Alternate realities are all the rage this year. College football seasons can hinge on a single play. Here are five individual plays that, had they gone differently, could have had a dramatic effect on the college football season.
4th and Oh No: Ohio State trails by a field goal in overtime. Urban Meyer goest for it on 4th and 1. J.T. Barrett gets stuffed at the goal line. The call is too close to overturn on review. Michigan upsets the Buckeyes 27-24, wins the B1G East, fends off Wisconsin in the title game, and reaches the College Football Playoff. The team with 14 NFL Combine invitees scores against Clemson.
Kyle Bambard Makes a Field Goal: Kyle Bambard hits the 33-yarder at the end of regulation. N.C. State upsets Clemson 20-17. Louisville still coughs away a playoff bid over the final two weeks. There’s no ACC playoff team. The committee must choose between B1G champ Penn State and the Michigan team with the same regular season record and better résumé that beat the Nittany Lions by 38.
LSU Gets The Snap Off: Danny Etling gets the snap off with one second remaining. He finds D.J. Chark in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. LSU escapes with a 19-18 win over Auburn. The Tigers pound the run against the overmatched defenses left on their schedule. They lose narrowly to Florida and to Alabama to finish 8-3. Les Miles survives. Gus Malzahn, on the other hand, is reeling after a 1-3 start and losing 13 of 16 against Power 5 teams dating back to 2014.
4th Down Conversion: USC goes for it on 4th and 3 from the Utah 37 and converts, with Sam Darnold finding Darreus Rogers for a five-yard gain. The Trojans drive the remaining field to score a touchdown and take the lead 34-24. They hang on for a massive 34-31 win at Utah. USC finishes 8-1 in the Pac 12, wins the south on head-to-head over Colorado, and beats Washington again in the title game. The Trojans get a rematch with Alabama in the playoff.
Game Over: Mason Rudolph throws the ball into the air at the end of regulation. Referees correctly rule that a game can end on an offensive penalty. Oklahoma State survives with a 27-24 win over Central Michigan. The Cowboys still lose in Norman to close the season. But, we have to spend a lot more of November talking about possible one-loss conference champion Oklahoma State.