Alabama and Ohio State finished the heavy-lifting part of their preparation for the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Tuesday.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer held their final pregame news conferences Wednesday morning.
Then, both teams disappeared from the limelight and focused on rest and mental preparation leading up to kickoff at approximately 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“The physical part is done; the mental part is something we place a tremendous value on,” Meyer said Wednesday morning. “We always say you work the game until the foot hits the ball (on the opening kickoff). So, it’s a huge two days, very important.
“Now, the work week’s done, and we’re getting our minds right. I don’t feel like we’re going to have to rock the boat to get them fired up to play the game; this is a motivated team right now. The most important thing is having those 18- to 20-year-olds get a good night’s sleep and be ready to play.”
Yeldon looking better
Saban said RB T.J. Yeldon (hamstring/ankle) will be a game-time decision, though he has practiced fully every day since Bama arrived in New Orleans on Saturday.
“He’s looked better and better each day,” Saban said. “We’ll make that decision at that time, but we’re very hopeful that he’ll be able to make a contribution in this game.”
If Yeldon is limited, Bama has several options to, including Derrick Henry, Tyren Jones and fullback Jalston Fowler.
‘NFL-ish’ wear and tear
Meyer said he’s always mindful of the wear and tear the expanded schedule has on his players. The Buckeyes and Tide are playing their 14th games of the season and the winner will play a 15th, 5½ months after the start of preseason practice.
“You do have to treat it a little bit differently about how you practice, the amount of pad contact you have, how many times you’re going to hit the tailback and your offensive line,” Meyer said. “It used to be 11 games and a bowl game. Now you’re talking about 14, 15 games, and that is getting very NFL-ish. There’s a part of me that’s concerned about the wear and tear on the student athlete.
“It’s never been like this. This is the first time in college football history that you’re asking a student at a university to spend this much time, but I watch our players, and they’re having the time of their life. I don’t feel like there’s fatigue. I don’t feel like there’s any whatsoever that doesn’t want to be part of this.”
Meyer expects Miller back
Meyer dismissed speculation that injured quarterback Braxton Miller might transfer to another school for his final season of eligibility in 2015. As a graduate, Miller could transfer and be eligible right away.
“I don’t expect that,” Meyer said. “We’ve had conversations and I expect him to be back at Ohio State.”
Buckeyes still have two quarterbacks
Miller’s inury and a broken ankle suffered by his replacement, J.T. Barrett, have the Buckeyes starting their third-string quarterback.
But Saban said the Tide is still preparing to face two quarterbacks. Cardale Jones will start, but H-back Jalin Marshall, a former high school quarterback, could provide a more athletic runner as a change of pace.
“We sort of thought philosophically that they would have a two-quarterback system, because there’s quite a bit of quarterback-run type plays that they would implement even if it was a nonquarterback at quarterback,” Saban said. “We feel (Marshall) has done that some in the past and is a very, very capable player and was an outstanding player doing that in high school.”
Meyer said six months or a year ago the prospect of starting Jones in such a big game would have left him far less comfortable than he is.
“It’s a much different story right now,” Meyer said. “He’s had a great week of practice. He’s got control of the offense. Jalin has done a great job. Is it the ideal situation? I made this comment over and over again: The one thing that’s not allowed is, there are no excuses. It is what it is. I feel very comfortable where we’re at.”
One game at a time
Both coaches acknowledged the dynamic of the winner of Thursday’s game having another game to play — in the championship game Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.
But they said that hasn’t impacted their preparation for this game. Both teams have been facing de facto elimination games for months. The Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6; the Tide lost to Ole Miss on Oct 4.
“Since the Ole Miss game, we’ve sort of been in a playoff of our own kind,” Saban said. “We were always one negative experience away from being out of the mix relative to getting in the college playoff. Now that we’re in the playoff, the circumstance is really no different.
“I use the term ‘be where your feet are.’ Everybody needs to be focused on what they need to do for this game.”
Meyer said he used to wonder how the dynamic of two rounds might affect his preparation, but not anymore.
“That will be an interesting conversation for next week for the two teams that make it,” he said. “I think the other two teams are playing in the Rose Bowl, and I think it’s Oregon and Florida State. Other than that, that’s all we know.”