Ask the majority of the college football universe, from media to fans, and the College Football Playoff is the greatest invention since the forward pass. The caterwauling about a “true champion” has been muted, and, most importantly, there is even more football for everyone to feast on.
The effects of having an extra game pushed at least a week deeper into January are still being sorted out by the four coaches whose teams are in the inaugural playoff.
When Alabama was announced as the number one seed in the first iteration of the playoff, Nick Saban was asked what effect having to play an extra game would have, and he replied that his staff would have to build partial game plans for both Florida State and Oregon as well as going over every detail about Ohio State in preparation for the first round game. The comment was met with a collective sigh from commentators all over the country. Typical maniacally detailed Saban being detailed and maniacal. As quickly as it was uttered, the comment was forgotten.
The conversation reignited itself during Saban’s final press conference before the Sugar Bowl. Both coaches were questioned about how their approach to this week had changed compared to a bowl week from any of the previous years under the BCS system. Saban seemed to contradict himself when he admitted: “We haven’t treated it like a normal bowl week. But this is the only game that matters.” He clarified later in his response by explaining that the Tide had been playing like they’ve been in a playoff since the loss to Ole Miss, and “once we get an outcome of this game, we’ll focus on what comes next, whatever that may be.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer received a similar question during his final conference as well, and his answer underscored the singular focus that Saban’s response displayed, if not eclipsed it. Meyer mentioned that the playoff format led to conversations about the right strategy to handle the changed circumstances during the year, but then he deviated from that line of thinking by fast-forwarding to this week.
Meyer expounded, “Now that we’re here, there’s no conversation whatsoever about the next one. You can’t. It’s not fair to our players, and, certainly when you’re playing a team like Alabama, that’s all hands on deck, to find a way to get this one done.” He underscored his point by saying that he realizes that Oregon and Florida State are playing in the Rose Bowl, but that’s “all we (he and his staff) know.”
Obviously, how a coaching staff handles everything surrounding the extra game is an ongoing issue. There won’t be any definite answers to the mysteries surrounding the new playoff format until someone hefts the College Football Playoff trophy in a little under two weeks.