NEW ORLEANS -- Urban Meyer said he plans to play the underdog card with his Ohio State team leading up to Thursday night's College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama, but he added it's not like he'll have to harp on it.

NEW ORLEANS -- Urban Meyer said he plans to play the underdog card with his Ohio State team leading up to Thursday night's College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama, but he added it's not like he'll have to harp on it.

"I don't feel like we are going to have to rock the boat to get them ready to play this game," Meyer said today during the final news conference before the Sugar Bowl.

The Big Ten champion Buckeyes have fluctuated between being nine- to 10-point underdogs to the Crimson Tide, champion of the Southeastern Conference and winner of three past five national championships. But Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has four national titles on his resume, including 2003 at Louisiana State, has taken nothing for granted.

"Our entire staff and players have responded well to the standard of how we want things to be done," Saban said today.

Compounding the challenge for both teams is the specter that should one win, the season isn't done for the first time in major college football history. The winner will take on the Rose Bowl winner of Florida State-Oregon in the national title game on Jan.12 in Arlington, Texas.

But Meyer and Saban have insisted all week there have been no periscopes allowed with their teams.

"This is the only game that matters," Saban said. "Since the Ole Miss (loss) we have sort of been in a playoff of our own. We were always always one negative experience of being out of the mix. ... Now that we're in the playoff, the circumstance is no different."

Alabama wound up being the No. 1 seed for this first tournament, with Ohio State being No. 4, thus the matchup. OSU took a similar path, recovering from a second-game loss to Virginia Tech to win 11 straight -- including the Big Ten title game 59-0 over favored Wisconsin -- to gain a berth in the playoff.

The Buckeyes did it despite losing No.1 quarterback Braxton Miller just before the season started, losing QB J.T. Barrett on the first play of the fourth quarter in the win over Michigan, then seeing Cardale Jones emerge to deliver an MVP performance in the Big Ten title game. It happened, Meyer said, because many players stepped up, from a slew of second-year players led by defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee, safety Vonn Bell and running back Ezekiel Elliott, to veterans such as tight end Jeff Heuerman, linebacker Curtis Grant and defensive tackle Michael Bennett.

Bennett in particular had "never flipped the switch. He's flipped it," Meyer said.

MEYER'S TAKE ON MILLER

Reports have been rife the past 24 hours that Miller has a list of schools to which he might be considering a transfer because, with degree in hand, he could play immediately in 2015 as a fifth-year player.

"We have had conversations, and I expect him to be back at Ohio State" next season," Meyer said.

YELDON GAME-TIME CALL

Alabama No.1 running back T.J. Yeldon has been bothered by a hamstring strain and an ankle sprain for a while. Saban said that Yeldon has participated in drills all week and "looked better each day." But Saban added that the participation level for Yeldon in the game will be a pre-game decision. His backup is Derrick Henry, who has played about as much as Yeldon this season.

tmay@dispatch.com

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