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Q&A With Kirk Herbstreit: College Football Playoff Talk, Coaching Rumors, Rivalry Week Predictions

A general photo of Kirk Herbstreit.

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 05: Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN attends the Party At The Playoff at The GlassHouse on January 5, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for ESPN)

The 2019 college football season is almost in the books, as only one week remains in the regular season. Earlier this week, we sat down with ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to discuss the current landscape of college football, which coaches could be on the move and what matchup in the national championship would generate the best storyline.

Herbstreit has been working with Allstate once again this year to bring fans his weekly Allstate Mayhem Moment.

In addition to picking out where mayhem will take place in college football, Herbstreit also keeps tabs on the Allstate Playoff Predictor, which is an ESPN Stats and Info Model that calculates each team’s objective chance to reach the College Football Playoff.

Let’s get started.

The Spun: This weekend the College GameDay crew is heading to Minneapolis for the first time in show history. What are you looking forward to in that game and are you surprised GameDay picked the Minnesota-Wisconsin game over the Iron Bowl?

Kirk Herbstreit: Man we are fired up to get another opportunity to enjoy Minneapolis in 2019. It's been a magical year for P.J. Fleck and the Gophers. I know they suffered a setback in Iowa City, but we thought as long as they got back on track they'd still have a lot in front of them, including the game with Wisconsin. So bring on the snow, bring on the cold weather, and bring on a rivalry with the winner advancing to the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. This is what Rivalry Week is all about, and what better place to be in than Minneapolis? Fired up to go. We'd never been there. I've been on the show 24 years, and last year we went to Washington State, which we'd never been as well. Now, we got the chance to go to Minneapolis and I can't wait to go.

The Spun: When it comes to the odds-on favorites for the national championship, there are a lot of people considering LSU, Ohio State and Clemson. What team outside of the top three would you give the best chance of winning a national title this year? KH: Probably Utah, if you're looking for an off-the-radar team. If LSU, Ohio State and Clemson keep winning, then it'll knock Georgia out. I think Alabama, you know, they've got a big game with Auburn where they're not only going to have to win, but look good doing it. And even that might not be enough to prevent Utah if they beat Colorado and defeat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship. I think there's a strong opportunity that Utah goes ahead over Alabama and Oklahoma.

The Spun: Sticking with those three teams - Clemson, LSU, Ohio State - out of the three which one would you say has the biggest weakness right now?

KH: I think there's only one choice as we sit here right now and that is the LSU defense. Clemson has been outstanding, offensively and defensively. It's amazing to think that team won 15 games a year ago, and you go position group by position group and the only area where you could say they're maybe not quite as good as they were a year ago is the defensive line. But linebacker play, secondary play, wide receivers, offensive line, running back, and quarterback they're better this year. They seem to be playing with a chip on their shoulder. As for Ohio State, offensively with what they're doing with J.K. Dobbins and Justin Fields is impressive. The defense with new leadership under Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison have been on brand with the way they're playing in the secondary and how gap sound they've been against the run. Chase Young has that defensive line playing well too. So LSU is maybe the greatest story all year because of Joe Burrow and Joe Brady and that offense. But I think because of how quickly and how dynamic they've been on offense, their defense has been on the field a little bit more than they have in the past and they've dealt with some key injuries. That would be the one area that I think LSU is trying to get better at before the SEC Championship and College Football Playoff.

The Spun: In your opinion, what would be the most intriguing matchup in the national championship game?

KH: I think a lot of people would love to see Ohio State against LSU because of Joe Burrow and his story. I mean, Joe Burrow is probably going to win the Heisman Trophy. Burrow left Ohio State on good terms, which is very unusual in college football. Joe Burrow is openly cheered for by his former teammates and former coaches. J.T. Barrett just went down with an LSU jersey on and was standing on the sidelines watching his old buddy play. It's very strange to see a player leave school and have that fan base love him this openly. It says a lot about him and his character. And then you have Ohio State in its first year under Ryan Day and everything that they've done up to this point. From a storyline standpoint, I think it'd be pretty interesting to see Joe Burrow go up against his former school. The Spun: Ohio State plays Michigan this Saturday. What are your keys to the game and do you think Jim Harbaugh will finally defeat the Buckeyes? KH: Well, I thought last year they had a really good chance with a veteran team and the way they were playing at the time, but they were blown out. Now, they come back home and here they are playing their best football over the last four and a half weeks. They've been dominant and Shea Patterson is playing well. The receivers don't get enough credit, as Nico Collins and those guys are making plays downfield and having success on quick passes to the perimeter. They've become a complete offense and their defense is always good under Don Brown. And don't forget the way Don Brown's defense played in 2018. Dwayne Haskins ripped them apart last year and I think Don Brown is going to have some wrinkles this year and try to come up with some idea, even though he plays a ton of man-to-man. You've got to believe that Don Brown is going to come up with some answers for Ohio State's passing attack. So, that's why I think Justin Field's ability to run the ball along with J.K. Dobbins will be the key to the game for Ohio State, especially Fields' ability to scramble on third down. As far as who I think is going to win, I'm going to keep watching film and figure that out later in the week. The Spun: Let's shift over to the Pac-12. With USC, there's been a lot of noise about what will happen to the coaching staff, but they've won eight games. Do you think there's a chance USC retains Clay Helton? KH: I think so. Look at the year that he's had - he's got a chance to get to nine wins. I know it seems like conventional wisdom is that he's on his way out, but I look at their team and I look at the roster, you know, they ended up winning three in a row at the end. The fact that they're hoping for a loss from Utah in order to play in the Pac-12 Championship says a lot about everything that they've overcome. People forget that J.T. Daniels was the starting quarterback at the beginning of the year, and now think about what they have to build on with Kedon Slovis because that kid is a superstar. I had some Pac-12 coaches text me over the last few weeks that we haven't seen a young guy like this in a long time come through this conference as far as his ability as a young player to throw the ball. He's a true freshman. So you know, they fought through adversity, tough losses, a lot of injuries and did not stop fighting for their coach. There's a new AD and a lot of people want a change. I have no idea, but I'd love to see Clay Helton keep his job.

The Spun: Florida State is another marquee program that has been linked to top coaching candidates. Do you think that they're going to end up landing a big name like they want to, or are they going to have to settle for maybe an under-the-radar candidate?

KH: I think it depends on how they go about trying to find their coach and what they're willing to do with their coach. I can recall when Jimbo Fisher won the national championship the year they beat Auburn in 2013 and then the next year they made the playoff and faced Oregon. I'd never seen a guy win at that level and yet openly be so disgruntled with the way things are being run as far as the administration. I'll never forget he and I talking about him being concerned about the commitment and what they're doing and everything felt like it was a battle and things like that. I'm thinking it's tough to win if you don't have a president and an AD all in alignment with what needs to happen in order to take a program to a high level. I can't speak about what they're doing currently, but I just know if I were a coach, I would want to know exactly how important is football. I'd be asking a lot of questions, and if you got the right answer I think you could bring in a big time name. College football needs Florida State and Miami back. We need those brands back. It's always good for the game when those programs are doing well.

The Spun: Every year it seems like there's a head coach that makes that jump to a Power Five program, such as P.J. Fleck and Scott Frost. Which coach do you think makes that jump and goes to a notable program this offseason?

KH: I would have to say Mike Norvell from Memphis or even Luke Fickell from Cincinnati. The American Athletic Conference has some coaches there that really are doing a good job. I think it just depends if Luke is ready to make that jump and what doors are potentially opening for him. Like I said, I'm very impressed with Mike Norvell and what he's doing. I think Memphis is going to have to hold on the best they can to try to keep him. By the way, the AAC is setting up to have a really good championship game between Memphis and Cincinnati. So looking forward to that, but both those coaches I think are going to get some opportunities in the near future.

The Spun: Do you think there's a chance we'll see Urban Meyer coaching college football again?

KH: Uh, I don't think so. I know it's kind of a trendy conversation, but I think he's enjoying what he's doing right now. I think a guy like that needs a team to be a part of, and I think he's found that with what he's doing at FOX. I think that's important for him to have that. Without that I think he would really be searching for what's next. The fact that he has that and he's got the freedom, like you know last week he went golfing at Augusta, he could go watch his son play baseball down in Cincinnati, and spend time with his wife Shelley and his grandkids. There's upside and downside to being a former coach. The downside is you miss the rush of a team and coaching in those big games. The positive is you get your freedom back, you get your family back, and you get your personal time back. It just depends what ends up meaning more to you, and right now it seems like he's in a really good place. So I really don't buy in much to what I hear about him getting back into coaching.

The Spun: Last question for you, Kirk. Where do you think your AllState Mayhem Moment will come from this weekend?

KH: That's a great question on rivalry weekend, right? I mean it's pretty obvious when you look at some of the bigger games that there's a really good chance that we're going to see mayhem. I think Auburn and Alabama because of what's at stake there. I think Ohio State and Michigan because the Buckeyes are trying to keep their undefeated season alive but Jim Harbaugh also needs a win over his rival. And I think the last one is where GameDay will be and the game I'm calling, Wisconsin-Minnesota. The Badgers enjoyed the axe for 14-straight years until P.J. Fleck led the Gophers to an upset last year. Wisconsin is coming not only to get the axe back, but to try and punch its ticket to the Big Ten Championship. So you can't ask for much more than that and I think there's a very good chance that we see mayhem in Minneapolis.

Herbstreit and the College GameDay crew are heading to Minneapolis for the Minnesota-Wisconsin matchup this Saturday. The winner of that game will punch its ticket into the Big Ten Championship.

Fans can check out Herbstreit’s ‘Mayhem Moment’ of the week on Twitter.