Sunday, April 30, 2017

Butterfly Effect Games: 2011 Oklahoma State at Iowa State

Continuing on in our look at how certain games may have shaped college football history, we come to what is perhaps the game that gave us the College Football Playoff.

The Buildup
By the time of this game in Ames, high-flying Oklahoma State was the only major-conference undefeated team besides LSU and ranked a solid #2. Iowa State was having a decent season as a perpetual underdog, but it still had some work to do in order to get bowl eligible. By the looks of things, this Friday night affair should not have been much of a contest.

Alas, tragedy struck the night before this game. Two members of the Oklahoma State Athletics Department, including the women’s basketball head coach, were killed in a plane crash. The mood going into this game was somber, with both Oklahoma State and Iowa State taking time to honor the crash victims.

The Game
Oklahoma State seemed in control early, taking a 17-7 halftime lead and even leading 24-7 in the third quarter. But in an amazing rally, the Cyclones tied things up late in the fourth and found themselves driving for the lead with 2 minutes to go. An interception gave the Cowboys a shot for the win, already in field goal range. As time expired, the field goal attempt went high and was barely ruled “no good” (and, being above the upright, was not reviewable).

Both teams traded TD’s in the first overtime, and Oklahoma State had the ball first in the 2nd OT. On the first play, the Cowboys committed a costly turnover on a tipped pass-turned interception. Iowa State, with fresh momentum, found the end zone on its ensuing possession and with it a monumental upset that shaped not just its season (6th win to secure bowl eligibility), but college football history as we know it.

The Aftermath
Oh boy! Naturally, this loss hurt. Oklahoma State was still a fairly strong team in the computers, but this upset loss to a mediocre-at-best Iowa State team really hurt them in the polls. Alabama, of course, slid back up to #2, while the rest of the college football world seemed to share in Oklahoma State’s chaos that weekend (Oregon, Oklahoma and Clemson would all lose a 2nd game).

Alabama won its final game against Auburn, securing an 11-1 season and missing (or dodging) the SEC Championship Game. Oklahoma State, for its part, hammered Oklahoma in its finale and also finished 11-1 and Big 12 Champs. The computers favored the Cowboys slightly, but the Coaches and Harris Polls favored the Tide a bit more significantly – giving Alabama the right to face top-ranked SEC Champ LSU in a rematch for the BCS Championship Game.

The title game itself was a snoozer – Alabama FG’ed LSU to death en route to a 21-0 laugher. Funnily enough, the final 6 points were a TD with a missed extra point.

Although no one can argue against giving Alabama the 2011 season title after the game, many still argue that Alabama should not have been in the game. That being said, even Oklahoma State has to face the fact that it was this game against Iowa State that cost them the opportunity to face LSU. And while there is certainly sympathy given the plane crash, the fact is that the heavily-favored Cowboys led by 17 in the second half and then squandered that lead.

In the days after the rematch, it was announced that there would be a College Football Playoff to replace the BCS beginning with the 2014 season. This discussion had been years in the making, going back to previous “plus-one” talks throughout the BCS era. But this all-SEC Title Game was the straw that broke the camel’s back. By extension, this Cowboys-Cyclones upset set everything into motion.

Many questions can still be traced back to this game, making this seemingly routine Friday night game one of the pivot-point games for all of college football.

Questions to Consider
  • Had Oklahoma State won this game (and then Bedlam) – no matter how ugly – would they have been able to hang with LSU in the BCS Title Game? Or perhaps even win it?
  • Without the Alabama-LSU rematch, are we still in the BCS era? Is there no such thing as the College Football Playoff in 2017?
  • Had the plane crash not occurred, would Oklahoma State have won the game in Ames?
  • If Oklahoma State had been able to pull off the national title win, against the coach that left the program, would Gundy be viewed in the same light as Bob Stoops, with 1 national title apiece?
  • Had LSU won the national title, is Les Miles viewed in a similar light to Nick Saban at this point, with 2 titles apiece? Is he still LSU’s head coach in 2017? And is Nick Saban still able to amass his collection of titles at Bama?
  • Without 2011 providing the impetus for the CFP, would any of the following years have done so?
    • In 2012, Notre Dame and Alabama were clearly the Top 2.
    • In 2013, Florida State and Auburn were clearly the Top 2.
    • In 2014, Florida State was undefeated with a string of unimpressive victories. Alabama and Oregon each had a loss but were otherwise dominant with solid schedules.
    • In 2015, Clemson and Alabama were clearly the Top 2.
    • In 2016, Alabama was clearly #1. Clemson and Ohio State each had cases for #2, with both sides having worthwhile and sympathetic arguments.
  • 2014 and 2016 provide potential catalysts for changing the system. But are they successful in bringing about the change – and if so, how long does it take to implement the CFP?
  • Had this upset in Ames not happened, what about the rest of that weekend?
    • Does Baylor lose its 4th game, possibly costing RGIII the Heisman (giving it to Luck)?
    • Does USC lose to Oregon, likely softening the over-hyped USC expectations (and thus, the eventual disappointment) for 2012?
  • How would the BCS have looked that year, if Oklahoma State were #2 instead of Alabama? And do they have any long-term implications?
    • Who does the Fiesta Bowl pick to replace Oklahoma State? And how do they do against Stanford?
    • Does changing the Oklahoma State-Iowa State outcome impact anything in the middle of the computer rankings – possibly moving TCU’s position from 18 to 16 and into the BCS?
    • How does Alabama do in the Sugar Bowl? Are the Tide motivated in this game? Who’s the opponent? Michigan, even with the 2012 Cowboys Classic scheduled?
    • Does Virginia Tech win its non-BCS Bowl, likely the Chick-Fil-A against Auburn? And does this program-first 12th win lead to more optimism entering 2012, delaying the eventual decline of the Frank Beamer era?

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