“If I am lost around Butte Montana, and my GPS can keep me from a wrong turn that takes me over a cliff, why can’t we triangulate the yard markers with a chipped football to give precision to a spot?”
Technology has come a long way in football. From helmets that better prevent concussions to turf that can help players avoid injuries, tech has played a significant role in making football a safer and smarter game across the board. No area of football, however, has been more positively impacted by better tech than the officiating component. With the dawn of instant replay and the ability to have about a million camera angles on a given play--including those embedded in pylons or floating overhead--officiating has become significantly more precise over the years, but, unfortunately, remains as ever a human endeavor.
Saturday’s matchup between Ohio State and Michigan is a perfect example. Spotting is, perhaps, the most notorious components of the inexact science that is officiating. While it was apparent from replay that Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett made the line to gain on the critical 4th-and-1 play in the second overtime period, the fact that the spotting of the ball was done by a human and subsequently evaluated by fellow homo sapiens means that the spot was subject to human error.
Which of course begs the question: If technology is so great, that GPS can locate a cellphone in the middle of nowhere, what is the big jump to putting equally-accurate positioning devices into footballs, thereby preventing the human error in the area of spotting? Eye tests and replays can only take football so far, but it would be a mistake to rely on these methods when there is a more accurate one available. Baseball already uses a similar application in determining whether a hit was in fact a home run. And while it would obviously take time to implement into football (and some frustration along the way), it could also help to eliminate human error in the long run, creating a “technology cure” for spotting.
“We’re actually harassing Jerome Baker that he didn’t get his into the end zone. We told Jerome ‘I thought you were all the all-state Mr. Ohio tailback and you couldn’t quite find the end zone.’”
Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker didn’t make it to the end zone Saturday against Michigan. But his interception in the third quarter was the crucial turning point of the day in favor of the Buckeyes. With his team down 17-7--their only score on safety Malik Hooker’s own second-quarter pick-six--Baker provided the spark for a stagnant offense and a burst for a tiring defense. In many ways, it seemed impossible up to that point in the game that Barrett and company would be able to earn points on offense. The Ohio State offense had managed just 92 yards after their 72-yard opening drive, missed a field goal and botched a fake punt which led to a Michigan touchdown. The defense, meanwhile, was matching Michigan’s own defensive prowess, allowing just 249 yards of total offense to that point. However, they had given up two touchdowns on short fields, and, as stifling as the defense had been for most of the game, the Wolverines didn’t seem to need to score again to win the game so much as maintain possession.
Baker’s pick changed all of that. While he didn’t score on the play, his 22-yard return gave the offense just a 13-yard field from which to work--a field which was immediately shortened by an offsides call against the Wolverines and a subsequent unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jim Harbaugh himself. From there, the Buckeyes earned their first offensive touchdown of the day on a one-yard run by Mike Weber. With the deficit cut from 10 to three, the game seemed much more manageable with momentum on the side of Ohio State entering the fourth quarter.
Seven of Ohio State’s 19 interceptions on the season have been returned for touchdowns. Hooker leads the pack, with three such picks (he is tied for fourth nationally with six total interceptions on the season). Marshon Lattimore, Rodjay Burns, Damon Webb and Baker each have one.
Saturday, Baker finished the day with 15 tackles and a sack--quite the stat line for a linebacker who started the season as a backup.
“If it’s Penn State and Ohio State and Clemson and Washington you’re dead right, there’s going to be some angry fans just like there were two years ago.”
This year’s College Football Playoff committee will have a tall order ahead of them come next week, when they will be tasked with selecting the four best teams in the nation for the third iteration of the College Football Playoff. With all five conference champions yet to be decided, and one of the best teams in the Power-5 not even playing in its conference’s championship game, someone will inevitably be left out of this year’s field. In the Playoff’s two-year history, all eight of the bids have been conference champions, with seven having actually won conference championship games in the final week of the season. Realistically, there are five legitimate contenders for four seats at the table.
Ohio State made a powerful argument for its own playoff hopes this past weekend, having defeated archrival Michigan for the 11th time in 12 meetings. This year was just the second time the two teams have been ranked in the top-three heading into the final game of the season, and with yet another top-10 win under their belts, the Buckeyes have built a formidable resume as they await the committee’s decision.
But Ohio State’s Playoff hopes could hinge on the result of the Big Ten Championship game. If Penn State winds up beating Wisconsin with a lot of style points, a la Ohio State in 2014, they could make a statement for themselves to make the Playoff, thus shutting out the Buckeyes. Even so, though the Buckeyes narrowly lost to Penn State, Ohio State has just one loss to the Nittany Lions’ two. It has been clear from the committee’s rankings thus far this season that they like the Big Ten, so it is likely that the team(s) who makes it would get a favorable ranking.
Clemson, meanwhile, seems like the safest potential conference champion. With one loss and a strong strength of schedule, even a moderately large win over Virginia Tech in the ACC title game would likely be enough to earn the Tigers a Playoff bid.
On the flip side, Washington’s strength of schedule gains them no points, as their only out of conference opponent in the Power-5 was Rutgers. Compared to the Huskies, both Ohio State and Penn State bring a series of higher-caliber wins to the table which could be favored by the committee, even if Washington manages a big win over Colorado in the Pac-12 title game.
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