Jeff Bower, former Southern Miss head football coach and Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, was one of 13 members of college football’s 2017 College Football Playoff Selection Committee, serving the second year of a three-year term. Bower, who lives in Hattiesburg, talked with sports columnist Rick Cleveland about his two years on the committee.
Q. Well, let’s get right to it. There always will be controversy about the four teams selected for the four-team playoff. Did you think the committee got it right?
A. Yes, without a doubt. I think we got it 100 percent right. I think we got the four teams right in the order we picked them. In fact, I think we have gotten exactly right both years that I have been a part of the process.
Q. I agree. To review, Clemson was No. 1, Oklahoma was No. 2, Georgia No. 3 and Alabama No. 4. But there a lot of people thought Alabama should be out after losing to Auburn by 12 in their final regular season game and not even playing in the conference championship game. Thoughts?
A. But you compare Alabama with Ohio State, and Ohio State lost twice, by two touchdowns at home against Oklahoma, and they got blown out on the road by Iowa. The committee thought Alabama did more and deserved to be the fourth team in.
Q. I want to get back to the specifics of this year’s selections but I think a lot of people will be interested in how the committee works and how much work you put into it. Can you speak to that?
A. Well, I’ll tell you this much. I probably watch a lot more football on tape now than I did when I was a coach – hours upon hours of tape every week. They give us I-pads to work with and by 8 o’clock on Sunday morning I can download every game in the country. I can watch either the full game with all the commentary or a coaches’ cut that just has the plays. I can fast-forward or go back. I can watch ’em all, but then some are pretty much over by halftime. Let’s put it this way: I watch a whole lot of football.
Each committee member is given two specific conferences you are responsible for and that you make reports on. My two conferences this year were the Pac-12 and the MAC, so obviously I concentrated more on them, but I watched a lot of all of them. Also, they give out a schedule of about 20 games each week they want everybody to watch and be ready to comment on.
Q. Do you enjoy the work?
A. I do. I really do. More than I thought I would probably. I love football, No. 1. Plus when you’re in that environment with 13 obviously knowledgeable committee members, you want to be prepared. You want to do your homework. You want to contribute. Everybody comes prepared and does their work. I really believe that everybody on that committee wants to get it right, does their homework and comes prepared.
Q. How contentious is it? Does it get loud?
A. Rick, you would no believe how non-contentious it is. Last year, when Condoleeza Rice was on the committee, she said it was the least contentious committee she has ever been a part of, and I can’t imagine how many committees she has been on in her career. Everything about my two years has been first-class. People come prepared and say what they think. It’s pretty matter-of-fact, you don’t hear voices raised.
Q. Back to this year’s selections, there was some controversy in that UCF, the only team that finished with a perfect record, was left out. They went ahead and had their on national championship parade at Disney and gave out national championship bonuses and bowl rings. What about UCF?
A. UCF had a helluva football team. But it’s no great secret that their strength of schedule didn’t measure up.
Q. You can only beat the teams you play. As you know sometimes it’s hard for a so-called group of five school to schedule games against teams from the power five conferences. You coached at a group of five school. In this era, can a group of five school ever play its way in?
A. Well, most years when I was at Southern Miss when we played Alabama, Auburn and people like that. We played Penn State, Nebraska, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma State, Tennessee – all those teams. There wasn’t a playoff system then, but if there had been and we ran the table against our conference and then teams like that, then, yes, I think we would get in with today’s selection process. Strength of schedule is really important, both in conference and out of conference. As I said, UCF had a helluva team, but the strength of schedule just wasn’t there. If they had beaten an Alabama, a Georgia, an LSU or somebody like that, it certainly would have helped.
Q. There has been a lot of discussion of adding teams to the playoff, expanding to eight or even 16 teams. Your thoughts?
A. This is just me, but I like it the way it is. I just don’t think they need to play more games than they play now.
Q. I know you went to the championship game as a member of the selection committee. Your thoughts? How about Nick Saban’s halftime move?
A. It was a fantastic game, just as I thought it would be. Two great teams, really, I think the best two teams. I thought it was a brilliant move to change quarterbacks. It won the game. That’s the bottom line. It won the game. I don’t think Alabama wins if Saban doesn’t make that move. He knew they had to throw the ball to win and the freshman gave them the best chance to throw the ball successfully.