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College football rankings rattle but just miss a fault line

Stanford, Texas, Ohio State and Georgia all dodge upsets that could have shaken the top 25.

October 06, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Texas Coach Mack Brown, right, celebrates with kicker Anthony Fera during the Longhorns' win over Iowa State on Thursday.
Texas Coach Mack Brown, right, celebrates with kicker Anthony Fera during… (David Purdy / Getty Images )

The guy who first said "football is a game of inches" is smiling somewhere today in that big replay booth in the sky.

At least four games of national import were decided over the weekend by less than the size of a five-dollar footlong at Subway.

In college football, though, silly millimeters can cost you millions and cause grown men to scream and young men to weep.

Where a ball was spotted, or what Mr. Magoo saw in the monitor upstairs can keep a team in the national title hunt or eliminate one from contention.

In Texas, it can preserve a coach's job for 10 more days until the Oklahoma game.

In what other sport can a player named "Pig" have a ball slip out his hands diving into a checkerboard end zone?

You could have awakened Sunday and thought nothing much happened. The top five schools stayed the same in both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches' polls.

There were other minor adjustments, like tweaks to carburetor, from rankings No. 6 through 25.

If only you knew how flimsily fragile it all was.

It's difficult to know where to start, so let's go in chronological order.

—Dateline Ames: Texas defeated Iowa State, 31-30, on Thursday night, or at least that's what the scoreboard said.

Many who witnessed it live or on television argued Iowa State got the short end of Bevo's tail. The result also exhumed longheld beliefs that oil wells aren't the only things that are rigged in Texas.

Remember that second that was put back on the clock in 2009 that allowed Texas to beat Nebraska and advance to the BCS title game?

On Thursday it appeared Texas running back Johnathan Gray fumbled near the goal line to secure what should have been an Iowa State upset.

Officials ruled, though, that Gray's progress had been stopped and Texas should get at least one more chance to steal victory. Confirmation came when the Big 12 replay booth upheld the call on the field.

Texas scored and won. Instead of preparing the exit papers for Coach Mack Brown, the Longhorns left Ames at 4-2 and also tied for first place in the Big 12.

Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads gave an award-winning postgame speech in which he tiptoed around a huge fine and suspension while delivering a deep-throated condemnation. Rhoads, wisely, used his players as cover in saying "you can't just put your arm around a guy and say that's OK when that happens."

Retired Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, now free to express his feelings without reprisal, tweeted out about Texas, "When tu needs a call, they get it."

We're absolutely convinced the lowercase reference to Texas was intentional.

The Big 12, following up with due diligence, issued a statement Friday admitting that the referees got it … right.

What mistake?

"We do not have video evidence to prove that one occurred," said Walt Anderson, the league's director of officials.

—Dateline Knoxville: One-loss Georgia could not have remained in the national title race with a second loss against a Tennessee team that Oregon led, 59-0, after three quarters.

Defeat sure looked possible, though, when Tennessee receiver Alton "Pig" Howard zipped around right and dived toward the pylon for the go-ahead touchdown in overtime.

This Pig must have been greased because the ball squirted out of Howard's hand through the end zone for a touchback.

Georgia took possession, kicked a field goal, and won, 34-31.

"He tried to make a play and unfortunately it slipped out of his hands," Tennessee Coach Butch Jones said of Pig's play.

Whew. Georgia's near miss against an average Southeastern Conference team cost it almost nothing in the big picture. The Bulldogs dropped only on spot, to No. 7, in both polls and still don't have to meet Alabama until the SEC title game.

—Dateline Evanston: This was the year Northwestern (4-0) was finally going to beat Ohio State (5-0) after losing 28 out of the last 29. Victory was nine minutes away when the Wildcats took a fourth-quarter lead. But then came two photo finishes.

The first came when Ohio State tailback Carlos Hyde appeared to be stopped short of the end zone. The replay, though, confirmed Hyde had somehow extended the ball to breach the end-zone line for the go-ahead touchdown.

Northwestern's dreams were irrevocably hijacked when quarterback Kain Colter was reportedly stopped on fourth and short from the Ohio State 34-yard line.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald wisely challenged the spot but lost, which cost him a timeout and any chance to manage the clock.

"I tried to make a play for our guys," Fitzgerald later explained.

Ohio State won, 40-30, on a last-ditch Keystone Kops play that involved Northwestern's botching an attempt to re-create Cal's 1982 kickoff return against Stanford.

The meaningless touchdown mattered "only" in Las Vegas.

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