EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon is treating this week like any other this season. And while that’s more comfortable in a way, it also feels a little odd.
After all, the Ducks are preparing to face Ohio State in the national championship game Monday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The two teams are the first to experience a season stretched out for one more game by college football’s new playoff system.
Both teams have already had their bowl games and all the hoopla that goes with that, so this is more of a business trip, said Oregon senior safety Erick Dargan. A really important business trip.
“It’s just like a regular week. I think that actually plays more to our advantage than having a lot of time,” Dargan said. “We’re back in our groove.”
The Ducks (13-1) routed Florida State 59-20 in the Rose Bowl, while the Buckeyes (13-1) beat Alabama 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, paving the way for the championship 11 days later.
Upon arrival for the game in Pasadena, second-seeded Oregon was involved in all the customary Rose Bowl activities, including the obligatory visit to Disneyland for the photo op with Mickey Mouse.
They had essentially already done their work: There had been 26 days between the team’s regular-season finale and the Granddaddy of Them All. That gave the Ducks plenty of time to scheme for the Seminoles and quarterback Jameis Winston.
The fourth-seeded Buckeyes were similarly prepared upon arrival in New Orleans, giving them time for events like a dinner that featured entertainment from a couple of alligators and a python.
Adding the national championship as a 15th game presents some unique challenges for coaches and their players — like guarding against fatigue or injury.
— Oregon safety Erick Dargan
“I was talking to someone earlier and they said it’s been like 25 weeks. I guess it is just part of the grind. Part of our job is taking care of your body and making sure you’re ready to go when you’re number is called,” said Ohio State senior receiver Evan Spencer.
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer led a former team, Florida, to national championships in 2006 and 2008. There wasn’t a lot of comparison he could offer.
“Practices are a little different. Those ones, we had 37 days to prepare. I remember in ’06 it was 37 or 47, some ridiculous number; ’06 was the first one removed from the traditional bowl date,” he said.
This one, Meyer said, “is a one game shot that really, you have four practices in shoulder pads.”
Oregon was keeping everything the same as during the regular season. Same practice times, same meeting schedule. The Ducks, like the Buckeyes, leave Friday for the Dallas area.
“We understand what we’re playing for. But the nice thing is that guys who haven’t been in a game like this — not many of us have — it makes it easier to treat it like a regular game,” Oregon center Hroniss Grasu said.
Coach Mark Helfrich was one of those who called it all odd. But in a good way.
“It’s weird in some sense: It’s obviously not just another game, but it’s sort of just another week of fall. We’re in school, they’re not, so that’s a little bit of nuance to it. But we’ve had a plan for this and built a plan for this last summer and our guys have done a phenomenal job of executing our long-term plan,” he said.
“Logistically, the time of day and how we’re practicing, all that stuff is the same. But obviously what we’re doing during that time is different from when you are in Week 1 or Week 26, or whatever it is now.”