"If Nick Saban called—and I don't think he will—to ask about how to prepare for a playoff, the first thing I'd tell him is to embrace a new mentality. It's one-and-done, and that makes a huge difference. In 2010, our first year in the playoffs, our attitude was, How can we do this right? And we lost to Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals (38--31). We realized that our approach should have been, Let's grab this thing by the jugular and go with it. The next year our players really embraced that mentality. We had some great games in which we scored on fourth down. We weren't worried about losing. You can say what you want, but there's a different mind-set there.
Also, I went and picked Jim Tressel's brain while he was at Ohio State. (Tressel won four FCS championships at Youngstown State.) We stayed in his office until 11 one night. He told me to do things early in the year you normally wouldn't—like run no-huddle—so you'll have it in your toolbox for later. With a season that long, you also have to have a predetermined plan to develop depth. In 2011 we had a redshirt freshman linebacker named Travis Beck, and as early as the third game of the year we were determined to play him because we knew we'd need him later. He ended up as the MVP of the championship game and returned an interception 63 yards.
It's important to keep guys rested. We ended up playing 15 games by the end of the playoffs. Having your guys fresh for kickoff is the most important thing, and that plan really starts late in the season. You can't grind those guys physically during preparation; you have to ease up during practice and rotate more players in games to make sure everyone is fresh.
The last thing is to be prepared for everything else away from the game. Our first year in the playoffs, our recruiting was atrocious because we weren't prepared. You have to set aside time to maintain contact with recruits. You are also planning ahead for two potential opponents, which means a lot of Red Bull and coffee.
And although you're changing your mentality for the one-and-done approach, remember that you can't change who you are as a team. It's too late to re-create the wheel."
KENT NISHIMURA/GETTY IMAGES (BOHL)