Q&A with Mr. College Football - Part II
“Mr. College Football” will be beginning his 36th year of covering college football this season, and has completed his 25th year writing for the AJC. He appears as a college football insider for CBS Sports and he also does significant television and radio work.
We covered everything – from the new playoff in college football to the ACC/Orange Bowl Alliance to conference realignment to Clemson’s scheduling. The following is the second part of the transcript of that interview.
TN – There is a lot of talk about the dominance of the SEC, and how those teams are more dominant as compared to the ACC. Is that a question of talent, or coaching?
TB – The SEC has better players, and college football is all about players. Coaching is very important, but when you look at the last couple of drafts, you see the effect that the SEC programs have had, especially on the defensive line. There is a big difference. I told somebody the other day that the ACC has to go out and win more games and get better players. What Clemson is doing is the right thing – they bring in Sammy Watkins and people like that. But you have to go out and get those difference makers on both sides of the ball. If you look at the total defense rankings from last year, four out of the top five were from the SEC. The other was FSU. That is a difference in talent and on the defensive line. FSU is a top defense. Other defenses in the ACC are good, but the only team in the ACC that is close to LSU or Alabama is FSU.
TN – I know you don’t cover recruiting, but there has seemed to be a lot of talent coming out of the state of Georgia the last few years…
“I know nothing about recruiting and I do that for a reason. But I did read somewhere that the top three states in recruiting college football talent are Florida, California and Texas. But Georgia is closing the gap. I talk to a lot of college coaches, and they agree that there are a lot of great players here, so to hear that isn’t surprising. I also know that when Clemson has had a lot of success they have recruited the state of Georgia very well.
TN – What do you think of Dabo Swinney’s hire of Brent Venables as defensive coordinator?
TB – I had a chance to meet him in the spring, and I love his level of energy. I think he and Coach Swinney are on the same page – they make it pretty clear they want to simplify the defensive scheme and use their players’ natural abilities to do things. They have a lot of good, young athletes on that side of the ball. I am anxious to see them play. We know Clemson will move the ball – the question will be whether they will be able to stop people or slow them down. It will be interesting to see how they play against Auburn.
TN – Speaking of Auburn, what do you think are the keys to that game?
TB – I can tell you this – Auburn will run the ball and play defense. They want to play blue collar football. With [new offensive coordinator] Scott Loeffler, they will run the ball more and use more play-action. Clemson will of course want to spread the field and use those skill people. It will be interesting to see which side dictates the tempo. I am also anxious to see what Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder does against Clemson’s skill people. I know that both teams need to win this game.
TN – Which team has the most to gain and which team has the most to lose in this game?
TB – Each one of them has a reason to win this game. For Clemson, they want to wipe that slate clean after the Orange Bowl. They want to look like a team that can go undefeated and be in the mix. They have this game and then they have FSU three weeks later. They have a lot they can prove in those first few weeks. For Auburn, this is a team that won the National Championship a few years ago. They finished okay last season – they won eight games – but everyone knew they would take a step back last season. Now they want to show everyone they are taking a step forward. What better to go forward for both of those teams than to get a win in that game? There will be a lot on the line when they play.
TN – Let’s change the subject and talk about a subject that has dominated the internet for the past few months – conference expansion and realignment. There was a lot of talk about Florida St. and Clemson possibly moving to the Big 12 – do you see that as something that could happen or as viable alternative for those two universities?
TB - I don’t. Now, I understand that FSU fans got very excited, but I don’t see that making any sense for FSU and I don’t see it making any sense for Clemson. They need to stay in the ACC if their goal is to try and win a conference championship and play for the National Championship. Clemson and FSU have a better chance to do that in the ACC than in the Big 12. If the money is about the same – and I have heard it is – then I don’t see it being a good thing other than if the fans just want something different. Now, FSU and Clemson are different in that FSU has only been in the conference for years. Clemson is a charter member. That is two totally different things. But I have talked to the people at Clemson, and they have told me there isn’t any interest. And I don’t think it makes much sense.
TN – There has also been a lot of talk about Notre Dame, and how the Fighting Irish now need to join a conference. There has been talk of them joining the Big 12 and the ACC. Do you see Notre Dame losing their independent status in football and having to join a conference?
TB – Everybody is talking about how they have to join a conference in football. I don’t think they have to as long as the Big East remains intact for the rest of their sports programs. As long as there is a Big East and they have a home for their Olympic sports, they don’t have to join another conference. Now, if the Big East falls apart, then they have to look at their options. But as an independent, if they are in the top four in the rankings at the end of the season, they have a good chance of being selected by the selection committee. Until they lose their home for men’s basketball and the non-revenue sports, I think they will remain an independent.
TN – Now that the dust has sort of settled on a lot of the expansion and realignment talks, do you see any changes being made, or will the schools wait until after the playoff process has started?
TB – I think everybody will stand pat and see how the playoff works. If they are not happy, then there might be more talk. But I have talked to people in the Big 12, and they like where they are right now.
TN – Do you see the SEC moving to 16 teams in the near future?
TN – The ACC announced that it was going to a nine-game conference schedule. Does that help or hurt, in your opinion?
TB – Nine conference games hurts the schools that are the in the ACC. Those games are tough on schools like Clemson and FSU, who already have tough non-conference games that are rivalry games and are home-and-away every year. That only gives you two games to play with, and if you want seven home games, it limits your scheduling. That makes it very difficult for a school like Clemson that wants seven home games, but also wants to play a school like Georgia.
TN – Were you surprised to see that Clemson still kept the series with Georgia, despite what is happening with the ACC’s scheduling?
TB – If you are the head coach at Clemson, you want to play Georgia. Athens is just 90 minutes from Clemson, and it helps in recruiting in the state of Georgia. It helps your chances nationally, and it helps your chances in recruiting. Now, will Georgia be really good? Probably. But I can tell you that is a game that Dabo Swinney wants to play.