Tramel: Has anyone noticed how mediocre is Big Ten football?
OU stayed No. 11 in the College Football Playoff committee’s most recent rankings, released Tuesday night, but Iowa State moved up to No. 7, ahead of Cincinnati. So that was some good news for the Big 12 as it fights an uphill battle to reach the four-team playoff.
Committee chairman Gary Barta, the athletic director at Iowa, and playoff executive director Bill Hancock held another teleconference Tuesday night. Here is the transcript of that teleconference, plus my responses to his answers.
Q. I was just wondering as you guys evaluated Ohio State this week and the fact that they were down five starters and I think it was 17 scholarship players in total, how did that factor into how you viewed them as you got another chance to look at them this week?
Barta: “Well, we certainly took that into account, to your point, and the fact that three of them were offensive linemen, that certainly got our attention, so watching Justin Fields do what he did, just really took command of the offense. I've been saying the last few weeks, all the different weapons that Ohio State's offense has this week, it was Olave going for 140 yards and then Fields rushing for two and throwing for two. It was important to see another game from Ohio State because they were at four games, now they're at five, but the 52-12 win against Michigan State was impressive. But we certainly did consider the fact, as we do with every team when there's unavailability, and this year when it's related to COVID."
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My take: Here’s a good followup question. How many starters and scholarship players were missing from Michigan State? I sometimes think this is not a zero-sum game. That the playoff contenders are analyzed for who’s missing -- Trevor Lawrence, Ronnie Perkins, could be most anybody -- but the teams they’re playing, not so much.
Q. Bill, obviously here in the Big Ten but also in some other conferences, the COVID-19 situation is still pretty dicey. Teams are cancelling, pausing activities. Can you give us any updated clarity on what COVID protocols are going to govern the safe participation of teams in games, how that will be decided, and are there contingencies set up if one of these testing spikes prevents a team from being able to play?
Hancock: “Yeah, thank you for asking that. There will be protocols, safety protocols for the games. Our games will be conducted very similarly to what the conferences have been doing during the season. It's of interest to me that there have not been any documented cases of any transmission of the virus during athletic competition. So for our games, we'll certainly keep track and keep doing what the conferences were doing during the season. We'll be ready for whatever comes down. I don't want to get into hypotheticals, but we will be prepared for whatever we have to deal with as far as the games themselves go."
My take: The games will be played. If they have to wait until February, the games will be played.
Q. I've got a little bit of an odd question for you. Please don't make this sound like I in any way am questioning your integrity here, but it does seem to be, you are leading the playoff committee, and tomorrow you're going to take part in a meeting with your colleagues in the Big Ten, where obviously there will be -- I don't know the exact agenda of that meeting, but there will clearly be some discussion about, hey, what do we do here with Ohio State, with our games minimum rule, and a lot of that discussion is based on how best to position teams -- how best to crown a champion, and also in some ways position team to get in the playoff. That just seems like an awkward position for you to be put in. How will you sort of engage in that meeting when your colleagues can sort of look at you and say, so Gary, what do you think the committee is going to think about 6-0 Ohio State or 6-1 Northwestern. I understand that is sort of outside the scope of the Selection Committee, but I just am very interested to ask.
Barta: “Well, I don't take offense to your question. It's a reasonable question. I have not seen an agenda for -- we have a regular ADs' meeting at least once a week and sometimes twice a week. Tomorrow is a regular ADs' meeting. I have not yet seen an agenda. I haven't spoken with the commissioner or anyone in the Big Ten nor to any of my AD colleagues. I'm not going to speculate exactly what's going to be discussed tomorrow. What I will tell you is I am going to go into it the way I try to go into everything, and that is I'm going to do the right thing, what I believe is the right thing for college football, for the CFP, and certainly as we have since the beginning of COVID, the right thing for student-athlete health and safety. I know that's as direct as I can give you an answer because I'd be speculating beyond that what the agenda is going to include.”
My take: Excellent question. But I will cut Barta some slack. The playoff is a side job. He’s got a regular job. Athletic director at Iowa. If we want to make the committee nothing but retirees or people who do not work in collegiate athletics, OK. That might be a reasonable solution. But for now, each Power 5 conference is represented on the committee by an athletic director, and until that changes, they are going to have situations where they have to make decisions related to the playoff but outside the committee.
Q. This is more kind of wanted to get your idea or thoughts on this: When you guys are looking at a possible playoff, is the committee considering that there's a chance that some teams who played less games could have an advantage over a team who's played more games from an injury and availability standpoint given the grind of a longer season?
Barta: “Well, I have a smile on my face because I'm going to try to attempt at humor, but Bill is sitting across from me at the table. We're not going to try and have a playoff, we are going to have a playoff. But now to your question. I mentioned last week that this year was unusual, and the difference in number of games played is a problem when you're trying to evaluate teams. But we are taking that into account. What you see in front of you 1 through 4 and 1 through 25, certainly the committee has taken into account and talked a lot about the differences in games, but at the end of the day, to be over-simple about our job, it's just to identify the teams, the best 25 teams in the country and for the playoff the best four."
My take: Didn’t answer the question. Barta has been pretty good at answering questions, so I’m not going to come down on him. But he didn’t answer the question.
Q. Gary, last week you made it clear that Ohio State was No. 4 but not by a big margin. Did they make themselves more secure with that win over Michigan State, for now at least?
Barta: “Well, I don't recall giving a margin difference. I clearly shared that the committee believes that Ohio State last week belonged in the No. 4 spot. I mentioned a little bit earlier, it was important for the committee to see Ohio State play again, and the more we can see Ohio State play, the better, because they've played now five games. But when we get ready to rank, there's not a variance -- we don't have a degree of variance between 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and beyond, so for this week the committee felt confident putting Ohio State at 4."
My take: Yes, is the answer. Beating Michigan State 52-12 helped the Buckeyes’ cause.
Q. I'm curious about Indiana and their spot at No. 12; obviously behind a few two-loss teams. What do you guys see in the Hoosiers, and what is it that is keeping them back behind some of those two-loss teams?
Barta: “Well, the committee has really thought highly of Indiana. They only have one loss, and that's to Ohio State. They started off slow in that game but came back. Their defense has been strong. And then you always wonder when a team loses their leader, their quarterback, how will a team react to that, when they lost Michael Penix but Jack Tuttle came in and really did a nice job. The committee feels good about Indiana. They are 6-1 now. When you look at some of the people that we compare around them, they don't have any top-25 wins and none of their wins are against a team with a winning record. So that certainly was considered as one of the variables."
My take: See, Barta answers questions. I actually like Indiana a lot. Beating Wisconsin was impressive to me, and doing so without starting quarterback Penix was even more impressive. But Barta gave a good reason. No top-25 wins. No wins against teams with winning records. Of course, it’s difficult for any Big Ten team to have wins against teams with winning records. There are 14 Big Ten teams. Only four have winning records -- 5-0 Ohio State, 7-1 Indiana, 5-1 Northwestern, 5-2 Iowa. There are only two Big Ten victories ALL SEASON over teams with winning records. Ohio State over Indiana and Northwestern over Iowa. It’s a mediocre conference, and maybe the Buckeyes’ dominance should be rewarded and maybe not.
Q. Just curious what went into the decision to put Cincinnati at 8 and have Iowa State jump them and if Cincinnati's conference being a non-power conference or strength of schedule had any factor on that.
Barta: “Well, a few things to start with. First of all, just Iowa State ended up at No. 7 based on several things. I mean, they're in first place in their conference. They've beaten No. 11 Oklahoma and No. 20 Texas. The last two weeks especially, it's been building over the course of the year, but two weeks ago they beat No. 20 Texas and then this week really came out strong against West Virginia. Their defense held them to six points. They now have the nation's leading rusher in Breece Hall. Brock Purdy was 20 out of 23. So when you take all those things, Iowa State ended up at No. 7. I just would tell you my take on it from the committee's standpoint, it was less about moving Cincinnati down and more about just the committee being impressed with what Iowa State has been doing."
My take: The committee really likes Iowa State, and that’s good news for the Sooners and the Big 12.
Q. At the risk of looking ahead, we already know, though, that Texas A&M has had a game canceled for the weekend against Ole Miss. Ohio State has had its game against Michigan canceled, as well, not just merely postponed. How has the committee looked at these situations, not just mere postponements but actual cancellations so far this year kind of as a benchmark in kind of weighing their evaluation of teams?
Barta: “Well, if you'll just give me just a second, I'm going to start by saying as someone who's around student-athletes in my AD's capacity, first of all, all the student-athletes who lose opportunities to play, that just breaks my heart, going way back to March when our basketball teams and then our spring sports and now football specifically and basketball, and then the second thought I always have is I hope everybody is OK. Whether it's Cincinnati's team or it's Tulsa or Michigan, whoever it is, I'm hoping that everybody is OK. Now to your question, at the beginning of the year, the committee talked about the fact that 2020 was going to be a unique year, and so we were going to have to make sure that we were evaluating teams based on the information we had, that it would be a lot about watching all those games. It always has been. But even more important than ever before, watching games and evaluating teams, knowing that we're going to have to evaluate some teams that have different numbers of games played. The other thing that was different this year is there wasn't as much inter-conference play, so we don't have that comparator. It's all included in the evaluation, and I've said a couple of times publicly, that has created problems, trying to evaluate teams with different numbers. But I'm proud of the committee, the way everybody has invested the time and put in the evaluation efforts, and so far, so good."
My take: I didn’t understand the question. Yes, the committee knows that some games have been canceled. Did the question mean that the committee wouldn’t hold it against a team if the opponent canceled? I don’t know. Sometimes, Barta has a tough job figuring out what these questions mean.
Q. You touched base earlier about Indiana being 0-1 versus top-25 and zero wins against .500 and above ranked teams. My question from you is from the No. 13 point of view, Coastal Carolina, they have two wins versus top 25 and four wins over .500 or greater schools. What more do they need to do to make that next jump in the conference's opinion?
Barta: “Well, each week is a new evaluation, and obviously this week Coastal -- we had a data point, a game to watch, and I would just tell you that as a college football fan, watching that Coastal Carolina-BYU game was exciting. What a thrill. They were ranked lower than the team they beat in BYU, and they moved up several spots as a result of that victory. They were able to run the ball. They were able to contain -- slow down BYU's offense. Nobody can stop it. And they won the game. The committee put them at 13 based on that performance and the performance leading up to that, and I won't project further than that. We'll just wait and see next week what we have to evaluate."
My take: Ouch. This question cuts the committee to the quick. Coastal Carolina not only has a better résumé than Indiana, Coastal has a better résumé than Ohio State. They each have a really good win, the Buckeyes close over Indiana, the Chanticleers close over Brigham Young. But Coastal also has beaten Louisiana-Lafayette, which is 9-1 and ranked 19th. The Ragin’ Cajuns beat Iowa State. The committee has no defense, other than eye test, for ranking Ohio State over Coastal, much less Indiana.
Q. Question for you about Colorado and USC. I'm just curious what you liked about Colorado and kind of what you see as the difference between those two teams that has them six spots separated.
Barta: “Well, both of them are 4-0, so the committee is impressed certainly with that. Both of those teams are in that category that we've been talking a little bit about, and the challenges of evaluating a team with less games played. I can tell you the committee early on in the season was impressed with USC and all the different skill positions. Kedon Slovis is an impressive quarterback. The defensive backfield has really been playing well. I think they played this past week without their starting two linebackers, and yet they looked very impressive against Washington State. When you add it all up, that's how they moved into the 15 spot. The other thing -- so that's kind of my take on USC. Colorado had not been in the top 25, so they're in now. They've been talked about in the past because they were off to a 3-0 start. They beat Arizona. Obviously very impressed with Broussard and running for over 300 yards. A little bit more one-dimensional than USC offensively, so maybe that was one of the difference makers, and then again, that Washington State performance (by USC) on Sunday impressed the committee, as well. "
My take: It’s hard to distinguish between Colorado and Southern Cal. The Buffaloes are 4-0 and have outscored opponents 127-97. The Trojans are 4-0 and have outscored foes 133-87. USC had two thrilling, comeback victories (Arizona State, Arizona), then two dominant victories (Utah, Washington State). CU had two close wins over UCLA and Stanford, plus solid victories over San Diego State and Arizona. I don’t see any difference.
Q: Just wanted to ask in regards to if Ohio State doesn't play this week and it only plays six games for the season, how much of a concern would that be if you're making a final selection and having to evaluate a team that's played just six games?
Barta: “Well, I understand why you would ask the question. That's a fair question. But from the committee's vantage point, we just -- we really resist -- every week we talk about, we resist looking ahead. We've seen Ohio State play five games. Based on that performance, we put them in the fourth spot, and we'll just wait and see. Next week is another ranking opportunity, and then we'll have that final ranking opportunity. I understand why you're asking, and as a fan, fans want to know, but the committee just works very hard to not look ahead."
My take: What if Ohio State can’t play next week? What if the Buckeyes finish 5-0? Could the committee really select a team that played five games, while the other contenders played 10 or 11? Frankly, I don’t see how. Is that fair to the Buckeyes. Maybe not. But perhaps you didn’t realize something about the COVID. There’s not much fair about the whole thing.
Q. The Cincinnati Bearcats have one game left on the schedule and they're ranked No. 8 and they have a perfect winning percentage right now. You talked earlier that you liked Iowa State over Cincinnati, but what more could have the Bearcats done to surpass the one- and two-loss teams ahead of them like Texas A&M, Florida and Iowa State in order to be higher up in the playoff picture?
Barta: “Well, I don't know if I can talk about what more they could have done. The committee looks at each team's body of work, and when you look at Cincinnati, they certainly -- they're 8-0, and that's a fact, and it's certainly considered. They don't have any top-25 wins, so I think that was -- I don't think, that WAS one of the discussion points of the committee. And as I mentioned earlier, Iowa State having a win against No. 11, Oklahoma, and No. 20 Texas and just the last few weeks the way they've been playing just put them at 7, and then going up to Florida, they're 8-1 and their only loss is to No. 5 Texas A&M and Texas A&M's 7-1 and their only loss is to Alabama and they beat Florida. Each team is just considered based on what they've done, and so when you look at Cincinnati, those are some of the comparators that has Cincinnati at 8.”
My take: I hate to pile on the Bearcats, but they have little case compared to Coastal Carolina or Louisiana-Lafayette. Cincinnati has played just two road games. Washington State has played two road games out of three games total.