Many of our favorite college football games come down to one game – Kick Six, Bush Push, a late flag in Miami against Ohio State. And if these games go the other way, not only does the result change, but the domino effect is almost impossible to measure. Legacies are rewritten, coaches stay put, and programs follow a path they might not have liked otherwise.
Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are featured in several games here. And after writing how close Rich Rodriguez, not Nick Saban, was to training the tide in 2007 – along with other great “what if” coaches – it’s time to focus on journalists’ favorite scenarios involving classic games.
Ryan McGee: I will never question Tom Osborne’s desire to win the 1984 Orange Bowl instead of tying. In fact, aiming for two and losing to Miami was the fuel that propelled the Huskers into what they have become for the next decade. BUT … they would have totally won the title if they had launched the PAT.
Adam Rittenberg: What happens if Colt McCoy never falls with an injury in the first quarter against Alabama in the 2009 BCS title match? Texas has never returned and Alabama has had a historic race since its first championship under Nick Saban. Or what if Notre Dame defeated USC in 2005 and the match was deemed to be over before the Bush Push? Maybe the Irish reach the national title that year. Maybe it always ends badly for Charlie Weis at his alma mater. The USC could also never play in Texas for the championship, arguably the best game in the CFB.
Chris Low: What happens if referee Terry Porter fails to throw the controversial fourth penalty flag in overtime for pass interference in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (after a delay of about 3 seconds, as Miami fans told you will gladly call back)? Miami would have won its second consecutive national championship to close the 2002 season with the Fiesta Bowl’s win over Ohio State, which means the Hurricanes would remain the last FBS team to win consecutive national championships and remain unbeaten in both seasons. They went 12-0 in the 2001 national title season and won 34 straight before the 31-24 double-overtime loss to the Buckeyes.
Mark Schlabach: What if Nick Saban of Alabama kicked the ball – instead of trying a 57-yard basket – in the last Iron Bowl 2013 game? What if Saban hadn’t challenged the timekeeper and argued another second? Adam Griffith’s long basket shot was short, Auburn’s Chris Davis caught the ball in the end zone and ran 109 yards for the touchdown in a 34-28 victory. It was one of the most iconic touchdowns in the history of college football. The victory placed the Tigers in the SEC championship game, which they won to reach the BCS national championship, losing to Florida State 34-31.
The Auburn-Alabama 2013 match was decided by one of the most famous plays in the history of college football: “The Kick Six”.
Alex Scarborough: There is another Alabama “what if” that would not pass Saban’s blood pressure through the roof: What if he had not placed Jalen Hurts at half-time in the CFP National Championship game in favor of Tua Tagovailoa? It was perhaps the most unprecedented in-game coaching decision of the last decade, putting a former SEC offensive player of the year in favor of a true unknown freshman with no significant experience, but it paid off with Saban’s fifth Alabama title. Tagovailoa could be at USC otherwise, transferring to a lack of playing time. The injuries may have never left for Oklahoma. And these are just two Heisman Trophy finalists directly affected by the move. Take a step back, and this decision has had an indirect impact on a number of other programs, including Georgia, Ohio State and Miami.
Ivan Maisel: Florida State started the 1991 season at the forefront and for seven weeks looked like one of the best teams in modern memory. In consecutive weeks, the Seminoles set a Big House scoring record by beating Michigan No. 3 51-31, then embarrassing Syracuse No. 10 46-14. It seems like this is the season when the state of Florida upset its interstate rival, Miami, and won Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden, its first national championship. But during week 8, the state of Florida played LSU in a muddy and rainy Death Valley. Florida State won 27-16, coming back 13 points behind, but lost the war. Seven seminoles were seriously injured, including three in the shoulders and two sprains in the knee. Florida State has never been the same team. The Seminoles ended the season by losing to Miami 17-16 in Wide Right I. What if the Seminoles had been in good health?
GameDay 100: the clashes between 1991, 1992 and 2000 between the seminoles and the hurricanes are decided by large kicks to the right.
David M. Hale: Few coaches have been cursed with “what if” more than Mark Richt. What if Rex Grossman hadn’t cut his defense in 2002? What if D.J. Shockley hadn’t been injured just before the Florida game in 2005? What if Steve Spurrier did not cause massive upheaval in Athens in 2007, the year that Georgia finished No. 2 in the polls? But, of course, no simulation appears larger than that of 2012, when Aaron Murray’s pass was deflected and caught by Chris Conley at the 5 meter line, which exceeded the time of the return attempt Bulldogs against Alabama in the SEC. championship match. A defeat by the tide would not have done much to change Nick Saban’s legacy, but this victory would have changed the way we view Richt. A win in Georgia likely sends the Bulldogs to the national championship game, where a less talented lady would have been the last hurdle to a trophy. Instead, assuming he never coaches, Richt will take his place in the pantheon of top coaches and never win a national title, alongside Frank Beamer, Pat Dye and Bo Schembechler. Ah, what could have been.
Heather Dinich: What if unbeaten Florida of 2014 – the team that had won seven of its 13 games by a touchdown or less – finally saw its chance run out in the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech? The Seminoles were the only undefeated Power 5 team remaining in the country this season – the first year of the CFP – and the selection committee had them at No. 3, behind two teams at a loss in Alabama and Oregon. That year, the committee shocked everyone with the final standings when it moved TCU from # 3 to # 6. If Georgia Tech had won the ACC, however, FSU would likely have dropped the top four , giving way to one of the Big 12 teams. If TCU or Baylor had entered, would the Big 12 still have a conference championship match?
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