getting into this bracket. I’ve never heard, in the seven-year history of this playoff, coaches who are tracking towards the playoff like Dabo Swinney and Brian Kelly so vocal about another team being included. In this case, it was Ohio State. It wasn’t personal, but they were well-acquainted with how tough it was to get their team ready and on the field and through Saturday after Saturday. To only do it six times isn’t the same as doing it 11 times. So they strongly felt Ohio State shouldn’t be included, which makes it a very salty backdrop for Clemson-Ohio State in Arlington.” 

On No. 4 Notre Dame:

Davis: “I really believe Notre Dame is justified and deserving and should be in this playoff.”

Galloway: “Coaches love being in this position coming off of a bad loss. …They will be motivated to come out with an attitude.”

Palmer: “I agree with Notre Dame getting in at No. 4. … They were 10-0, dominant and complete with big impressive wins that you can’t devalue against Clemson.”

McFarland: “I have a hard time looking at a team that got beat by 24, and quite honest with you, it could have been 40 against Clemson yesterday, and putting them in the Playoff. … I was just really surprised the committee didn’t weigh that more.”

On No. 5 Texas A&M:

Palmer: “Ultimately, the resume is what keeps A&M out of the top four. … They’ve only beat two teams with winning records inside the SEC.” 

On No. 6 Oklahoma:

Herbstreit: “I look at Oklahoma as an example of a team that got better as the season went on. … From the Texas game on, if you look at the way they are trending, put them on a field. I wouldn’t want to play Oklahoma right now. I think they are a different team than when they lost those two games.”

On the Group of Five programs and Cincinnati:

Davis: “My confidence has been shaken a little this year, I would say. The way in for a Group of Five team is the opportunity that Houston had, I think, in 2016 when they beat Oklahoma, who went on to win the Big 12, when they beat Lamar Jackson and Louisville, and he won the Heisman Trophy. … They won those two games, but then they didn’t handle their business. That type of resume could potentially get you in.”

Herbstreit: Boise State built a brand. It seems as if you are a Group of Five team, you need a couple years, your conference needs a couple years of consistency.”

Galloway: “This is an area of time when the other Group of Five teams need to say “start respecting us or at least tell us why you don’t.’ … Tell Cincinnati, tell UCF, tell Boise, the only way this is changing is if we expand it. … They (Cincinnati) are not better than Notre Dame but they are better than Oklahoma. When I watched Cincinnati, I would not say A&M is better. I would not say Oklahoma is better. … I would take Cincinnati to beat Oklahoma.”  

On this year’s CFB Playoff Committee:

Pollack: “Undefeated matters to them.”

Mora: “At the end of the day, I think they got it right.”

McElroy: “The four teams that are in, they’re the four teams that should be in, but what I’ve realized is when you’re a team like Clemson, or Ohio State, to a certain extent Notre Dame and obviously Alabama, you almost have to play your way out of the playoff. … You almost have to give a reason not to put you in.”

Herbstreit: “Everybody has all of the answers. Everyone sits outside of that room, gets on social media, including all of us, it’s all subjective. … We all think we can have all of the answers and try come up with who we would put in but typically when people are really passionate and emotional about who we would put in, it usually impacts your team and who you want to get it. So, if the committee doesn’t put in your team, the committee sucks. They don’t know what they are doing. I just think the committee is put in unprecedented times. I’m one of these guys that believes in the committee. I like to think they are watching the games. Are they perfect every year and do they agree with what I would think of subjectively? Maybe not, but I think they do a good job personally of trying to come up with answers.”

New Year’s Six Games:

ESPN’s exclusive Selection Day show continued with the announcement of the New Year’s Six matchups at 2:30 p.m. The following are instant reaction quotes: 

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic – Wed, Dec. 30 | 8 p.m., ESPN: 

No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Florida

Palmer: “I love this – the passing attack of the Florida Gators … going up against that Oklahoma defense that has gotten so much better now in the second half of the year. … That’s going to be a really good matchup.”

Galloway: “I can’t wait to see this matchup. If you’re Oklahoma and you think your defense has gotten better, Kyle Trask is going to find out. What Kyle Trask does on the football field, I bet only two or three quarterbacks in the country can do.”

Herbstreit: “We’ve talked about the Big 12 for years. This is a typical Big 12 game.”

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl – Fri, Jan. 1 | noon, ESPN:
No. 8 Cincinnati vs. No. 9 Georgia

Galloway: “Cincinnati doesn’t have better players, better athletes, but scheme-wise, they’re as good as anyone in the country. It will be interesting to see that defensive scheme against a Georgia offense now that JT Daniels is much healthier.”

Palmer: “Now with JT Daniels, they are able to take advantage of all play-making ability at wide receiver. Georgia can score any way they want now.”

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl – Sat, Jan. 2 | 4 p.m., ESPN:
No. 25 Oregon vs. No. 10 Iowa State

Palmer: “Oregon is going to be happy they have about 13 days to scheme and get ready for Iowa State. You don’t see a lot of teams do what they do on both sides of the ball. … You want as much time as you can to prepare because Iowa State can give you issues based on the Xs and Os.”

Galloway: “What Iowa State has been able to accomplish in beating Texas and OU in getting to the Big 12 Championship Game when – at the beginning of the season, we would have never put them in that position, they have done a terrific job. … This is a bowl game that is an interesting matchup of two teams that no one would have guessed would be in this position.”

Davis: “Let’s not gloss over this, too: Matt Campbell taking Iowa State to the Fiesta Bowl. That’s a big deal.”

Capital One Orange Bowl – Sat, Jan. 2 | 8 p.m., ESPN:

No. 5 Texas A&M vs. No. 13 North Carolina

Pollack: “One of the opponents that Notre Dame used to jump A&M is North Carolina and now A&M gets to go play North Carolina and maybe that too is a little extra motivation.”

Palmer: “Texas A&M is going to be angry. They are going to go in there trying to make a statement.”

Herbstreit: “Mack Brown, in his second year, has the Carolina Tar Heels in a matchup in a New Year’s Six. That’s impressive.”

On Indiana:

Herbstreit: “Indiana, 6-1, they are good enough to be a good mark on Ohio State’s schedule, but not quite good enough to get into the New Year’s Six? … Indiana had a historic year and to get left out, I’m surprised.”


Bill Hofheimer

I oversee ESPN’s College Sports PR, while also working on ESPN soccer, Around the Horn, PTI and more. Previously oversaw communications for ESPN's Monday Night Football and NFL studio shows.
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