But starting the season after next, the road to a national title is going to be even longer and harder, with the implementation of a four-team playoff. The money will go up, the stakes will rise, the media crush will be bigger, and the physical, emotional and academic toll on the players will be greater than ever.
For Kelly, who has navigated a postseason tournament and coached two 14-game seasons and a 15-game season while going to three straight NCAA Division II championship games at Grand Valley State, coaching will be key to making sure players can handle the strain.
"We're going to have to do a really good job," he said. "I'm used to playing 15 games, playing for a national championship. It's a long road. But I think as long as we have this thing planned out where we're not playing in late January and February, I think we can be in a good position. We play a 12-game schedule, there's a championship game, then if we can get right back to work, there's such a routine there that I'm not concerned with it. I think if we start talking about 16 and 32 teams, something is going to have to give on one end. Something is going to have to give on the regular season because we're not going to be able to play this thing into February. So that would be the concern that I have.
"You can do it. They play 20 games in the NFL. I know they're older, they're much more mature, but they play four preseason and 16. We're going to have to take an approach that you're going to have to take the pads off, we're going to have to be smart. I did it at Grand Valley State. We took the pads off after the second round. We didn't put the pads back on until the Saturdays that we played. I know Division I-A does it, Division II does it. We're going to have to learn from them."