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Phillip Marshall: It's not luck; it's college football

Jan. 3, 2014

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – News flash! Sometimes football players make bad plays. Sometimes those bad plays cost their teams games. It happens at every level. Dozens of college football games every season are decided because one team or another does something ill-advised.

The constant questions and comments that Auburn is “lucky” to be in the BCS Championship Game have gone from tiresome and boring to downright silly.

It’s all about a tipped pass that Ricardo Louis caught for a touchdown to beat Georgia and Chris Davis’ 109-yard return of a missed field goal to beat Alabama. To get those two out of the way, the ball didn’t fall into Louis’ hands. He made a very athletic play, seeing the ball at the last second, tipping it with one hand and gathering it in. It’s just plain stupid to call Davis’ return lucky. The best returner in the SEC returned an ill-advised field goal try to win a game that was headed for overtime. It was no luckier than any kick return. And Auburn might well have won the game anyway.

Auburn players swear to this day that Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray did not get into the end zone on the fourth-down run that gave Georgia the lead. Georgia got the ball to start that drive because Louis ran over tailback Tre Mason from behind on third down when Mason would have easily made the first down. Bad luck for Auburn? Good luck for Georgia?

It’s not luck. It’s college football.

If every victory that comes because of something unexpected or because of a bad play by an opponent is lucky and thus tainted, then a very high percentage of college football games are tainted.



Probably 90 percent of long touchdown plays happen because somebody on defense makes a mistake. Alabama’s 99-yard touchdown pass against Auburn happened because Jonathon Mincy made a bad play and let the receiver get behind him and Jermaine Whitehead was late getting there and missed a tackle.

Backs fumble frequently with no help from the defense. Mason did that very thing against Alabama. Passes bounce off receivers’ hands and are intercepted, which somehow is not viewed as being lucky. Bad snaps happen on punts. Kickers miss easy field goal tries.

None of that is luck. It’s college football.

If one team wins because the other makes more mistakes, the winning team played better because it didn’t make those mistakes.

As for Auburn and its date with Florida State in the BCS Championship Game, offensive line coach J.B. Grimes might have said it best.

“The ball is shaped funny and funny things happen,” Grimes said. “But if you’re not good, those things don’t matter.”

Auburn could have lost to Alabama or Georgia or Mississippi State or Texas A&M or even Washington State. It didn’t. Auburn players made enough plays and Auburn coaches made enough good decisions to finish the season 12-1 and win the Southeastern Conference championship. That was enough to get them to the BCS Championship Game.

It might not have been enough if Michigan State had not beaten Ohio State, if USC hadn’t beaten Stanford, if several teams that were ranked ahead of Auburn had not lost. Alabama wouldn’t have played for the national championship in 2011 if Oklahoma State had not missed a chip shot field goal try against Iowa State. It wouldn’t have played for the national championship if 2012 if Oregon had recovered a fumble against Stanford that was there to be had.

It’s not luck. It’s college football.

There’ll be at least two more days of “luck” questions as Auburn prepares for Monday night’s game. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and five players will answer questions today. Every player and coach on the trip will be available for questions Saturday. And if Auburn loses, dozens of stories, tweets and TV commentaries will declare its luck ran out.

Somewhere along the way in Monday night’s game, one team will benefit from the bounce of the ball. That bounce might be the difference between winning and losing. But it won’t be about luck.

It’s college football.


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:


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