ATLANTA — When his Ohio State Buckeyes were selected to participate in the 2015 College Football Playoff, Urban Meyer was thinking maybe he could split his staff and have guys start working on different teams to prepare in case they played for a possible national championship, which they did. Then he found out with recruiting and all of the stuff going on during the Christmas Holiday, it was just “all hands of deck” for the one semifinal game.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, who joined Meyers, Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Washington head coach Chris Petersen in Atlanta on Thursday for the CFP coaches press conference, said he and his Tigers came into the 2016 CFP kind of blind.
“We really just put everything that we had into the game we were playing, to be honest with you. I mean, just like we do every week,” Swinney said. “It was a great experience at the Orange Bowl. Our guys were able to somewhat enjoy the bowl experience, and I thought the CFP folks, Bill Hancock and Michael Kelly and them, did a great job with the structure of it.”
The complication both Meyer and Swinney, who will play each other in the 2017 CFP semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve, had in their first playoff game came after they won.
After Clemson beat Oklahoma in last year’s Orange Bowl, it was a different experience because for the first time as a coach and as a player, Swinney still had another game to play after a bowl victory.
“The new thing to me was you win the game and then you have to go play another. So that was a lot of added thought for myself in trying to map out a good plan as far as how we get ready, how we transition, the logistics, all the stuff that goes with – most of the time you go to a bowl game, you win the game, you feel good about your season and you move on,” Swinney said. “Now you’re loading up and coming back and getting ready for the National Championship, and we were starting school, so there was just a lot to manage, and we had not been through those waters.”
For Saban and top-ranked Alabama, who will play No. 4 Washington in the other CFP semifinal at the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve, he says he has learned a little bit more with each experience. This is the Crimson Tide’s third straight appearance in the CFP, losing to Ohio State in 2015, before beating Michigan State and Clemson to win last year’s national championship.
“I think each year we’ve learned a little bit more about how much do you need to practice, how much time do you have to give your players off, what do you do on the turnaround if you happen to win the first game and get a chance to play in the next one,” Saban said. “Some of those things we managed well, some we’ve not managed so well. I think every time we do it, we learn a little more, and hopefully we’ll do it a little better each time.”
Swinney is hoping to do that, too, after coming up just short in the title game to Saban last year.
“I think that it was a great experience, really not anything I would change. We learned a lot, and we had great preparation,” he said. “We lost to a great football team, and I thought once we got to the National Championship site, it was really just like a little bit of a longer away game, and it was very businesslike and very well structured.
“I think it was a great experience for our guys, and I’m glad that we’re getting an opportunity to go compete again.”