Pictures of Todd Blackledge and Mack Brown: http://bit.ly/1kbaM5e
THE MODERATOR: The first College Football Playoff rankings as determined by the Selection Committee were unveiled last night on ESPN, and they’ll continue to be unveiled each Tuesday up until Sunday, December 6, when the final rankings will be set.
Today, for reaction, we have both Todd Blackledge and Mack Brown on the line. Todd will be one of the analysts for the semifinal games on New Year’s Eve this year, and Mack Brown in addition to calling the Friday night games will continue his studio work throughout the postseason.
We have about 45 minutes here to get to as many questions as possible, so we ask that you try to keep it short so we can get to everybody. We’ll try to accommodate as many as we can here.
Q: A question for Mack, and if Todd wants to do this as a former quarterback, I would appreciate his insights. But Mack, I was wondering what the challenges are for Baylor going now to a true freshman quarterback beginning in Manhattan, Kansas, and the teeth of their schedule? Also, what do you know, I was just wondering from your time at Texas, how familiar you were with Jarrett Stidham, and what he might bring to the table?
MACK BROWN: First, anytime you have a freshman quarterback, the concerns of the unknown of how he’s going to play when he gets out there. So you just don’t know. It was pretty much the same thing with Seth Russell to start the season, and Seth was older. He had waited his turn. So you really hate for Seth that he got hurt because he paid his dues and watched a lot of other guys from the sideline. He wasn’t a guy that had an ego and transferred. He stayed to do it right.
But the other thing I would say for Jarrett, Art’s offense is something that Jarrett has known for a long time. He was there in January. I’m sure that Kendal and Art Briles will narrow down the play selection for him a little bit more than they would Seth because he’s been in the system for four years. But our system is very good. It’s not complicated. It looks complicated, but it is more simple, even though it’s really, really good. And Jarrett’s only thrown 28 passes, but he’s hit 24 of them. They were lucky to have a week off going into tomorrow night’s game with Kansas State.
So I think there will be some growing pains tomorrow night a little bit, but I expect Jarrett to be good. We recruited him heavily and thought he was as good as anybody in the country in my last year at Texas.
Q: Mack, there are already a ton of coaching openings out there, and I think there are going to be several more before the end of the season or by the end of the season. I guess, what kind of ‑‑ how chaotic do you think that’s going to be at the end of the year? If you’re a program in position to hire a new coach, how competitive will that marketplace be this year and how quickly do you have to act on that given all the openings?
MACK BROWN: Yes, it’s a great question. I think it will be very chaotic. What happens is when one university is thinking about making a change and they see ten others at the FBS level make one, then they get nervous that all the candidates are going to be committed to another university before they have an opportunity to talk to them.
Very honestly, agents are working across the country right now. People think they’re not, but the coaches aren’t talking to the headhunters. They aren’t talking to the university athletic directors, athletic directors are making decisions so they can start talking to the coaches right now, obviously a guy that’s not going to talk, but his agent is constantly having contact with these guys. So it is a huge distraction for those that are in good jobs but might be able to improve their position and go to a better one.
Q: Todd, were you surprised or not surprised that Clemson topped the first College Football Playoff poll and why or why not?
TODD BLACKLEDGE: I really wasn’t that surprised. I think that they have played at a very high, consistent level to this point. You know, I’ll say this, it’s kind of I have two sides to the same coin. No. 1, I think it’s great that the first ranking for the College Football Playoff doesn’t come out until November. I have never been a big fan of preseason polls or early polls or early discussions about Heisman or any of that.
So this is one thing I really love about this set‑up is that the first one comes out in November. Having said that, it is still the first one and there is a lot of football to be played. A lot of serious football to be played, major games coming up on the calendar here in the month of November. So I think they deserve it. I think you could make an argument for a couple other teams, but I’m not surprised that they got the first nod. But even as soon as this week or this weekend, some huge games left for Clemson and several of these other teams.
Q: Mack, it’s kind of dovetailing off what Todd just said, now the playoff system is a year in and coaches have kind of seen what it’s like do you feel like November has become the most important month now when it comes to college football? And how does a coach like Mark Dantonio, for instance, continue to win in November at this point?
MACK BROWN: Well, No. 1, I agree the statement has always been there. They remember November, so every coach has always said, even if you’re struggling going into November, let’s finish this thing right because the alums and fans will remember that more than early in the season. But with the playoff, it’s more prevalent now than ever before. You are in a “win and advance or lose and be through” type attitude. I hated it for Mark Dantonio last year that his only two losses were to playoff teams, Ohio State and Oregon, who ended up playing for the National Championship. He has a tremendous win in the Cotton Bowl, and it really didn’t get a lot of talk or excitement or conversation.
So that’s one thing I’m concerned about is we talk about it didn’t change the regular season, but in some ways it does because that game with Baylor and Michigan State was a great game, and I just didn’t feel like it got a lot of talk.
But this puts more pressure on the kids. It puts more pressure on the coaches because now the standard is to be one of the four at the end. Dean Smith told me many years ago when I coached at North Carolina, don’t let football get like basketball where there’s only one team that’s happy at the end of the year. So we’ve done that some.
Now from a fan standpoint, from a media standpoint, we have the best month of college football ever coming up here because there is so much excitement, and every game does matter, because even if it’s a game that was on someone’s schedule earlier, it does matter. Why does Mark Dantonio win in November? He’s tough, he’s smart, he has a system in place that he believes in. He’s always had a blue collar football team, and his teams continue to get better as the season goes on, and that is good coaching.
Q: I wanted both of your reactions on Memphis at 13, and also beyond that what is the ceiling, do you think, for a team like Memphis if they were to win out in the rankings?
TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, you know, first of all, I’m very impressed with them. I watched their Ole Miss game on film because I had Ole Miss the following week or the following game, so I was able to study them, and they’re a very good football team. Particularly offensively. I think their quarterback is playing about as well as any quarterback out there.
So I think they’ve excited people. I think they’ve got people’s attention. And the fact that they’re 13th in this first ranking, I think signifies that, you know? They are kind of the bell cow of the group of five teams right now sitting there at 13. And ironically people may or may not remember when the first poll came out last year, the eventual National Champion Ohio State was at 16. Now the biggest difference is just the name value and the fact that Ohio State had some major games to look forward to down the stretch that got them right into the final four at the very end.
You know, I think people intrigued by Memphis, and there are a couple of undefeated teams in their conference that they’re going to play, and they’re going to play a couple tough games on the road, I think they’ll stay in the conversation if they continue to play the way they do. Now, whether it’s good enough to get in the top four, I don’t know. But I think certainly good enough to get into one of the new year six bowls.
MACK BROWN: I agree with Todd completely. I’ve been fortunate enough on Friday night to have Memphis twice. We saw them against South Florida, and saw them against Tulsa. So we saw them on the road twice. They had the slow start. Justin Fuente is one of those guys that everybody’s talking about that has to fight the distraction of where are you going and what’s happening, and I feel like he’s learned a lot in his coaching career to be 39 years old, but he learned from
Gary Patterson you just keep coaching.
But they do have, and I agree that Paxton Lynch, to me, he is a high draft choice. He’s a guy that if he continues to play well, stays healthy, could possibly be in New York for the Heisman.
But these guys have three very difficult weeks. They’ve got Navy. They’re at Houston and at Temple. So we will know at the end of those three weeks, Tom, whether Memphis is for real or not when we’re talking about the playoff games or being the best of the Power Five, group of five.
Q: Clemson Opens at No. 1, and after Florida State games this weekend they finish with three games against teams that only have three wins. Is it possible for the Tigers to win out and fall from the No. 1 seed. Also, Todd, if you wouldn’t mind sharing what you’ve seen out of Deshaun Watson, and his first year without Chad Morris?
TODD BLACKLEDGE: Yeah, well, first of all, anything is possible. We kind of learned that last year. We had a couple teams that finished or one team that finished without a loss and it’s possible the team can finish without a loss and be left out. It’s too hard to speculate right now. I think the cool thing again about this, the first poll came out now. There is a lot that can change. Even in looking at two of those four, Alabama and LSU play each other this weekend. So there are going to be shake‑ups all the way from now until the end.
Obviously you’ve got to sell to your team, and I think the message for Clemson and everybody else is we’ve just got to take care of our business, control what we can control and try to win out and believe that our body of work will speak for itself.
I think because there was such a strong impression made so far, I’d say it would be hard for them to win out and get knocked completely out of the top four, but not impossible.
As far as Deshaun Watson, I just think when he’s been healthy, he’s been a very special player. I haven’t gotten to watch him live or study him on tape yet this year, but what I’ve seen and highlight‑wise, and game recap stuff, he’s having an outstanding year. On top of the fact that he’s without Chad Morris I think makes it even more impressive from his standpoint. He’s doing a lot of things really, really well.
MACK BROWN: From my standpoint, I was actually in Dallas a few weeks ago and took part in the playoff committee as they looked at the 2011 year. I picked Texas No. 1 that year, even though we were 8‑5, but it didn’t fly. So it was a difficult thing for me and the guys.
But they’re very thorough. It’s helped me to go because I have more of an appreciation of how hard the job is for the committee. They have an impossible job. I thought they did get it right last year, but I agree with Todd there are a couple of teams that probably didn’t think so. But when you’re undefeated in a good league like the ACC, I think you get in because they will have had to ‑‑ they will have beaten Notre Dame. They will have had to have beaten Florida State this weekend, and they’re at Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina, and really Louisville struggled some this year, and Georgia Tech struggled, Boston College struggled. NC State has had their struggles. So it really hurts teams now when there are good teams on their schedule that don’t have a great year.
But I still think that because of the way Clemson’s played, the eye‑test tells you that if they win out, they’ll be one of the four teams.
Q: What do you think the ‑‑ were you surprised by the relatively low placement of the Big 12 teams? What do you think the chances are that the winner of the Big 12, presuming that the winner of the Big 12 ends up being beaten and winds up in the final four? And specifically for Mack, you’re aware of the difficulties of the University of Houston has had in terms of getting any sort of traction in the new world of Texas college football. Do you have any thoughts on what that team under Tom Herman has done thus far this year?
MACK BROWN: Yes, No. 1, I’m so proud of Tom. He worked for us for three years at Texas, and he’s got Major Applewhite who played and worked for us as offensive coordinator, and Oscar Giles played at Texas and worked for us as defensive end coach.
So I’m really, really proud of those guys. They’ve done so well. They’ve beaten Louisville on the road. They’ve beaten Vanderbilt at home. But they’re sitting here with a difficult finish too. You’ve got Cincinnati, you’ve got Memphis, you’ve got Connecticut and you’ve got Navy. All of us know that Navy is one of those games that you better come ready to play because they can beat you for sure. But I think Houston‑Memphis, especially if both come in undefeated, will be one of the games that everybody in the country will look at.
As far as the Big 12 is concerned, I think they’re okay. You’ve got Baylor at sixth and TCU at 8th, and if to me a team wins out and they’re impressive winning out and both of these teams have very difficult schedules to finish, you’ve got Baylor who has OU at TCU and at Oklahoma State, that’s a one‑loss team and two undefeated teams. TCU has Baylor at OU and Oklahoma State this weekend. So I think that the strength of schedule that Baylor and TCU are playing here at the end would put them in if they went out and especially against the schedule they’re playing.
TODD BLACKLEDGE: I would just add to that. I think the national perspective or the impression at least from my standpoint, from an analyst standpoint that covers college football, is that the Big 12 is a very strong conference, so you’re talking about a couple teams, not just Baylor and TCU, but Oklahoma State and Oklahoma that are in the rankings, and their schedules are so back loaded. All those teams are going to be playing each other here down the stretch, and I think the whole college football world will be paying attention to that.
I don’t think what happened last year will necessarily factor in in a direct way, but I do have to believe with human beings involved and knowing that Baylor and TCU both had a pretty rightful claim to being one of those four teams last year and neither one of them got it, I just think that’s in the back of people’s minds.
So I think people will watch how this conference plays out over the last months of the season, and if I think, similar to what Mack just said about Clemson, I think if a team in this conference finishes out undefeated, it would be hard for me to see them not being one of the four teams.
Q: I’m not sure if you saw this, but we put Fred Akers with the Texas Sports Hall of Fame yesterday.
MACK BROWN: Oh, fantastic. Thank you for telling me. I will call him today.
TODD BLACKLEDGE: Just one last thing, if he’s still on, with Tom Herman, I really have tremendous respect for him. I’m not saying that all of the struggles or some of the issues that Ohio State’s offense has had this year are the result of him not being there, but Tom Herman, what a lot of people maybe didn’t pay as much attention to that coaches would or players would, not just was he an excellent play caller for a young coach, but his ability to manage the egos in that quarterback room a year ago and direct three different guys as the leader of that position, that team, pretty amazing what he did last year.
I’m not surprised at all that he’s having the kind of success he’s having right out of the gate here at Houston.
MACK BROWN: Yeah, and I agree completely, David. Obviously for Houston and Memphis, one of the problems with success at those universities is that their names are on every list when you start looking at possible job openings across the country. So it’s the good and the bad. You’d rather win enough. If anybody wants you as a coach instead of losing that nobody wants it. But it is an issue with success.
Q: Mack, I know you’re good friends with Frank Beamer. I was curious your thoughts on his retirement and the legacy he leaves behind?
MACK BROWN: I don’t think we’ll see many more Frank Beamers in college football. The guy has never had NCAA issues. He’s built the program. And unlike a lot of people, me included, he stayed. He stayed at his school. He is Virginia Tech. We don’t even remember many coaches before him because he’s been there so long. And he’s always done it in a class way.
So Frank Beamer gave more to coaching than coaching gave back to him, and it’s been very good to us. But Frank and I started about the same time when I was at UNC, and I was fortunate to only have two stops. But I think he did it right. He’s done it right his whole life, and he’ll retire and have a huge legacy there at Virginia Tech, and he’ll be there, like Coach Royal, to be a confidante for the next guy and a mentor for the next guy that comes in.
Q: Coach Brown and Todd, Oklahoma has the Texas loss. How do you view OU’s position in the big picture right now? And how do you define the state of the Oklahoma State program now and OU’s position in the playoff picture?
TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, I think the one thing that hurts Oklahoma, and I had them against Tennessee, I think they’re a very, very talented football team. I think they’ve got a really good football team. Unfortunately, most people look at the loss to Texas and look at it as a very bad loss for Oklahoma. Now, again, most people don’t understand that rivalry or the intensity of that game. They don’t understand how that’s not that out of the question for a game like that to go the way that it did. But, again, I think a lot of people at this point would still look at that and say, boy, that’s a bad loss. I think that’s kind of what hurt Baylor last year as well, is the loss that they had was one that people looked at and the whole season really considered it a really bad loss.
Now Ohio State had that too, but they overcame theirs. They lost to Virginia Tech, and they were able to overcome it because they played so well down the stretch in high‑level games. So I think both programs are ‑‑ I don’t know as much about Oklahoma State. I’m curious to see how they hold up down the stretch this month. They’re undefeated. They’ve had close games. It they’ve had to battle back in games. They know they can move the football ask score. It will be interesting to see how they play down the stretch against the best teams on their schedule.
MACK BROWN: I’m in agreement with Todd because in looking at the committee, the eye test is very, very important, and the Texas‑OU game being at mid‑season, everybody watches it, and for a team in Texas who was struggling because they had lost in a very difficult game to TCU before, it really hurts Oklahoma.
It’s one of the things I worry about with our committee because we are all human, and we can throw people out of the possibilities very quickly if they have a bad game. As Todd said, Ohio State’s was early enough last year they got on a roll. And Oklahoma’s doing that, but Oklahoma has to finish at Baylor, TCU and Oki State.
So if they can win out and people start losing above them, they still have a position to move up because they’re in a position that’s not too far out to be considered. Most of the coaches have done a fabulous job. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma had question marks coming in. Oklahoma State had question marks coming in. Everybody continues to think, ah, Oklahoma State’s not going to win again this week and they do.
But they’ve got TCU even at Iowa State as a game you have to play. Oklahoma State lost up there when they were in the top two in the country. Then they’ve got Baylor and Oklahoma. So what we’re talking about with November is we’re going to have answers each week, and it is win and advance or get beat and be eliminated. There is just a very, very small margin of error here for these teams because there are so many good teams and there is so much parity right now in college football.
TODD BLACKLEDGE: I would just add also, just as a reminder, and you said it earlier on the call, I just still find it interesting this is the first ranking and the initial ranking a year ago, the eventual National Champion Ohio State was sitting there very similar to Oklahoma with one loss that people considered an ugly loss, and they were number 16. Oklahoma’s 15, and Oklahoma State’s 14, so a lot can change between now and December.
MACK BROWN: And Todd, we’re talking about tough game these teams play. We always see upsets in November. So we’re talking about they might lose this one. We know you can lose any of them. So everybody’s got to play at a very high level here to finish.
Q: I was wondering if you think LSU has got to go undefeated to make the playoff.
TODD BLACKLEDGE: Well, it’s hard to say right now. I think, if they don’t win out, it will make things a little bit more difficult for sure. I think that, again, right now there’s ‑‑ there’s a lot of teams that are sitting there that are undefeated. But LSU has tough, tough games left to play. The reality ‑‑ the realistic chances of them going undefeated are not easy.
So do they have to? I wouldn’t say they have to, but if they lose a game here down the stretch, they’re going to have to get some help, I think, as well.
MACK BROWN: Alex, I agree it would depend how the other teams do. After sitting there with a committee all day, it’s obvious the eye test, the strength of schedule, who finishes strong. LSU has got to defeat Alabama, but they’ve got to defeat Arkansas, go to Ole Miss, and defeat A&M. I coached at LSU. All four of those are emotional games for LSU.
The tough thing for Les Miles, because he has a good football team, can you get your team ready to play at peak performance with emotion for the last four weeks of the season, and then if you do well, even possibly a championship game. They’ve got a very difficult road to finish.
Q: This is for Mack Brown. Mack, I know you spent time with Dabo Swinney at ACC kickoff back in July. Did he give you any indication that he thought that he had a special team? I know there were a lot of questions about the defense and the offensive line, just kind of wondering what he told you back then.
MACK BROWN: Dabo’s a great friend. And we all know he’s very upbeat and positive at the same time. I know, if you lose your whole defense, most of them in the NFL, you lose your coordinator, how can you be as good? He said, Coach, we’re going to be good. We’ve recruited well. These guys believe they can win. Yes, I do think that Dabo thought he had a special team.
Q: Guys, I was on the ACC teleconference. So I apologize, I missed the beginning of your chat. I was just curious where you had Clemson in the top four before the ratings came out last night, and if you’re surprised by the No. 1 ranking or anything else with the ESPN rankings last night.
TODD BLACKLEDGE: First of all, I’m not on the committee, and I don’t think it’s necessary for me to have a top four. So I didn’t. As far as am I surprised? I’m not surprised. I think Clemson has been very impressive. They’ve been consistently impressive this year. I’m not surprised they’re in the top four. I’m not surprised that in the initial ranking that they’re No. 1.
There’s a lot that goes on between now and the end of the season, a lot can change and shuffle, but I think that they’ve been ‑‑ they’ve proven to be a very deserving team at this point. I’m actually anxious to see how they play this weekend because I think this will be one of their best tests to date.
MACK BROWN: Trevor, I agree with what Todd said because I feel the same way. I knew they would be in the top four. I really didn’t care where they are because, if you’re in the top 10, 11, 12 right now and you play well at the end, you’ve got a chance to be in the playoffs.
Q: This is a question for Coach Brown. Coach, what is your take on what’s happening with the program at Georgia right now with respect to what’s surrounding Coach Richt? What advice would you give him as he tries to get his situation turned around?
MACK BROWN: Mark Richt has done as good a job at Georgia as you could possibly do. When he gets through, they’ll talk about his teams the way they talk about Coach Dooley’s teams. We really can’t remember when Mark wasn’t there. I do because he was the offensive coordinator that had Bobby Bowden’s team playing for a National Championship when he left to go to Georgia, and then they didn’t win. They lost to Oklahoma that year.
Part of the tough thing was Mark wasn’t there because he’s such a gifted play caller. What I see is similar to what happened to me when we struggled the last couple of years. He’s had some inconsistency at quarterback, and he lost a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back. When you do that, you’re not as good, and it makes it very difficult.
When you stay a long time, people have less patience because they go back and remember every loss you had since you’ve been there. I stayed 16 years at Texas, four presidential terms. As my wife kind of said, they got tired of my stories, and I kind of got tired of some of theirs. At that time for me, it was time for someone new.
I think you’ve got to be really, really careful, when you start having a discussion about Mark Richt shouldn’t be your coach because I don’t know who you’re going to hire who’s going to have a better run than Mark Richt has had. When you see those who hang in there, Mark will get it back. He played for the conference championship a couple of years ago, and he was five yards from playing for the National Championship.
You’ve got to be really, really careful that, in a year where if the ball doesn’t bounce right or you get some key injuries or maybe your quarterback position didn’t pan out as good as you want, that we decide that Coach can’t coach anymore, because Mark Richt can coach. I hope he stays at Georgia for many more years because it will be hard to replace him.
THE MODERATOR: Todd and Mack, thank you very much for your time. There will be a transcript available for this call.
TODD BLACKLEDGE: Thank you. Take care, Mack. Have a nice weekend.
MACK BROWN: Thanks, Todd. You too.
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