4th and 25 Changed The Football Landscape

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4th and 25. Those who follow the SEC need no elaboration, particularly Arkansas or Ole Miss fans. However, the wildest play of the 2015 season should hold equal significance for supporters of Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State…basically, any team directly impacted by the resulting outcome.

The Razorbacks’ 4th and 25 hook-and-lateral play immediately earned its place in Arkansas football lore. Brandon Allen’s pass to Hunter Henry, and Henry’s awkward yet successful toss to Alex Collins converted an improbable first down, extended overtime in a defeat of Ole Miss.

One might understandably forget the game’s conclusion matched the 4th and 25 conversion for sheer lunacy, as a face-mask penalty gave Arkansas a do-over on its game-winning, two-point attempt.

Arkansas commemorates the play today — April 25, 4/25 — in a move a number of blogs label as a troll of Ole Miss. Fair enough. The loss knocked the Rebels out of the driver’s seat in the SEC West and paved the way for Alabama to reach its third conference championship game in four years.

The SEC Championship served as a prelude to the Crimson Tide’s fourth national championship under head coach Nick Saban. Meanwhile, Ole Miss remains one of only four teams to never play in the SEC Championship Game, and the program’s conference title drought extends beyond a half-century.

Surely Arkansas’ celebration of the play rubs salt in some still-fresh Rebel wounds. However, the “troll” works as effectively for Clemson.

The national runner-up Tigers took the fight to Alabama in a competitive, entertaining College Football Playoff title round. Either unleashing the ace up his sleeve, or remembering the tight end was a remember of the team, Lane Kiffin finally opted to call some plays for talented tight end O.J. Howard. They broke the game open for the Tide and denied Clemson its first national championship in 34 years.

Had Ole Miss tackled Henry before his pitch, or brought down Collins shy of the first-down marker, the Rebels win the SEC West, which denies Alabama that all-important place in the SEC Championship Game.

By virtue of Alabama winning the Playoff, the mighty SEC is once again King of College Football. However, with that 4th and 25 play, the SEC may well have been shut out of the tournament completely, and the favored punching bag of SEC honks — the Big Ten — likely sends two teams.

At 11-1, the Tide would still have been in the College Football Playoff conversation, but it’s not an open-and-shut case.

The committee would have been faced with the option of bypassing a conference champion for a runner-up in the same division — and not just a runner-up, but a team the champion beat head-to-head. But Ole Miss doesn’t necessarily move into that Playoff spot in Alabama’s stead; not with two losses, one of which came against Group of Five foe Memphis in rather lopsided fashion.

Iowa, which finished fifth in the final College Football Playoff ranking, may have had the most compelling case for the final Playoff spot had Arkansas failed to convert 4th and 25. If not the Hawkeyes, then defending national champion Ohio State perhaps moves to the front of the line. Stanford has an argument as a Power Five conference champion, but the Cardinal’s two losses — one of which came against a Big Ten team Iowa beat — clears the way for the Hawkeyes or Buckeyes.

Iowa’s Cinderella run hit E at the Rose Bowl Game, and the same would likely have come to pass in a national semifinal against Clemson. But does Michigan State matchup more favorably with Oklahoma than it does Alabama?

Similarly, does Clemson’s path to the national title clear without O.J. Howard blocking it?