Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ohio State-Michigan stuck in college football's photographic memory

Muhammad Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston. Bobby Orr flying through the air. A shirtless Brandi Chastain celebrating a World Cup.

These are among the most iconic photos in sports history.

Add another to the list. Michigan vs. Ohio State. The fourth-down play.

Except, which photo?

In the days since the wackiest ending in, perhaps, the greatest rivalry in all of sports, photos are flooding the Internet showing that Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett definitely made a first down.

You can find them right along with the photos that show Barrett definitely did not make the first down.

As we break down the photos and footage with Zapruder-like scrutiny, this much is clearly in focus: the play has become the defining moment not only in the college football's most storied rivalry, but the most significant down in the most dramatic season in college football history.

It literally could decide the national champion.

We head into the weekend with as many 10 teams claiming they still have a shot at the four-team playoff. That includes Ohio State, which appears to be a lock, and Michigan, which still thinks it belongs after losing Saturday's double-overtime heartbreaker at Columbus.

The Wolverines' chief argument? They actually didn't lose because they stopped Barrett on that fourth-down play.

It's the Fifth Down Play or the Bush Push or a shot of Jenn Sterger in the stands — a play that will live in college football infamy.

In case you're just now coming out of your week-long stay in a cave, Ohio State trailed by a field goal in the second overtime and was facing fourth and 1 from just outside the Michigan 15-yard line. Lining up in the shotgun, Barrett faked a handoff to Curtis Samuel then raced to his left. As he approached the 15, he slammed into the backside of teammate and tight end A.J. Alexander, who was attempting to block Michigan defensive end Chris Wormley. Barrett crumpled back to the ground.

But did the ball cross the first down line?

Absolutely, if you root for Ohio State.

No way, if you cheer for Michigan.

The controversial spot gave Ohio State the first down and the Buckeyes scored on the next play for the 30-27 victory.

Photos after the fact showed that Barrett absolutely, positively, no doubt about it either did or did not make it.

See, that's what is so crazy about it all.

Have you seen some of the photos?

One had Barrett clearly across the line. Then again, that same photo had hashmarks so crooked that it looked like a Dali painting. I was looking for a melting clock.

Other photos have yellow lines that look like they were drawn by kindergartner — a third with the ball beyond the line, a third with it just short and another third with the ball nowhere in sight.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was so convinced Barrett was short that he was willing to pay a $10,000 fine making his point.

Everyone has an opinion.

The guys in the space station had a "real good look at it'' and they thought it was a first down.

Now some analysts are calling for chips to be placed in footballs, while others are checking the birthplaces of every official who worked last Saturday's game.

Even ABC is catching heat for not having cameras in the perfect spot to capture whether or not a football inside a stadium filled with 106,000 people was a quarter-of-an-inch this way or that.

What makes it all so juicy is that, here we are four days later, and we're still talking about it.

And we're still arguing who should be in the playoff.

Imagine what will happen this weekend if Penn State, Washington and Clemson all lose. What happens if Alabama is upset by Florida?

Then, maybe Michigan will get in.

It sure would be a photo finish.

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