This year the College Football Playoff is different from years past.
Not because of a change of location, but it was simply a week less to prepare — as the schedule this season was compressed by a week. But for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, it was a scheduling anomaly that caught him off guard because he planned on being in the playoffs in May.
"I just tried to rely on past experience, but it was very different. It was actually something I put a lot of thought into really last May," Swinney said. "I do a calendar every year, kind of a 13-month calendar, July through the next August. And I always plan — I just plan like we're going to win it all. And then if we don't get there, we'll adjust. But I just kind of plan that way.
"I was going, This isn't right, but he was right. I argued with (football operations' Mike Dooley) a little while. He was right; I was wrong. We really lost a week this year. It was a strange deal because the championship games were a week later. So it's very compressed. In past years, we have been able to play the championship game, and basically give our players off a week and a half. And then we would start bowl prep and have another week and a half in town before we would break for Christmas. So just different. Lost a week, but it's been great."
For the Tigers' opponent, Ohio State, the condensed schedule was a "unique" challenge for first-year head coach Ryan Day.
"Very unique. This is a unique time frame in terms of coming off of the Big Ten Championship game, getting ready for this," Day said. "There's really no precedence for this one because typically in the past, the plan has always been, phase 1, development of the young guys, get rest for the older guys. And then phase 2 is kind of game plan the week before, go home for a little break, and come back. Phase 3 is at the bowl site. We really didn't have time for that.
"So this was somewhere between getting ready for a bowl game and a bye week. We practiced Friday, Saturday, took Sunday off. Went Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday real hard. Gave them three days off, and now we're back to work here. So talked to a lot of people about this. I think it's a really good plan to keep them fresh and also on top of their game."
Keeping the players primed and ready is not only a job for the coaching staffs at the two schools, at Clemson it is a joint effort, as Swinney sought the counsel of his players to build their schedule.
"We sat down and actually talked about it with our seniors, what I felt like the best thing to do," Swinney said. "Because you do have to give them some time off. It's a long season when you play 13 games and two open dates. So there's a lot of practice. These guys have been going since July 31st. So having that balance of giving them a little bit of a break and also getting them physically prepared for what they're going to see. Because in the game of football, it doesn't take long to kind of lose your edge, if you will."
The Tigers are confident that the plan they put in place back in May will ultimately pay off when the Tigers and the Buckeyes face off Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN).
"So I think we had a good balance of mental prep, conditioning, working on Clemson, fundamentals technique, and then game plan for Ohio State and a little bit of good-on-good," Swinney said. "Just enough full pads work, I think, to keep us sharp. But then we gave them three days off. So we went through Wednesday. Gave them Thursday, Friday, Saturday. And then we came back here this morning, had meetings, kind of had a jog-through-type practice, and here we are. We will have a normal week and excited about it."