On a college football Saturday that looked so useless it should have gone by the name Useless Saturday — with “Useless Saturday” T-shirts and an official, strong Useless Saturday cocktail — the batty sport went and did what it always goes and does.
It reinforced the ancient adage that there’s actually never a useless Saturday.
No ranked teams played any other ranked teams for the first time since Sept. 8, 2012, and if you gazed at the arid soil of the schedule, with big teams playing smaller teams all over the place, with Group of Five here and Football Championship Subdivision there, you might have pictured all the fans attending all the routs as they underwent the fleecing portion of the season-ticket process. You could envision them driving like zombies to stadiums to witness the obvious.
But then, if you have followed the sport long enough to possess all the symptomatic neuroses and psychic tics, you know there might just be some loco pass lofted at :00, flying into some gutty receiver’s gut as he fell to his butt near the 8-yard line, only to fly out when he unloaded it backward it to a teammate, who then ran frantically across the field the last 12 yards and toppled barely into the end zone, whereupon everyone learned that the play never should have happened because the refs forgot about Exception rule 10-2-5-a to Rule 3, Section 2, Article 3.1.
Not remembering that, by Exception 10-2-5-a to Rule 3, Section 2, Article 3.1 — seriously, are we the nuttiest populace on Earth or what? — the officials failed to note the exception. It goes like this: “The period is not extended if the foul is by the team in possession and the statement of the penalty includes loss of down.”
So the outrageous ending featured even a ref error, and people do love their ref errors. Some people watch sports just to look for ref errors.
The fans of No. 22-ranked Oklahoma State at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., walked to their cars and their bars knowing they had seen something both unconscionable and unforgettable.
If possessing a brain long addled with college football, you even might have guessed that late in the night, there would come something so inexplicable that the yeoman sorts who type in the play-by-play had to be kidding. It could not be true that Grambling State, one of the day’s many visitors to various kingdoms by teams from the underling Football Championship Subdivision (or third tier), had helped itself to a 21-3 halftime lead at Arizona, but it was. (Arizona did win and sigh eventually, 31-21.)
Up against such lunacies, No. 9 Georgia looked like a lock to need two late third-down conversations to seal a 26-24 escape of visiting Nicholls (La.) State, which had gone 9-48 since 2011 with two of the wins over Evangel (Mo.) and one over Houston Baptist. Of course it did, even if the patrons who attend Georgia games generally don’t envision themselves escaping Nicholls State. Just up the road, it made perfect college football sense that the punt returner for No. 2 Clemson, Ray-Ray McCloud, would run in one sock for the final stretch of his 75-yard punt return, only to leave the football at the 1-yard line and botch the whole thing.
Of course he did, even as Clemson would escape feisty Troy of the second tier of the Football Bowl Subdivision by 30-24, and Troy Coach Neal Brown would say, “The whole ride back, I’m going to play through this game.”
Arkansas beating No. 13 TCU in double overtime after it tied the game at 28-28 with 1:03 left on a quarterback’s touchdown pass to a receiver (Keon Hatcher), followed by that same receiver’s two-point conversion pass to that same quarterback (Austin Allen)?
Way to go, Hogs, but what is this, the front yard at Thanksgiving?
Yet the day that meant nothing will mean the most for a long time to Cooper Rush, Jesse Kroll and Corey Willis. In Stillwater, Rush threw the ball, Kroll caught the ball and shoved it to Willis, and Willis caught the lateral from a falling Kroll. They all play for Central Michigan, and the play that began after :00 gave Central Michigan a 30-27 win over No. 22 Oklahoma State.
The nation spent the day watching it over and over, as well it should.
“I’m sure everybody saw the Bahamas Bowl so they know what they’re capable of,” Willis said on the Central Michigan website.
Actually, the jury remains out on whether everybody sees the Bahamas Bowl, so a note here: With one seconds left in the 2014 Bahamas Bowl on Christmas Eve, Central Michigan scored a 75-yard touchdown with a desperate pass followed by desperate laterals, such that they almost won over Western Kentucky, falling 49-48.
For others who might not know, a note here: The Bahamas Bowl exists.
As Willis ran madly back across the end zone in celebration, though, the story had not ended, for in college football, we got the update that the play should not have existed. Just before it, Oklahoma State’s offense had been called for intentional grounding as time expired. Knowing that, by rule, the game should not end on a penalty, the officials granted one play to Central Michigan, from its own 49-yard line.
When a game is over, of course, it’s too late to repair, so there’s Mike Gundy. He’s the Oklahoma State football coach, and then like all football coaches, he tries to prepare for every little last possible scenario, and then the sport throws him something diabolical. With four seconds left, he called for the pass play that might just stir some debate for years to come, and he told reporters, “To be honest with you, I never even thought of intentional grounding being called at that point in the game.” He also said, “Even if the officials handled it incorrectly, a dumb call on my part, regardless.”
One team, of course, floats above all those vagaries, and that’s No. 1 Alabama. On a useless day with No. 3 Florida State beating Charleston Southern 52-8, and No. 4 Ohio State beating Tulsa 48-3, and No. 5 Michigan beating UCF 51-14, and much of the same all the way to No. 20 Texas A&M beating Prairie View A&M 67-0, Alabama had its 38-10 win over Western Kentucky.
Then, Coach Nick Saban said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been this disappointed after winning a game, ever.”
Also, at a post-game, press-conference moment that deserves to live forever, Saban addressed the apparent “argument” he had on the sideline with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. “There were no arguments,” the big boss said. “Those are called ass-chewings.”
Credit Saban. He can be protective with the media and the public, but every once in a while he gives us an unmistakable glimpse at the game and its inner workings.
That can make for a useful Saturday.