October 15, 2005
By Ric Albano
There was 5 seconds left in the game. Notre Dame led 31-28 aginst the #1 team in the nation, the USC Trojans who came into South Bend with a 27-game winning streak. It was 1st and goal at the 4-yard line and USC was out of time-outs.
Defending Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, the USC quarterback took the ball and rolled out to the left in an attempt to score a touchdown and win the game. He found nothing but the green jerseys and gold helmets of Notre Dame defenders, who immediately surround him to bring him down at the 2-yard line. Then, upon impact, something dramactic happened: the ball popped free from Leinart’s grasp at a nearly-perfect, 90-degree angle and landed out of bounds at the 1-yard line. The clock stopped giving USC another chance due to this unbelievably fortunate twist of fate. On the next play, Leinart sneaked over the goal line(with a little illegal push from teammate Reggie Bush, I might add) and the streak and #1 ranking were both preserved.
If Leinart had not fumbled the ball, he would have been tackled in-bounds, time would have expired, and Notre Dame would have won!
If the fumbled ball would have landed anywhere in-bounds, one of those gold-helmeted, green jersey’d defenders would have recovered the ball and Notre Dame would have won!
If the fumbled ball would have landed out-of-bounds, but a yard or two further down field, it would have been ruled a touchback, the ball would have been turned over to the Irish on their 20-yard line and Notre Dame would have won!
If the fumbled ball would have landed out-of-bounds, but a yard or two back up field, USC would have been forced to kick a field goal to send the game into overtime where (judging by the momentum and the way the two teams played on the short field), in all likelyhood, Notre Dame would have won!
If Notre Dame would have won, the elite sportscasters who risked their reputations by proclaimimg USC the greatest team ever would have granted them a divine “do-over” (anybody remember Florida State in ’93) by somehow voting them back into the National Championship picture and we all might have been treated to a sequel in January.
But that won’t happen now.
There are no playoffs in college football.
So, in effect, the season ended on October 15th.