College Football: How Late-Game Field Goals Would Change the Season
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Wide Left. Wide Right. Blocked. Blocked and returned for a touchdown.
So many things can go wrong on a simple kick, and so much pressure always comes on those late-game field goals.
These times of turmoil make kickers hometown heroes or the most loathed people in the town. Urban Meyer, Ohio State's new head football coach, understands this. In order to get his kicker to perform under pressure, he...well, you'll see.
Meyer cannot emphasize the importance of field goals. In fact, if one of his players hadn't blocked a last-second field goal, Meyer wouldn't have won his first national championship at Florida in 2006.
Today's feature will go back to that 2006 season through 2008, showing how special teams could have molded collegiate football into a completely different beast. A part two installment will come out next week.
2006: Gators Get Chomped
In this alternate reality, the Gators loss to South Carolina costs them a national championship.
Happy 2006! America's not in a recession, Miami is still relevant and who's Rihanna?
Now that you're in that mentality, our journey will begin here—six years ago. Remember, we'll go through the season chronologically, but only last-second field goal attempts that cause direct national implications will make this list.
The University of Florida loses its second game when Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina crew wins on a last-second field goal, 19-17, ending any hopes for a Gator national title.
UF recovers to beat Western Carolina, but falls to FSU in Tallahassee. The Gators finish the season 9-3, but still win the SEC East. An energized team beats Arkansas in the SEC Championship to improve to 10-3. The Gators beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, 24-16, but the soft way the Gators played against the Irish leave some wondering as to whether he’ll eventually go to South Bend.
On November 9, unbeaten Louisville and perfect Rutgers faced off in Piscataway. Not only was a Big East Championship on the line, but the winner also has a great chance to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
After Rutgers made a second-half comeback to tie the game 25-25, Scarlet Knights kicker Jeremy Ito misses a potential game-winning field goal on his second consecutive try—even after Louisville is called for a penalty after he misses his first attempt. Of course, this didn't actually happen.
Cardinals quarterback Brian Brohm leads Louisville down the field, and kicker Art Carmody made the kick Ito couldn’t. The Cardinals won 28-25 and finished the regular season undefeated and are invited to play Ohio State for the national championship.
There is no controversy about an Ohio State-Michigan rematch, and the BCS matches up two undefeated teams for the national championship for the third consecutive seasons. Complaints about the BCS are turning from yells into grouchy grumbles.
Louisville and Ohio State exchange leads through the low-scoring affair, but an uninjured Ted Ginn, Jr. and on-target Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith narrowly lead the Buckeyes to victory over the Cardinals in Tempe 41-34 in a double-overtime game.
In spite of this, the Big East Conference gains respect. People believe it can survive now without Miami.
So let's wrap up. Jim Tressel has won his second national championship at Ohio State, having only taken six years to return Buckeye nation to the pinnacle of college football. Having won his sixth championship overall, Tressel is considered to be the best coach in college football.
Meanwhile, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino still skips town, accepting a job offer from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.
2007: Georgia Wins It All
This video on Mark Richt proves he lacks nothing in life--but a national championship wouldn't be bad.
Michigan beats Appalachian State in a closer-than-expected game, but wins on a last-second field goal 35-34. Lloyd Carr is on the hot seat for the performance, and Michigan drops from fifth to 20th in the AP polls.
Carr’s team loses the next week to Oregon. A loss against Wisconsin, combined with his sixth loss against Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes, pressures him into retirement after a 9-3 regular season. Michigan will make the Rose Bowl, where Carr will lose his final game to Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans for the second year in a row.
By September 22, though, upsets are in full swing. Nebraska loses to Ball State on a last-second field goal, 43-41, raising calls for Cornhuskers coach Bill Callahan to be fired. Brady Hoke, Ball State’s head coach, becomes a household name overnight. A former Michigan coordinator, some already muse he will lead the Wolverines next season.
Florida is able to block Auburn’s last-second kick for a win in the Swamp. The enthusiasm from an overtime victory leaves the Gators pumped to play LSU in a duel of undefeated teams and will eventually cause a tie for the East Division crown between the Gators and Mark Richt’s Georgia football team.
Georgia doesn’t win the title without extra help, though. A week after South Carolina falls to Vanderbilt, it faces Tennessee with its goal of an SEC crown still alive. Tennessee misses a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation, and the Gamecocks win, 24-21. South Carolina’s win will cost Tennessee the SEC East title, which goes to Georgia.
In the SEC Championship, the Bulldogs decimate an LSU team that’s reeling from last Saturday’s 50-48 triple-overtime home loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks. LSU falls to 10-3, and the media thinks Les Miles, who called his Tiger team “damn strong” when denouncing his pursuit of the Michigan job, will maybe go back to Ann Arbor to replace Carr.
Controversy erupts as to who should play one-loss Ohio State for the national championship. Many think Kansas should play the Buckeyes, given their 11-1 record. Detractors cry that the Jayhawks lost their most important game of the season to the only ranked team they played—Missouri.
Hawaii, a preseason favorite for the WAC title, is not involved in the discussion, having missed a last-second field goal against Nevada to lose on November 17. Two-loss Oklahoma, USC, Georgia and Virginia Tech make statements by finishing the season strongly and winning their conferences.
USC and Oklahoma are excluded from the title game, though. The Trojans had lost at home to a Stanford team that went 4-8, while OU lost to a 6-6 Colorado team. Virginia Tech was able to avenge its regular season loss to Boston College, but a 48-7 shellacking by LSU convinces pollsters to keep the Hokies ranked third in the BCS.
Georgia’s strength of schedule (having beat five ranked teams) causes them to leapfrog Kansas and the others to second, setting up a Georgia-Ohio State national championship.
Georgia hammers the Buckeyes, 31-17, in New Orleans, finally winning Mark Richt his first national championship.
The Michigan job ends up considering Les Miles, Brady Hoke, Rich Rodriguez and Jim Harbaugh. Miles likes the cutting-edge competition of the SEC, though he has yet to win a conference championship, and decides to stay in Baton Rouge. Hoke isn’t seen as enough of a departure from Carr’s play, while Rodriguez is valued for his spread offense philosophy. Harbaugh is still seen as too inexperienced since he has only coached one football season as a college coach.
Rodriguez is hired by Michigan, and the Dark Days soon follow. Brady Hoke ends up getting snatched by San Diego State.
In a twist of fate, former Gators head coach Ron Zook ends up losing to Florida in the Capital One Bowl, as Michigan’s better pedigree (remember, it beat Appalachian State) won the Wolverines a trip to the Rose Bowl. Meyer completely eviscerates the Fighting Illini, and UF finishes 10-3.
By the way, Tim Tebow still wins the Heisman.
2008: Penn State Survives
Iowa's field goal cost Penn State a national championship. But what if it had been blocked?
Speaking of Tim Tebow, he never got the chance to make the Promise.
In the fourth quarter against Ole Miss, kicker Jonathan Phillips’ extra point attempt isn’t blocked, leaving the game tied at 31-31. Seeing no need to have Tebow run the ball on 4th-and-1 in Ole Miss territory, Urban Meyer calls for a 49-yard field goal with roughly 40 seconds left.
It goes straight through the uprights. Though Rebels quarterback Jevan Snead was able to get the Rebels within scoring range, the Gators hang on to win, 34-31.
The Gators will cruise throughout the rest of the season, with Urban Meyer’s seniors focused on winning their first national championship. Tim Tebow energizes the team during the next few weeks, reminding them of losses they have to avenge to LSU and Georgia. His motivation pays off.
After Texas loses on a last-second Texas Tech touchdown by Graham Harrell, the top three teams in the nation are established for the rest of the season. The Longhorns lose the No. 1 ranking to the Gators, while Nick Saban’s Alabama team and Penn State are second and third. Undefeated Boise State is barely ranked within the top 10.
Things come to a head on a cold November night in Iowa City, with the Iowa Hawkeyes needing only a field goal to upset Penn State. The chip shot 31-yarder is missed, and Penn State survives, 23-21.
Iowa recovers from the loss, thrashing South Carolina in the Outback Bowl and finishing 8-5. Such a turnaround towards the end of the season gives Iowa a Top 25 preseason ranking for 2009, but more on that later.
In the Big 12, things come apart as Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma finish in a three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 South. Though Oklahoma wins the tiebreaker, the effect has no bearing on the national championship.
The winner of the 1 vs. 2 SEC Championship matchup will play Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions for the BCS National Championship. The Gators defeat Alabama soundly and enter the BCS National Championship Game 13-0.
Utah finishes undefeated and busts the BCS (again), but ends up in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. The Utes beat the Tide to complete a 13-0 season.
Meanwhile, Boise State would fall short against TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl, leaving only Utah with a claim of a national championship.
The Utes’ cries are ignored, though, once the Gators drub Penn State, 41-14. The Gators end up 14-0, having the most wins and first perfect season in school history.
The only significant loss from this year’s team will be Percy Harvin, who is going to the NFL a year early. Four years after coming to Gainesville, Urban Meyer’s rebuilding project is complete, and it looks like title No. 2 is coming in 2009.
Will Meyer succeed and have a repeat? Will Boise State or TCU ever break through the BCS? Where is the future we know? Find out next week.