The Monday After: What to make of college football overtime rules after Penn State-Illinois marathon


Since the start of the 2017 college football season, the 130 teams at the FBS level of the sport have decided to go for two points following a touchdown 1,312 times, and 1,000 of those attempts came during overtime of Illinois‘ 20-18 upset win over Penn State on Saturday. All right, it wasn’t 1,000 of them. It was only 14 but felt like 1,000. It was also something we are unlikely to see again.

You see, of those 1,312 two-point attempts since 2017, 499 of them have been successful (three of those 499 coming between Illinois and Penn State … in 14 attempts), or 38%. That means 62% of two-point conversions over the last five seasons have been failures, but even if that seems like a lot, what happened on Saturday remains a statistical improbability.

After trading field goals in the first two overtimes, the Illini and Nittany Lions traded 10 consecutive failed conversion attempts. Using the math shared above about the success rate of conversions, the likelihood of two teams failing on 10 straight two-point conversions was 0.84%, which isn’t nearly as unlikely as two teams converting 10 straight. No, that’s down at 0.006%.

That’s what makes so many of the reactions to the nine-overtime fail fest so amusing. As is the case with nearly everything in college football, some people hate it and demand change while some love it; however, nobody thinks any of these feelings through before loudly proclaiming them. 

As I sat and watched it, I felt nothing different than what I felt in April when the new format was announced. I understand the intent behind the decision to change the format. Safety is at the heart of it all, and the NCAA wants to limit the number of plays in a game to reduce injuries. Ironically, Illinois lost quarterback Art Sitkowski to a wrist injury during overtime, and it was Brandon Peters who threw the game-winning pass to Casey Washington.

But the NCAA can do that while also providing a more logical — and still entertaining — end to a game that’s tied after 60 minutes. Here’s a simple fix that I wrote about back in April:

My biggest question about the new format is why wait until the second overtime to force teams to go for two? If we’re comfortable having games end in two-point conversion shootouts, why can’t we force teams to go for two in the first overtime? Doing that alone would significantly reduce the chances of getting to the shootout portion of overtime to begin with while shortening the games overall. That’s better for broadcast partners trying to squeeze games into tighter windows, and it’s fewer plays for the players.

Odds are this format won’t impact many games overall, and I probably won’t mind seeing some Friday night game between Mountain West teams ending slightly sooner because of it. The rule might be stupid, but stupidity has been a part of college football just as long as marching bands and sneaking flasks into the student section have been. It’s more of a feature than a bug.

The other tweak I mentioned back in April — and the one I want to see made more than anything — is for the NCAA to abandon this format in the College Football Playoff. We see it in other major sports. The NHL gets rid of its three-on-three overtime format and shootouts once the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. MLB recently implemented a rule for extra innings that sees each inning begin with a runner on second base but scrapped it for the postseason.

The College Football Playoff needs to do the same because nobody needs to see a national title decided this way.

Formation of the Week

I have no idea what this personnel package is called, nor the formation. All I know is that it features seven offensive linemen, two tight ends, a quarterback and a running back. And that it is beautiful.

I also know that Illinois rushed for 357 yards against Penn State in the game, which is the most the Illini have rushed for in a game since 2018 when it put up 384 yards on Nebraska, and the most Penn State has allowed in a game since Ohio State rushed for 408 yards against it in 2013.

Perhaps Penn State had such difficulty stopping the Illini rushing attack because, when it saw a formation including seven offensive linemen, two tight ends, a quarterback and a running back, it put only eight defenders in the box. There’s no need to have three players that far off the line of scrimmage, fellas.

Marketing Plan of the Week

Kansas was a 38-point underdog against Oklahoma on Saturday, so you can imagine the surprise everyone felt when the Jayhawks led the Sooners 10-0 at halftime and 17-7 late in the third quarter. It was a result nobody could see coming, and even fewer planned on seeing in person.

Considering the early 11 a.m. local kick, the unlikelihood of the Kansas faithful seeing their team win, and overall years of apathy about a football program with little success, you couldn’t judge Kansas fans for staying home. That’s why there were so many empty seats in David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, but the place filled in as the game went on thanks to an ingenious move by the school.

When Kansas realized that something incredible might be happening, it sent out this tweet:

It also sent an email to students at halftime to let them know what was happening and requested their attendance. And it worked! People showed up! Unfortunately, their presence wasn’t enough to help the Jayhawks hold on as the Sooners came back to win 35-23, but it was nice to see. It felt like a throwback to a time when college sports were more about the community of the schools themselves and not merely a vehicle to increase revenue.

Grizzled Veteran of the Week

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett is only 23 years old and has his entire life ahead of him, but he’s been Pitt’s starting QB since the Reagan Administration (OK, only since 2017). And with age comes the wisdom of knowing how to celebrate a 27-17 win over Clemson and keep things in perspective.

Seriously, what a season Pickett is having. In a year when nearly every QB who was supposed to be good has been anything but — including the QB he beat Saturday, D.J. Uiagelelei, who was benched during the game — Pickett has taken his game to another level. He’s gone from a guy who would probably get a chance on an NFL roster next year to a player currently on track to be a Heisman finalist and possibly one of the first QBs off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Stock Advice of the Week

BUY — Iowa State: After the Cyclones started the season 2-2 with losses to Iowa and Baylor, they escaped the national consciousness. They began the season ranked in the top 10, viewed as a College Football Playoff dark-horse, but quickly became an afterthought. Now, as we approach the end of October, Iowa State’s playoff hopes might be dead, but they’re looking like serious contenders in the Big 12.

It’s not just that Iowa State knocked off undefeated Oklahoma State 24-21 Saturday — it’s how they’ve looked in recent weeks. My biggest concern about this team all along was a lack of explosive plays on offense. While I’m not ready to say the Cyclones are explosive yet (my numbers have their offense ranked 40th in that department), there’s been a noticeable uptick lately.

Through Iowa State’s first five games this season, the offense had managed only 13 plays of 25 yards or more. Over the last two weeks against Kansas State and Oklahoma State, they’ve had eight. Furthermore, the Cyclones didn’t have a single play of greater than 50 yards in their first five games but have had one in each of their last two. Iowa State still has to get through both Texas and Oklahoma to reach the Big 12 Championship Game, and while both teams have their flaws, you need to score points against both to beat them. This Cyclones offense is finally starting to show signs it is capable of doing so.

SELL — Justin Fuente: I was wondering if we might see a press release from Virginia Tech on Sunday announcing the dismissal of coach Justin Fuente. The Hokies’ 41-36 loss at home to Syracuse dropped them to 3-4 on the season and was their third consecutive home loss. That’s not something that has happened often at Virginia Tech over the last few decades.

Fuente is now 41-30 at Virginia Tech and only 8-10 since the start of last season. His overall lack of success with the Hokies has surprised me because I thought he was a brilliant hire when he moved to Blacksburg. While Memphis has become an established program in the AAC recently, it was practically non-existent when Fuente took over. The program was still in Conference USA with a 5-31 record in the three seasons before Fuente’s arrival. He won four games in his first season and had the Tigers going 10-3 by his third. I felt that if he could do that at Memphis, then he was destined for success at Tech. Now I can’t help but feel the only destiny he has with the Hokies is a pink slip.

BUY — Northern Illinois: The one thing at the core of the MAC that makes the conference enjoyable is its unpredictable nature. Still, even knowing that you can never be sure what to expect from the MAC, I did not see this season coming from Northern Illinois. The Huskies came back from an 18-point deficit to beat Central Michigan 39-38 on Saturday, improving to 6-2 on the season. This is a team that had its season-long win total set at four before the year began, and it’s already 4-0 in the MAC.

It’s been an incredible turnaround for Thomas Hammock’s program after the Huskies went 0-6 last season. Now they’re entering the home stretch of the 2021 season with a two-game lead on everybody else in their division.

Worst Rule of the Week

It’s not just that the refs brought back a touchdown by Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson for barely celebrating a touchdown too early that bothers me. It’s trying to figure out why the rule exists in the first place.

Honestly, what purpose does the rule serve? Who exactly was hurt by Hutchinson turning around, slowing down and mildly high-stepping before reaching the end zone? Every rule should serve a purpose, and I can’t quite pinpoint what purpose the taunting penalty serves.

This is a sport in which we ask human beings to hurl their bodies into other bodies at full speed for four hours, yet we’re afraid of somebody getting their feelings hurt? It’s so monumentally stupid, and I’m pretty sure it only exists because one person in charge somewhere got mad when an opponent celebrated beating their favorite team.

Thankfully, Hutchinson scored a few plays later, and it was all a moot point. But can you imagine if Iowa State had lost this game because a player was happy he scored a touchdown?

College Football Playoff Projection of the Week

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Ohio State
  4. Oklahoma

Until the next Monday After!





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