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College Football Playoff: Rob Mullens talks Baylor and Ohio State

Quite a Tuesday night for the Sooners. OU, as expected, rose from No. 9 to No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings. But Baylor, not expected at all, rose from No. 14 to No. 9, giving the Big 12 a chance at a top-10 conference championship showdown, a distinction that a few days earlier seemed the domain of the Pac-12 in the chase for a playoff slot.

It was all very dramatic – you can read my column here -- and made for some interesting questions for College Football Playoff committee chairman Rob Mullens. Here is the transcript from his Tuesday night teleconference, along with my take on each exchange:

Mullens: “Good evening. We finished our fourth week of rankings. The committee ranked Ohio State as the No. 1 team in the nation, LSU is No. 2, Clemson is No. 3, and Georgia is No. 4. Here's what the committee was thinking: Ohio State has been a complete team all year, and their win against Penn State impressed the committee. They are ranked No. 1. 11-0 LSU with three wins against top 25 teams is ranked No. 2. 11-0 Clemson has been solid with an impressive series of convincing wins. Georgia also is strong with three wins against top-25 teams. They are ranked No. 4. We spent considerable time talking about all the teams and all the rankings, but it's fair to say there are a lot of two-loss teams, and we talked long and hard about how they should be ranked. We considered their play on the field, head-to-head results, strength of schedule, and we compared common opponents. I'm proud of this committee and how seriously everyone takes his or her work in ranking 1 through 25. I'm happy to take your questions.”

My take: Interesting that Mullens mentioned the time dedicated to two-loss teams. It would seem the one-loss teams are the most relevant for the committee, since the no-loss teams stand on their own and the two-loss teams are for bowl assignments and cosmetics. But maybe he assumes we know they spent a lot of time on one-loss teams.

You mentioned a couple times now about the idea of the complete team that the committee sees Ohio State being. In what way is the committee sort of quantifying that? What is telling this committee that Ohio State is a more complete team than anyone else?

Mullens: “Competing consistently and really highly ranked on offense and defense, performing at a high level in both.”

My take: Welcome to the Sooner Club, LSU. The committee doesn’t like your defense.

Do you guys correct that for strength of schedule, too? Is it relative to who they played? How are you guys measuring that?

Mullens: “Sure, we see it all. We see the full resume’, and there are relative statistics, as well.”

My take: Generally speaking, questions that begin with “why” have a better chance to getting somewhere than questions that begin with “do you”?

Just to follow up on that, what was the difference, though, this week about Ohio State that put them over LSU because you have said that they've been a complete team all season.

Mullens: “They have, but they added their third win against a ranked opponent over Penn State, who we have ranked No. 10.”

My take: Mullens is right. The Buckeyes beating Penn State was a great resume’ builder. But both LSU and Ohio State now have three wins over top-25 foes. And LSU won at Alabama. Shouldn’t that end the debate?

I also wanted to ask what the difference in the debate and the conversation surrounding Utah and Oklahoma. What did you guys talk about those two teams in particular?

Mullens: “You know, obviously two very good teams. When you look at Utah, the strength of their defense, and then the experience at quarterback and running back, only loss being on the road to a 22nd-ranked USC, where Zack Moss missed the majority of the game with an injury. And then Oklahoma obviously beat No. 9 Baylor on the road without CeeDee Lamb. They also have a win over ranked Iowa State, only loss to a close quality K-State team.”

My take: Too much talk about injuries. On the ESPN broadcast, Mullens mentioned that Utah lost to Southern Cal when USC used third-team quarterback Matt Fink, because of injury.

You've had Memphis, Cincinnati and Boise State kind of all in a row three of the last four weeks. What are kind of the metrics that you guys have been discussing with those three, and what's gone into their ranking?

Mullens: “Well, Memphis had beaten Navy and SMU, both of whom we've had ranked at some points during this year, only loss to Temple by two. And obviously we're aware of Memphis's explosive offense. Cincinnati still remains undefeated in conference. Only loss is to No. 1 Ohio State. And they've had some close ones here in the last few weeks. And then Boise State, their only loss is to BYU, a 7-4 BYU team in which they did not have their quarterback.”

My take: I generally don’t try to rank the mid-majors – lack of time, not a lack of interest – and I concede to the committee that it knows more about it than I do.

You've got a few comparisons throughout the poll of teams that clearly don't have as many good wins, top-25 wins as somebody that's fairly comparable, but they've been much more dominant than the teams that do have those quality wins. How do you gauge and judge that dichotomy, where you've got a team that's played maybe a better schedule but has not been as dominant to the team that maybe didn't?

Mullens: “Well, it's never just one factor. That's the beauty of having 13 football experts in the room who watch the games, who study it. That's exactly the kind of conversation that you would have. Who are the wins against, who are the losses against, and then what do you see when you watch the games.”

My take: This was my question. When judging OU and Baylor vs. Alabama and Utah, that’s the debate. Bama and Utah have been mostly-dominant. The Sooners and Bears have had several scrapes. But OU and Baylor have more quality wins. My guess is, different strokes for different folks. Some like the tougher schedule, some like the more dominant performances.

I was curious just how big a gap the selection committee believes there is between Alabama, Utah and Oklahoma, like just how close are those teams? Or is there a discernible gap between any series of two of them?

Mullens: “Well, we spent considerable time talking about four through six, four through nine. And again, we're comparing full resume’s. There's not a metric for closeness. I mean, clearly the committee looks at Georgia with their three wins over top-16 teams, one of them on the road at Auburn, the strength of their defense consistently every week. Alabama has been dominant with the exception of the loss to LSU. We're aware of the injuries, as I've mentioned. And Utah, I think I've already mentioned on this call, only loss on the road to a ranked opponent when their running back missed the majority of the game.”

My take: Interesting that he didn’t mention Oklahoma or Minnesota or Baylor, but I  wouldn’t read too much into it. Sometimes you’re just ready to move on to the next question.

You were just speaking about complete teams and using offensive and defensive statistics as a way to measure that. I was just wondering, does the committee look at offensive statistics and defensive statistics any differently? Do they favor one or the other? Do they view if a team has a weaker defense more favorably than a weaker offense, if you follow what I'm saying?

Mullens: “No, we look at them all equally. And again, that's just one piece of what we look at. We do watch the games. We see the full resume’. We understand who they've played, the results. That's just one piece of it. But no, we don't favor one or the other.”

My take: Bullfeathers. The committee likes great defense more than it likes great offense. If that’s not apparent, I don’t know what is. LSU has three wins over the committee’s top-15 teams. Ohio State has three wins over the committee’s top-19 teams. All three of the Buckeyes’ wins were at home. But LSU won at Alabama! Yet Ohio State is ahead of LSU, because a majority of the committee likes defense, and LSU’s defense hasn’t been great.

How does the committee view rivalry games? Do you look at them through the same context that you would just a regular game or do you take that into account when you're grading a team based on performance in one of those?

Mullens: “No, we look at it as a regular game. Obviously we understand where it's played, whether it's home or on the road.”

My take: Funny question. Don’t think anybody’s ever asked that question. For obvious reasons. So no, Ohio State doesn’t get a pass for losing to Michigan, or OU doesn’t get a pass for losing to Texas.

When it comes to Clemson and you're looking at top four in total offense, top four in total defense, how much does the schedule hurt them? You know, they've got everything else. They've been dominant. The numbers are all there. How much does kind of that schedule ding them as far as putting them in that 3 spot behind those top two teams?

Mullens: “That's certainly a piece of it. When you look at them, they have been dominant. They're a very balanced team on offense and defense. But the other teams at 1 and 2 have three wins over highly ranked opponents, and that is a separator.”

My take: No kidding. Here’s what I really would like to know from the committee. Is Clemson closer to No. 4 than to No. 2? It should be. Heck, I’ve got Clemson ranked below Georgia.

I'm just wondering how much impact do the couple-point losses for Iowa State, how much do those keep Iowa State in the top 25 overall? Does that matter at all?

Mullens: “Yeah, obviously we watch the games and know that their four losses are by a combined 11 points. So the committee is fully aware of how competitive they've been.”

My take: Weird way of phrasing it. But yes, Iowa State has played a very tough schedule – four losses against top-21 teams, by a combined 12 points – and the committee has rewarded the Cyclones. If Iowa State was 7-4 with losses to the same four teams, only by a combined 42 points, ISU would not be ranked.

Can you speak at all to maybe the margin of error a team like Ohio State would have going into the last week or two of the regular season, kind of the gap they have between some of the other teams below them, if they were to lose at some point like to Michigan?

Mullens: “No, we don't project ahead. Our job is to rank the teams each week, again, with a clean sheet based on the performance of that week. We do not look ahead.”

My take: Good answer, and the committee showed that it indeed is capable of a clean sheet each week, Baylor being Exhibit A.

Specific to Baylor, you just mentioned the committee starts with a clean sheet based on the week at hand. The Bears jumped five spots in your rankings this week after beating what's now a 6-5 team at home. I was curious a little bit about that decision. I expected they might get a bump, I'm surprised they got that big of one is what I'm saying.

Mullens: “Right, understand. That's one piece of it. They had a dominant win over Texas from beginning to end. But in addition, the wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State continue to improve, as well, as those teams continue to win, and their only loss close to Oklahoma, who moves up to 7. So all that adds in to the clean sheet.”

My take: That’s the thing some people forget. Your schedule, even the schedule that’s already been played, is fluid. For instance, this week, if Kansas State beats Iowa State, it’s conceivable that K-State, at 8-4, could return to the rankings. That would mean victories over KSU – or perhaps even a loss to KSU – would have more impact on a resume’.

I understand that you can't project out, but if you are a team like a Clemson that the schedule hasn't been great, does it make them more secure now that a Virginia Tech team is in the top 24, that hey, if you can beat them, it makes you a little more secure? Not projecting where they are, but yes, that would help the resume’ down the road?

Mullens: “Again, we don't project. Obviously there's so many things that can happen. Our job is to focus on the results that we have on the week that we do the rankings.

My take: If Clemson loses to Virginia Tech, the Tigers are not secure at all. Clemson would have a loss, a weak schedule and no top-25 wins.

One more question about Baylor. I'm curious how much of the move this week was, like you mentioned, that some of their wins kind of got valued more, or if it was almost like a correction, that maybe they should have been a little bit higher in previous weeks?

Mullens: “Well, the other thing I failed to mention earlier, too, is two teams ahead of them lost, so you have to factor that in. But it was a reflection of their dominant win over Texas, coming off of a close loss to a highly-ranked Oklahoma team, and Iowa State and Oklahoma State continuing to be in the rankings.”

My take: The committee will not cop to a correction. But it’s conceivable that some committee members heard the criticism of Baylor being ranked so low and gave the Bears more consideration. I think that’s completely feasible.

I'm just wondering when you look at the two-loss teams, what's separating Penn State from Florida?

Mullens: “You know, their wins over Michigan and on the road at Iowa. And they also have a quality non-conference win over Pitt. Both teams have good losses, quality losses, with Penn State's being our No. 1 and our No. 8 teams this week.”

My take: Good answer. And great comparison. Florida lost at LSU, Penn State lost at Ohio State. Florida lost on a neutral field to Georgia, Penn State lost at Minnesota. Florida won at home over Auburn, Penn State won at home over Michigan. But Penn State won at Iowa. That’s the real difference.

LSU has beaten your No. 5, 11, and 15 teams, No. 5 on the road. Ohio State beat 10, 12 and 19 in your ranking at home. LSU has got a strength of schedule 10 points higher than Ohio State's. In the end does the committee see those differences as negligible in terms of ranking the teams?

Mullens: “Yeah, those are – we would obviously value LSU's three wins over top-15 teams and Ohio State's wins over three top-19 teams.”

My take: Interesting give-and-take, so…

So they're pretty much fairly even?

Mullens: “Yeah, those are all really impressive wins to the committee, and they each have three.”

My take: The mystery is this. How can Alabama be No. 5, via the eye test and not the resume’, and then LSU be given no extra credit for having won at Alabama?

LSU played a team that's now 6-5 and had a home game against Northwestern State (of Louisiana), while Ohio State's non-conference opponents are all in the FBS. Does that almost count as a non-game for LSU, having played Northwestern State?

Mullens: “No, I mean, we recognize that it's an FCS game. It's highlighted as an FCS game, and we understand what that is.”

My take: It doesn’t help LSU’s case. Doesn’t help at all.

When it comes to LSU and Ohio State, I'm wondering how much of a decider is Ohio State's defense in raising Ohio State to No. 1?

Mullens: “That's a key piece. I mean, they're a balanced team, strong on offense and defense. Obviously LSU has a very strong offense. But to date their defense isn't quite as strong as Ohio State's.”

My take: Mullens is telling the truth. The committee loves defense. Always has, always will. It shouldn’t matter. If you win games 56-49 by blocking four punts a game for touchdowns, that should be as good as winning 28-21. But the committee disagrees.

Related Photos
FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2019, file photo, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young rushes against Northwestern during the second half of an NCAA college football game, in Evanston, Ill. Young got back on the field, and immediately back into the Heisman Trophy race. In his return from a two-game NCAA suspension, he had three sacks among nine tackles in the Buckeyes’ win over Penn State last Saturday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2019, file photo, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young rushes against Northwestern during the second half of an NCAA college football game, in Evanston, Ill. Young got back on the field, and immediately back into the Heisman Trophy race. In his return from a two-game NCAA...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8b28d721dcf6356f56e932096337b560.jpg" alt="Photo - FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2019, file photo, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young rushes against Northwestern during the second half of an NCAA college football game, in Evanston, Ill. Young got back on the field, and immediately back into the Heisman Trophy race. In his return from a two-game NCAA suspension, he had three sacks among nine tackles in the Buckeyes’ win over Penn State last Saturday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)" title="FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2019, file photo, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young rushes against Northwestern during the second half of an NCAA college football game, in Evanston, Ill. Young got back on the field, and immediately back into the Heisman Trophy race. In his return from a two-game NCAA suspension, he had three sacks among nine tackles in the Buckeyes’ win over Penn State last Saturday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)"><figcaption>FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2019, file photo, Ohio State defensive end Chase Young rushes against Northwestern during the second half of an NCAA college football game, in Evanston, Ill. Young got back on the field, and immediately back into the Heisman Trophy race. In his return from a two-game NCAA suspension, he had three sacks among nine tackles in the Buckeyes’ win over Penn State last Saturday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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