For any college football fan, the lead-up to the College Football Playoff is a magical time of year.
Between all the conference championship games, jockeying for playoff berths, debate shows and social media highlights, there is an almost never-ending amount of content for fans to consume.
Case in point: The Pac-12 championship game on Friday between the University of Utah Utes and the University of Southern California Trojans has produced quite a bit of discussion, despite the lopsided 47-24 win by Utah.
Typically, there’s not a whole lot to discuss after a blowout of that magnitude. But in this case, one harrowing play became instant fodder for debate.
Utah quarterback Cameron Rising was scrambling when he got annihilated by USC linebacker Ralen Goforth. The hit sent Rising’s helmet flying.
It was one of the more savage hits of the entire year, and you can see it below:
This was not ruled targeting. pic.twitter.com/iln6KQGkx3
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 3, 2022
Rising was trying to eke out as many yards as he could in a game that hadn’t quite been blown open yet (Utah was actually only up 3 points in the fourth quarter before some giant plays iced the game).
Should this hit have been called targeting?
Yes: 0% (0 Votes)
No: 100% (1 Votes)
Given how savage the hit was, it naturally led to a discussion of targeting, which is called when a defender leads with the helmet to make a tackle. A targeting penalty grants the other team 15 yards and, more significantly, is an automatic ejection for the offending player.
It’s a massive call to make, so naturally, there’s always debate over what even constitutes targeting.
Bleacher Report, for instance, seemed perplexed as to why Goforth wasn’t penalized and ejected, while the vast majority of Twitter users felt that it was not targeting. It was simply a big, legal hit.
Now, while most football fans agree that this wasn’t targeting, it’s hard to blame people who thought it was, given the inconsistent precedent set when it comes to targeting calls.
Here is Clemson linebacker James Skalski with a powerful hit on Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields just last year:
James Skalski was called for targeting and ejected after this hit on Justin Fields. pic.twitter.com/0oqTQCTEDi
— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2021
That tackle was deemed targeting, and Skalski was ejected from a playoff game. As any Clemson fan can tell you, that was not a small loss, as Skalski was one of the team’s leaders on defense.
Now compare those two clips. It’s difficult to really pin down what the difference between those hits is.
Did Skalski more egregiously lead with the top of his helmet? Perhaps. But should a call with the gravity and magnitude of targeting really be left open to such personal interpretation?
Fortunately, regardless of whether or not Goforth should have been ejected, it didn’t really impact the end result. Utah ran away with the game late and completely upended the CFP rankings, which should lead to a chaotic few days of debate.
Should Ohio State now get in? What about two-loss Alabama? What about TCU, which, as this is being written, just lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship? What happens if Purdue pulls off the upset and beats Michigan later today?
If you’re a college football fan, this really is the most wonderful time of the year.