They have real playoff experience

Hauck made it clear that it's not as simple for college coaches to manage their way through the postseason as it might be for NFL coaches, for example, because they're already dealing with time constraints that pull attention away from the field.

"People say the NFL plays that many games, but they don't have to practice like we do to get ready to go," Hauck said. "They don't have class, they don't have finals week. It's taxing."

As opposed to the more laid-back approach to a bowl game, there has to be at least some element of physical, full-contact practice for players to be ready for two of the biggest games they might ever be part of. That can be a difficult balancing act, given that there's no way to replenish an injured roster and attrition is likely to have had an effect by that stage of the season.

"There's got to be a real level of consistency and an understanding that there's almost two seasons," Bohl said. "There's your regular season and the playoff system, so you want to start strong, and you want to finish stronger.

"The teams that are going to be able to master that are the ones that are going to achieve greatness. But until you've experienced [it], it's a different animal."

Maintain perspective and stay level-headed

The buzz for a playoff has been building for years, and now that it's here, it's going to be almost impossible for a program to entirely tune out the hype.

But it's on the coaches to keep a level head on the sideline and send a message that this is just like any other game once it starts.

"I learned from [Nebraska coaching legend] Tom Osborne [that] the bigger the game got, the calmer and more consistent the coaches need to be," Bohl said. "You can say every game is important, and I get that. But there are going to be certain games that, you know what, if you just play well, you're going to win. Then there are going to be other games where you have to bring your very best. When the stakes were highest, he was the calmest. I always tried to take that into account."

From there, it helps to have a veteran team with respected leaders who can pass that message to the rest of the players. If they've been in big-time games before and can draw on that experience, even better.

"We had a lot of tradition and a lot of success there, so our guys were used to winning, and they didn't want to be the team that lost," Johnson said. "It was motivation in itself, and they knew what we were playing for. They had been there, and they understood what was at stake and what it felt like to win the thing."

That's not technically a feeling anybody will be able to draw on during the inaugural College Football Playoff this January. But soon enough, there will be one more expert to add to the panel, one who knows what it takes to win it all.

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