The College Football Playoffs: The Committee Speaks

Who will make it into the college football playoffs? The top three are set, provided no upsets in the conference championship games. But the last spot is still up in the air. Kirby Hocutt of the Playoff Committee spoke about this at his press conference yesterday.

KIRBY HOCUTT: Alabama remains the No. 1 ranked team in the nation. The committee ranked Ohio State at No. 2. We talked about whether there was any team in the nation that deserved to be ranked No. 2 ahead of Ohio State. After discussing it, the committee believes that one-loss Ohio State with its win over Michigan and a total of three wins against teams in this week’s top 10, deserves to be ranked second based on their strong résumé and quality of play. Clemson remains No. 3. Washington is No. 4, and Michigan is No. 5. There is a small margin between these two teams.

The committee continues to be impressed by what we have seen on the field from one-loss Washington. Their schedule is not as strong as others, but they have played and beaten good teams, including a win on the road last week.

Michigan played a tough game in its loss to Ohio State last week, but also has a second loss to an unranked team. And again, I want to say that it is a small separation between Washington and Michigan.

As usual, we discussed not only strength of schedule but also head-to-head outcomes, common opponents, productivity of teams’ defenses and offenses, and many other factors that allow committee members to render their judgments about which teams they believe are the best teams in college football at this particular time.

In general, there was stability in our rankings of teams 1 through 10, but in a week in which there were nine losses among the 13 teams that were ranked 11 to 23 last week, there were several changes.

The committee takes its work very seriously, knowing our task is to rank the best 25 teams in college football. I’m sincerely grateful to the members of the committee who work so hard and study these teams each and every week.

With that, I’m happy to take your questions.

Q. Florida State came in one spot ahead of Louisville. Same record, obviously a pretty lopsided head-to-head outcome early in the season. How did you guys arrive at that decision?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Good evening. We spent considerable time talking about that particular — those two particular teams. Florida State, a talented team that has played one of the toughest schedules in the country; Louisville, a team that’s only beaten one team with a winning record. Strength of schedule is significant, the separation there. Florida State has played a much tougher schedule. Louisville does hold the head-to-head, but as you said, that was early in the season, week 3 if I remember correctly, so we talked about in the eyes of the Selection Committee who is the better football team at this particular time, and that is Florida State. Strength of schedule was a factor there but also as to how those two teams have played in recent weeks.

Q. What is the committee’s take on Washington’s overall strength of schedule? Last week you said it gave the committee pause in terms of moving them up, but obviously they got the bump after winning the Apple Cup. Washington State falls out, Utah loses. What’s the overall take on that, especially the non-conference portion of it?
KIRBY HOCUTT: It’s been a concern for the committee, and I would say that it continues to be a concern for the Selection Committee with Washington’s strength of schedule. They have played and beat some good teams. It’s a team that the Selection Committee has been impressed with all year, and we saw a convincing win last week, I would say a quality win in convincing manner last week, and again, it is a very small margin of separation in the committee’s eyes between No. 4 Washington and No. 5 Michigan. Don’t think I can emphasize enough the small margin of separation that the Selection Committee sees between those two teams.

Q. You mentioned it’s a small separation between Washington and Michigan; what’s the separation like between those two and Wisconsin and Penn State?
KIRBY HOCUTT: I am not certain. I am not made aware of what the voting totals are within our room, but I can tell you from the discussion, the debate, the separation between Washington and Michigan is very small, and I bet over the course of the last two days, we’ve spent, if not two hours, very close to two hours in the details and comparisons of those two particular teams, then I know there were a number of Selection Committee members that were really struggling with who was the better team there.

The second part of your question was Penn State and who?

Q. Yeah, you said Washington and Michigan were really close, and I was trying to get an idea between 4 and 5, it sounds like they’re really tight compared to then Wisconsin and Penn State, compared to Washington and Michigan?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Yeah. You know, two teams with — Wisconsin and Penn State, the Selection Committee likes both of them. You look at Wisconsin, the Selection Committee has talked in depth. You’ve got a team with two losses to top-five teams by a touchdown or less. You’ve got a Penn State team sitting there with a quality win over Ohio State, and a team that has increasingly improved as the season has gone along. I would say the separation between Wisconsin and Penn State is small, as well. Their strength of schedules are almost identical in comparison.

So again, there’s a lot of football left to be played, and I know the Selection Committee is looking forward to those games this weekend. But I think the separation there for 4 to 7 is not a wide margin of separation, but specifically between Washington and Michigan, it’s razor thin.

Q. The committee’s top two Big Ten teams, Ohio State and Michigan, they’re not even playing for their Conference Championship. Can you give us a sense of just how much of a headache this is to sort through the Big Ten, and is there any part of you that wishes for smaller conferences or just scrapping divisions?
KIRBY HOCUTT: I would say that, again, the Selection Committee stays focused on our charge, and that is to rank the best teams in college football. Again, subjective based upon the 12 members that are around that table. As you know, when two teams are comparable, when there’s very little to no separation in the comparison between to teams, then the management committee has instructed us to look at four metrics: Conference champions, strength of schedule, head-to-head matchups, out comes against common opponents. But those particular metrics are in no particular order. Those metrics are not weighted in any form or fashion. So it’s up to each of the Selection Committee members as to which of those they emphasize and how they weight those four measures.

I will say that, again, in summary and to conclude, our job is to rank the very best teams in college football, and that’s what we keep our conversations focused to, and then if we get to next week and there are comparable teams, then each member will be subjective in how they apply those four additional components that we just spoke about.

Q. Just how well should Ohio State and their fans sleep on Saturday night? In other words, is there a scenario in which they don’t make it from what you see right now?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, we just do not allow ourselves to look ahead. We’ve seen a college football season where there has been some really unprecedented weekends. We saw a weekend in which three of the four top teams lost. We just saw a weekend where nine teams ranked between 11 and 23 lost. We can’t look ahead, and so many things can happen on any given particular weekend in college football. That’s what makes it in my opinion the greatest game.

Q. I guess what I’m saying is Ohio State obviously can’t lose because they’re not playing. So do you see a scenario in which somebody could improve their résumé enough to bump out Ohio State?
KIRBY HOCUTT: I would say each and every week those teams that play have an opportunity to strengthen or weaken their résumé, and I know the Selection Committee looks forward to watching all of those games this upcoming Friday night and Saturday.

Q. How do you measure Washington’s strength of schedule as compared to Michigan’s strength of schedule?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, there’s a number of metrics that are available to the Selection Committee, so while we do not have one particular strength of schedule metric that we rely on, we do have four or five strength-of-schedule metrics that we look at. It’s based upon calculations and metrics and four or five calculations that are provided to us.

Q. And at this point, what would help Michigan to get into that Final Four?
KIRBY HOCUTT: You know, again, the Selection Committee looks at Michigan with a strong résumé. They have three wins against top-ten teams. They played an impressive game this past weekend against No. 2 Ohio State, despite the loss. Small separation. Can’t emphasize that enough, between No. 4 and No. 5.

You know, we talked about Michigan’s additional loss to an unranked team sitting there on their résumé. So again, can’t look forward and anticipate what may or may not happen this weekend, but Michigan does have an impressive résumé in the eyes of the Selection Committee.

Q. I’m just curious, Navy comes in at 19, Western Michigan at 17, a lot of interest in that here. How close are they?
KIRBY HOCUTT: You know, I would say they’re obviously separated by just one spot in our rankings. Western Michigan at No. 17 and Navy this week at 19. Western Michigan only one of two teams that remain undefeated. Their strength of schedule continues to be a concern, something that the Selection Committee is aware of. Look at a Western Michigan team that is very successful on the offensive side of the ball. At the same time they’ve only beaten two FBS teams with a winning record.

Navy has three what the Selection Committee would look at quality wins over Houston, Memphis and Tulsa. They have two games left compared to Western Michigan having one game left, that being their Conference Championship game as well as the Navy-Army game.

Still considerable games in front of the Selection Committee before our final rankings there involving those two teams and the placement of the highest ranked team in the Cotton Bowl.

Q. If both of them were to win this weekend, is it very likely that the decision on that final spot could be held until December 10th after the Army-Navy game?
KIRBY HOCUTT: You know, again, I can’t look ahead and anticipate what may or may not happen this weekend, but I will say that the Selection Committee has had a teleconference on our calendars for December the 10th since our summer meetings. So without knowing what the season may or may not bring, all the Selection Committee members have December 10th at 6:00 central held as a teleconference in case we need it.

Q. I have two quick Big Ten questions for you. The first is I know you guys vote on these teams and compare them in pods. I think it’s groups of six to eight where you’re actually voting, and I was wondering if you guys have actually had Penn State in the same group with Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State in terms of looking at those four teams side by side on those nifty little computer screens that you have. Has Penn State been in with those side-by-side comparisons to other Big Ten teams?
KIRBY HOCUTT: You know, we have taken an in-depth look at all of the teams that are ranked in the top 10. While Penn State and — who did you reference? And Ohio State?

Q. Michigan, Wisconsin, yeah, all of them that are ahead of them basically.
KIRBY HOCUTT: Yeah, I’m having a hard time sitting here remembering exactly if they’ve been in the same pod of teams that we’ve analyzed last week or this week. But I do know for a fact that at some point during our time together that we have put these teams side by side. We’ve analyzed, we’ve discussed these teams side by side. My answer to your question is yes, we have. We’ve taken a very in-depth analysis and discussion of these teams.

Now, did that occur over the past two days as they were in the pods of our teams to be reviewed? I can’t recall specifically, but I can say factually that we have put these teams side by side in review and discussion.

Q. And the other Big Ten follow up I wanted to ask was just curious about the committee’s value of specifically Barry Alvarez’s opinion because he has seen you guys — he’s seen Wisconsin, obviously, play Michigan and Ohio State, and I know he has to step out of the room when talking about Wisconsin, but how much have the committee members turned to him for his opinion on those two other teams?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Barry is a very member of this Selection Committee, as are the other 10 individuals. We turn to all of our coaches when we get into in-depth analysis and conversations and ask them for their perspective based upon a coaching standpoint and coaching perspective. But you know, we’ve relied on all 12 members for perspective on all of these teams. I will tell you that I couldn’t be more appreciative and pleased with how prepared all 12 members have come to our meetings each and every week.

Q. I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, but I’m wondering with Ohio State not having a chance to play this week, is there a major separation of Ohio State and Michigan from Wisconsin and Penn State in y’all’s — as y’all look at this, and is there a major separation, I guess, between Ohio State and those other three teams in the Big Ten at this point?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Yeah, it’s very hard to answer that question because I can’t look forward, and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the week ahead. But sitting here tonight, is there a large degree of separation amongst those teams? No, there’s not a large degree of separation.

You know, there are a number of legitimate contenders who could stake a claim to being in those top four spots this college football season. Not a huge margin of separation in the teams that you just asked about.

Q. Obviously Wisconsin and Penn State play for the Big Ten title on Saturday night. You can probably answer this: Do you expect a robust discussion on Saturday night and Sunday about those Big Ten members based on who wins the Big Ten title game? Do you see what I’m saying, because that will be another thing to consider? Based on the conversations y’all have had now, is that going to be a tough conundrum for you guys in terms of the better of those three teams that are left, I guess?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Well, I can promise you this: It will be a robust discussion about our rankings 1 through 25, and we’ve spent considerable time the last two days. The 13th data point, the games that are in front of us this weekend, are important to the Selection Committee. We look forward to watching them. This is the one time during the season that we will all be together, all 12 members, have a chance to visit during the games and watch these games together.

The Selection Committee, we will take as many games and as much data in front of us that we can possibly get. It is very helpful to the committee, however history shows, that playing that 13th game can sometimes hurt or sometimes can help a particular team. Hard to say, but I know that the Selection Committee will look forward to coming back to Grapevine on Friday and watching the games Friday night and all day Saturday.

Q. I was just wondering, how much do you guys — is precedent a thing with the way that you guys think? Do you look back at the way the committee did anything last year, or do you take into account the decisions that you make this year are going to set a precedent that is going to be followed by future committee members? Do you see what I’m saying? Do you ever consider what was done a year ago when making decisions this year based on precedent?
KIRBY HOCUTT: We don’t. Every year is unique, and we start new every year. You know, you have three new members on the Selection Committee this year, so I will say the chemistry this year has been terrific. All the members have been engaged in great participation. Every year is new, and we do not look back the previous years. It’s done based upon this current college football season.

Q. If you look at what Penn State has done from a résumé standpoint, winning, I think, eight games in a row by double digits, beating Ohio State, which is the best win on anybody’s résumé in college football, what is it that has created the kept the separation between Ohio State and Penn State, and why does it seem like they’re struggling to move forward or up in the rankings when they continue to beat teams by double figures every week?
KIRBY HOCUTT: Yeah. You know, Penn State is a very good football team, increasingly impressive as the season has gone forward. We look at Ohio State with their three wins against CFP top 10 teams, terrific win on Saturday against Michigan. Ohio State has played one of the nation’s toughest schedules. We do not incent margin of victory as we look at these teams’ résumés, and again, the Selection Committee believes that Ohio State has assembled a very strong résumé, and Penn State is an impressive team, as well, and we look forward to having an additional opportunity to watch Penn State play this upcoming weekend.

Q. You mentioned on the TV show last week, this week, that you did consider Ohio State and Penn State to be close, and you’ve obviously also talked many times about the way this process works and the criteria like head-to-head are essentially a tiebreaker when the teams are close. Does that mean to this point when discussing Ohio State and Penn State that that that head-to-head result either hasn’t come up or hasn’t garnered very much discussion because you didn’t feel they were close enough yet to do that?
KIRBY HOCUTT: You know, we’re obviously as a Selection Committee aware of that win. I’ve talked on this call the past couple of weeks about the quality win that Penn State does have over Ohio State. But it is not the distinguishing metric in the evaluation of these two teams. And again, I would come back to the core purpose and mission of this Selection Committee, and that is to identify the four very best teams in college football, and only when the Selection Committee deems those teams to be comparable that the margins are razor thin, then do we go to those four measurements that we’ve talked about.

Again, the Selection Committee recognizes the head-to-head win, but in this particular case, it hasn’t been the distinguishing point in our evaluation of those two teams.

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Thomas Derlan worked directly in the online casino industry for a number of years as an affiliate manager at a large online casino and writes about the global gambling industry for Rouletters.com