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Week 9 College Football Preview
By Matt Horkman

A foul is always a foul.

There are no dire circumstances when the official should ignore the yellow flag in his pocket. A penalty in the first quarter is still a penalty in the fourth.

Nobody wants to see a game end on a controversial foul. Thankfully, despite the cries from Notre Dame faithful, that wasn't the case in last Saturday’s thrilling game between the Fighting Irish and Seminoles of Florida State.

In question was an offensive pass interference call that negated Fighting Irish receiver Corey Robinson’s potential game-winning touchdown.

Down 31-27, quarterback Everett Golson drove the Fighting Irish to Florida State’s two-yard line, putting them in position to complete the upset. On fourth-and-goal, Golson threw a touchdown pass to Robinson with just 13 seconds remaining. Receiver William Fuller, however, blocked the defender responsible for covering Robinson. The officials saw the foul, threw the flag, and wiped away the go-ahead score.

It was the correct call. Rub routes are a staple part of every offense, but the receiver making the pick must attempt to run his route. Fuller didn’t. Instead, he blocked the defender responsible for Robinson immediately following the snap. There shouldn’t be much controversy here, yet Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is inflaming the debate by arguing the call was a poor one. Kelly is wrong, and he likely knows it. The player screwed up, and Kelly isn’t about to throw one of his players under the bus. That’s a sign of a good coach, though I do I think Kelly has one more motive.

He’s attempting to create the perception the officials robbed Notre Dame of victory. This is the storyline that emerged from the game, and it‘s one the selection committee will have to account for when deciding which four teams play in the inaugural College Football Playoff. In other words, Kelly is attempting de-legitimize Notre Dame’s loss. Ironically, he doesn’t need to.

Everertt Golson

Moral victories are rare. The last relevant one I can think of was the N.Y. Giants 38-35 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 17 of the 2007 NFL regular-season. The Giants were able to play with the mighty Patriots, who finished a perfect 16-0 in the regular-season. When the teams met in the Super Bowl a month later, the Giants already knew they could play with the best team in football. We all know the ending to that story.

Notre Dame’s position is similar to the '07 Giants. They matched Florida State punch-for-punch, and did so in the hostile confines of Tallahassee. The selection committee, no doubt, will speculate on how the Fighting Irish might’ve fared had the game been on a natural field.

The final playoff spot looks likely to come down to Notre Dame and the conference champions from the Pac-12, Big 12, and Big Ten. The SEC will produce at least one of the four playoff teams. Frankly, the conference has a case for two schools. Additionally, the committee will give Florida State an opportunity to defend their crown.

The Pac-12 is beating up on each other, leaving open the possibility its champion will have two losses. The Big 12 doesn’t seem to have a dominate team, though TCU could have a good résumé if they finish the season with just one loss. The Big Ten’s only hope is Michigan State, but their weak conference schedule will play a role.

Quality of wins is important, but so is playing well in defeat. The season is only half over, but it seems safe to say that nobody will have looked better in defeat than Notre Dame did last week against Florida State.

Regardless of the final call, the performance by Notre Dame last Saturday increased their playoff odds.

Last Week: 3-2
Season Record: 31-11

No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky
Time/TV: 3:30PM EST Oct. 25, CBS
Prediction: Kentucky faced a major test a week ago, and they failed. LSU thumped the Wildcats 41-3, giving them their second defeat of the season. The Tigers had success running the ball, rushing for 303 yards. Now Kentucky must handle Mississippi State’s potent ground attack, which is led by quarterback Dak Prescott. The Bulldogs should win comfortably because of their ground game.

Mississippi State 42 Kentucky 17

No. 22 West Virginia at Oklahoma State
Time/TV: 3:30PM EST Oct. 25, ESPN
Prediction: Look for Oklahoma State to bounce-back a week after TCU humbled them. Mike Gundy is too good of a coach to let his team fall into a hole, and West Virginia doesn’t possess the kind of defense that TCU does. Receiver Tyreek Hill has the ability to break this game wide open.

Oklahoma State 38 West Virginia 33

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU
Time/TV: 7:15PM EST Oct. 25, ESPN
Prediction: Last week was a good week for LSU, as the Tigers finally played a complete game. They dominated Kentucky on both sides of the ball, allowing just 201 yards on defense, while gaining 415 on offense. They won’t have that kind of success against Ole Miss, but winning in Baton Rogue is tough, especially at night. Quarterback Bo Wallace has done a nice job of avoiding turnovers in the last two weeks, but both of those games were in friendly environments. Turnovers will swing this game LSU's way.

LSU 24 Ole Miss 21

No. 13 Ohio State at Penn State
Time/TV: 8:00PM EST Oct. 25, ABC
Prediction: Since losing to Virginia Tech on September 6, Ohio State has scored 224 points in four games. Coach Urban Meyer steadied the ship, and now the Buckeyes look like one of the top three teams in the Big Ten. Playing in Penn State is no easy task, though. The Nittany Lions are underachieving right now. Yes, recruiting sanctions took their toll, so they lack good depth. Still, sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg is better than the numbers suggest he is. He’s actually thrown two more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five) this season. It’s only a matter of time until he works through his current slump. A fall night in Happy Valley might be just what he needs.

Penn State 21 Ohio State 20

No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah
Time/TV: 10:00PM EST Oct. 25, Fox Sports 1
Prediction: In chronological order, Utah’s next five games are against USC, Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona. They need to take care of business at home if they’re a legit Pac-12 contender. The Utes have a bit of a throwback feel to them. They do a nice job of stopping the run, and they run the ball well. Running back Devontae Booker is one of the best players in the country you’ve never heard of. Over his last three games, he’s amassed 563 yards on the ground. They’ll win this game if they establish the run with Booker and keep USC running back Javorius Allen in check. In other words, they just need to play Utah football.

Utah 27 USC 23

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