INSIDE THE PLAYOFF: Saban worries about playoff-or-bust
DALLAS (AP) Alabama coach Nick Saban says the downside of the College Football Playoff is that it is taking attention away from bowl games that used to be a big deal.
Saban and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Wednesday morning during the final Cotton Bowl news conference before their teams play Thursday night at AT&T Stadium that playoff is a good way to determine a national champion.
Both coaches said that they would be against expanding the playoff if it meant adding games to the college season.
Saban said he feared a playoff-or-bust mindset would develop in college football and in year two he is seeing it already.
''But one of the unique things about college football was always that a lot of positive reinforcement was given to a lot of teams who had the opportunity to go to bowl games. And there were some pretty significant trips involved for families and fans and teams and players,'' Saban said. ''And my concern was if we had a playoff, all the attention would go to the playoff and we would minimize the importance of those games for all those other players. And I think that's probably happened to some degree.''
The emphasis on the playoff and how it has moved the bar on what constitutes a successful season can be seen in some of the coaching moves made this year, Saban said.
''Coaches who won nine games and average winning 9 1/2 games over 15 years lose their job. Based on what standard?'' he said.
The worst road trip for Oklahoma this season, without question, was the one to Kansas State.
Or maybe it was the best trip.
To explain: Because of mechanical problems with three different planes back on Oct. 16, the Sooners were delayed more than eight hours at the airport in Oklahoma City before taking off for Manhattan, Kansas and an afternoon game the following day. They spent the delay watching film, then even some playoff baseball to kill even more time.
''Everybody was close,'' Sooners wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. ''And we didn't whine about it, we didn't stress about it, everybody just had a good time with it.''
But here was perhaps the big key: The Sooners got some fast food out of the deal, because the staff couldn't find anything else for them to eat during that delay that dragged on for hours. So Sooners coach Bob Stoops sent anyone with a car out to come back with 10 bags of whatever fast food they could find. Stoops himself went and got two buckets of fried chicken.
And that couldn't have made Tiffany Byrd - the Sooners' director of sports nutrition - very happy.
''We got a chance to get some fast food, which never happens if you know our nutritionist, Tiffany,'' Shepard said. ''Pizza, wings, fried chicken, you name it. Guys were excited and happy about that. Our nutritionist wasn't, but it was a good deal, got us closer.''
Clemson's scout-team quarterback is 45 years old and makes nearly $1 million a year.
He's also the Tigers' defensive coordinator.
Perhaps tapping into his deep knowledge of the Oklahoma system since he was a longtime assistant there, Brent Venables has been working double-duty to help the Tigers get ready to face the Sooners in Thursday's College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl.
While the Tigers say he isn't exactly blessed with a great arm, Venables has been trying to emulate Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield in practice. And that led to one awkward moment when Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson clobbered him.
''I was running too fast, and I couldn't stop, and then I just hit him,'' Lawson said. ''I pulled up. I really didn't hit him hard, but when I hit him he bounced back up like it didn't hurt. I'm like, `Man, that's got to hurt. He ain't got no pads on.'''
Was Lawson worried?
''I thought I killed my coach,'' Lawson said.
Venables was fine, and resumed trash talking - which frankly seems to humor the Tigers - not long afterward.
Nick Saban has never lost a game against one of his former assistant coaches.
Alabama's coach is 8-0 in those games, winning by an average margin of four touchdowns.
The College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State is another matchup against Mark Dantonio, who was hired as an assistant coach for the Spartans in 1995 when Saban was their head coach.
Saban and Dantonio have gone head-to-head once before. Alabama won 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl at the end of the 2010 season after the Spartans were Big Ten co-champions but didn't get to go to the Rose Bowl.
Alabama won the SEC championship game 29-15 over Florida and Jim McElwain, who was Alabama's offensive coordinator for Saban from 2008-11.
Saban's games against former assistants:
- 2010, beat Tennessee (Derek Dooley) 41-10; and beat Michigan State (Dantonio) 49-7
- 2011, beat Florida (Will Muschamp) 38-10; and beat Tennessee (Dooley) 37-6
- 2012, beat Tennessee (Dooley) 44-13
- 2013, beat Colorado St. (McElwain) 31-6
- 2014, beat Florida (Muschamp) 42-21
- 2015, beat Florida (McElwain) 29-15
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed to this report.
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