Urban Meyer has been in this position before -- twice, in fact -- but never has one of his teams faced this kind of workload.
Meyer’s Ohio State team (13-1) will be playing its 15th game of the season when it faces Oregon (13-1) in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T. And considering how the grind of the regular season has already forced Meyer to go through three starting quarterbacks this season, he’s understandably concerned about the physical demands that accompany additional games.
“You’re talking about 14, 15 games, and that is getting very NFL-ish. We’re very leery of it,” Meyer said on Wednesday. “And there’s a part of me that’s concerned about the wear and tear on the student-athlete. But I watch our players, and they’re having the time of their life. I don’t feel like there’s fatigue.
“So I think it’s great for college football, but I think it’s something that we all need to consistently monitor. And I know we have very closely, because the wear and tear on a student-athlete is real. 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.”
That is not exactly true. The FBS big boys have just caught up to their little brothers in the FCS, NCAA Division II, Division III and NAIA, which for years have determined their champions with a playoff.
This season, the champions in Division II (CSU Pueblo), Division III (Wisconsin-Whitewater) and NAIA (Southern Oregon) all played 15 games. North Dakota State will play Illinois State in the FCS title game Jan. 10; it will be the 15th game for Illinois State and the 16th for North Dakota State. The expanded schedule is old hat to the best programs in those divisions, but as Meyer noted, it’s brand new to the players at the highest level of the sport.
Meyer’s championship teams at Florida played 14 games in 2006 and 2008, so adding one more game isn’t an enormous physical request of his players. But it still requires some adjustments.
“You do have to treat it a little bit differently about how you practice, the amount of pad contact you have, the amount -- how many times you’re going to hit the tailback and your offensive line,” Meyer said. “Those are all things that I think our staff and I’ve watched so close, and the same with our strength coach -- not about just wearing them out, because it’s a much different season.”
Meyer’s concern for his players isn’t limited to the physical aspect of an expanded schedule, either. He pointed out that Ohio State’s spring semester starts on Jan. 12, the same day the Buckeyes will take on Oregon in Arlington, Texas.
Taking into account Ohio State’s status as one of the nation’s top public colleges, Meyer said the missed classroom time will inconvenience his players.
“I made the point many, many times that Ohio State’s a much different institution than it was when I had my master’s degree there in 1987,” Meyer said. “It was a great school then, but it’s elite now. And you’re in a classroom that’s extremely competitive. So yeah, I’m very concerned about the wear and tear on the student-athlete.”
Nonetheless, don’t expect to find many Buckeyes or Ducks who would be willing to trade places with players whose teams didn’t advance this far. They’re part of college football history as the first participants in an FBS playoff final.
“You get to see the two best teams playing for it all,” said Ohio State’s Darron Lee, who made two sacks and three tackles for loss in the Buckeyes’ semifinal win over Alabama. “And it’s an honor to be in there, so I’m glad the playoff system is intact now.”