LINCOLN, Neb. — Another week, it looks like another officiating blunder in college football.
The Big Ten said Sunday that officials used the proper mechanics to indicate a Nebraska player stepped out of bounds and returned to the field before catching the winning touchdown pass against Michigan State on Saturday night.
The conference, however, didn’t say whether the officials’ determination that Brandon Reilly was forced out of bounds — and thus able to come back inbounds and make a legal catch — was right.
“We don’t comment on judgment calls, but can confirm that proper technique was used, and provide additional information on instant replay,” conference spokesman Scott Chipman wrote in an email to the Associated Press.
The Spartans’ 39-38 loss all but ended their hopes of making the College Football Playoff. They dropped from No. 6 to No. 14 in this week’s AP poll. They were No. 7 in last week’s initial CFP top 25.
Last week, the Atlantic Coast Conference suspended officials for several mistakes they made in ruling on the eight-lateral play that resulted in Miami’s winning touchdown against Duke. The ACC said the touchdown shouldn’t have counted, but it did not overturn the result.
Michigan State was trying to hold off a late charge by Nebraska when the Cornhuskers’ Reilly stepped out of bounds at about the 7 and came back in to catch the 30-yard pass from Tommy Armstrong Jr. with 17 seconds left. After huddling, officials ruled Reilly was forced out of bounds by cornerback Jermaine Edmondson — allowing Reilly to remain an eligible receiver. Though there was slight contact between the two, television replays did not support that Reilly was pushed or forced out.
Referee John O’Neill announced the play would be reviewed. But the only thing replay official Tom Kissinger could review under the rules in this circumstance was whether Reilly stepped out of bounds or if there was contact. The answer to both is yes.
Whether Edmondson, who was running in front of Reilly, actually forced the receiver out of bounds by contact was a judgment call to be left to the on-field officials.
“In the judgment of the official, the Nebraska player went out of bounds due to contact by the Michigan State player, then returned to the field of play and established himself before catching the touchdown pass,” the Big Ten statement said. “The instant replay crew then stopped the game to review if there was clear evidence of contact, if the Nebraska player re-established himself in the field of play and completed the catch. Per NCAA rules, the instant replay crew cannot review the severity of contact, as that is a judgment call handled by the officials on the field.”
Fox Sports officiating guru Mike Pereira didn’t agree with the call.
“I did not think that the defender forced the receiver out of bounds,” Pereira tweeted. “There was some contact but not enough.”
Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo said Sunday that the call should start a discussion about adding more reviewable kinds of plays, albeit “cautiously.”
Reilly’s touchdown came at the end of a 91-yard play drive that lasted 38 seconds. Michigan State could have all but ended the game if cornerback Arjen Colquhoun had been able to hold on to an interception in the end zone the play before Reilly’s touchdown.
“For Nebraska to march down the field they did as quickly as they did, I think Michigan State’s staff would admit maybe they put the game in the hands of officials,” DiNardo said.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said he had a long talk Sunday with Big Ten supervisor of officials Bill Carollo but wouldn’t comment on the nature of their conversation.
“I think the best thing to do is let the Big Ten do their job,” he said.
Dantonio added: “I can’t complain about the officiating. I can talk about it. But there’s more than one play out there where we had the opportunity to win the football game. I’ll leave it at that.”
Nebraska coach Mike Riley said the ruling surprised him.
“Well, we really thought initially it was going to be ruled out of bounds, so we were getting ready for another play from about the 30-yard line,” he said. “We were actually surprised when they signaled touchdown. I think they were actually reviewing whether or not he caught the ball inbounds but that didn’t even appear to be close, so that was how it kind of came down.”
In a game last month, the Big Ten acknowledged a breakdown of officiating mechanics in regard to down and distance during Nebraska’s game at Illinois. The mess-up cost the Illini a down, but the play had no effect on the outcome. Illinois won 14-13.
In the Big 12, supervisor of officials Walt Anderson had to answer questions about the crew that worked Oklahoma State’s 30-27 win over Texas in September. Some 16 penalties were called on Texas, one of them being a questionable defensive holding call.