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The college football rules we want to change, from overtime to targeting

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OU's Woodi Washington gets penalized for taunting after INT (0:52)

Woodi Washington comes up with his second pick of the night and is then penalized for taunting his opponent. (0:52)

Are college football's rules perfect? Not necessarily.

So our writers tried to solve some issues on the field.

From changing penalties like taunting and targeting to adjusting overtime -- we know that's a hot-button issue in the NFL right now -- our staff wanted to make some changes to the college game.

Taunting is what makes college sports so great

I have two words: Horns Down.

College football really needs to stop being so precious about so-called taunting, and officials really don't need to make such obvious accommodations for Texas' massive ego. You don't like someone scoring on you and throwing a Horns Down gesture toward you or the crowd? Well, stop them next time. And when you do, try doing Guns Down in the direction of Texas Tech or the inversion of any other opponent's go-to celebration.

Case in point: When Auburn trolled Alabama by doing the crane kick pose during last year's Iron Bowl, there was no need for a flag even though it was a direct shot at John Metchie III and Jameson Williams, who paid homage to Karate Kid every time they scored. Alabama simply stormed back in the final minute to tie the score and win it in overtime ... on a pass to Metchie, who did the crane kick pose at fans as they headed home in defeat. Now we have Auburn hoops getting in on the fun.

It's not what's wrong with college sports. It's what makes college sports so great.

We can't extoll the emotion of college sports on the one hand and restrict the display of said emotion with the other. That's ridiculous. As long as it doesn't cross the line -- and it's one of those things where you know it when you see it -- then let kids be kids. -- Alex Scarborough

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1:06

Georgia's scoop-and-score TD overturned after review

Georgia thinks it has a touchdown after sacking Bryce Young and going the other way, but it's overturned.

Stop using instant replay

Since my plan to allow all live mascots to play on special teams has failed to gain any traction, I'll suggest this instead: Let's stop using replay. Yes, this makes me sound like a Luddite, but replay ruins what's best about the game: the action, the drama, the big plays.

Does replay occasionally correct egregious mistakes? Of course. But often those mistakes are (A) judgment calls that, while replay often gets the call right by the letter of the law, it misses the spirit of it (who's excited to debate what constitutes a catch some more?), and (B) it's often overturning a call that the officials got wrong largely because they knew in advance that replay would be able to fix it on the back end.

Indeed, officials are basically asked to make the wrong call in order to allow action to play out, then let replay be the judge, and in those occasional moments when replay doesn't offer an unmistakable view of what happened, the wrong play is allowed to stand. But worst of all, replay utterly bogs down games that already last far too long. There's nothing worse than a big play happening in a game, lathering up the crowd and ratcheting up the drama, followed by eight minutes of a referee waiting on a replay decision while the announcers blather on about how replay works for the five millionth time. It's like a stand-up comic explaining every sixth joke to the audience.

It's not that replay offers no upside. It absolutely does. But it's hardly foolproof, and the net effect is a longer game with more interruptions that still includes a nonnegligible amount of controversial or incorrect rulings.

In a sport where the ball gets spotted based entirely on a line judge's best guess, it's ridiculous that the action must grind to a halt a half-dozen times (at least) so a guy looking at a small TV in a replay booth can ponder what actually constitutes targeting. Play the game, trust the officials, let the chips fall where they may. -- David Hale

Don't blow the whistle just yet

First off, I want to see Scarborough's best Daniel LaRusso. There are several college rules that need modifying, namely targeting, but I've never understood the down-by-contact policy in college and why it differs from the NFL.

In college football, a player is down if his knee or any body part other than feet or hands touches the ground, even if there isn't an opposing player within 50 yards of him. If a player makes a diving reception or interception, and has a chance to get up and gain yards, it doesn't matter. If a quarterback makes a low throw to an open receiver, who kneels to catch it, the play is over.

Why do we do this? The NFL requires some contact from the opposing team for a ball carrier to be ruled down. Players on both sides can make acrobatic catches, hit the ground and still get up and gain yards if the opponent hasn't touched them. This gives games another layer of excitement.

College players are good enough on both sides to be responsible for contacting those with the ball. This isn't Pop Warner football. Defenders should be forced to finish plays, and offensive players should have the same duty after turnovers.

The obvious exceptions should remain, such as quarterbacks sliding or returners kneeling, but major college football should look more like the NFL game, especially when it comes to delivering big plays. -- Adam Rittenberg

Keep the clock and the chains moving

I have a far less radical idea than Hale's to help speed up games. How about NOT stopping the clock after every first down in the college game?

While I realize there should be clear distinctions between the college and NFL games (cough, cough, overtime), it would benefit college football in a variety of ways.

First, the length of games would be cut dramatically, helping solve an issue that has been discussed over the last several years as games take longer and longer to complete.

Secondly, shorter games mean fewer overall plays, which means there is a way to also address player safety -- especially with a proposed 12-team College Football Playoff coming somewhere down the road.

In 2021, the Baltimore Ravens led the NFL with an average of 69.7 plays per game. In college football, 71 teams averaged more plays than the Ravens. Shorter games and fewer plays could end up helping teams in the long run once 16- or 17-game seasons become an eventuality.

I have no issue with the clock stopping on first downs in the final two minutes. But there really is no need to stop it on every first down over the course of a game. -- Andrea Adelson

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1:51

Illinois pulls off wild upset of No. 7 Penn State in 9 OTs

Penn State's CFP hopes are effectively shattered as Illinois prevails in a dramatic nine-overtime upset.

Make overtime less gimmicky

Overtime. I touched on this after the Iron Bowl: Having a perfect overtime format is an impossible task. However, my main gripe (a big one) with the current format remains that it becomes gimmicky once teams reach the third overtime by alternating 2-point attempts instead of alternating possessions. It feels like by changing the format midovertime, we're just trying to get out of the stadium instead of seeing the game through to a proper end.

Having alternating possessions feels like a fair way to run overtime. The goal in moving to 2-point conversions was to avoid another seven-overtime game like Texas A&M and LSU played in 2018. Games that lasted that long were rare, which is why I believe the rule perhaps didn't need to be changed in the first place, though I do respect that it was done purportedly for player safety.

That said, there are three ways I'd prefer to do overtime instead of the current format. The first: going back to the alternating possessions until somebody wins. The second: exclusively alternating 2-point attempts until somebody wins. The third: either two or three possessions of overtime, with the game being called a tie if no winner has been decided after those alternating attempts. (In the playoff, you would play until there's a winner.) -- Harry Lyles Jr.

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0:53

Ohio State's Sawyer ejected for targeting after hit on Rising

Ohio State's Jack Sawyer is ejected for targeting after lowering his head for a big hit on Utah quarterback Cam Rising.

Change how targeting is penalized

It's impossible not to mention targeting here because it's equally impossible to make it through an entire college football season without at least one call (every Saturday) that prompts an ALL CAPS FURY ON TWITTER.

Here's the reality: Targeting isn't going away. The commissioners don't want to back away from it because it has changed player behavior, it's about player safety and it appears to be working. The notion of Targeting I and Targeting II, which has also been floated and championed most notably by AFCA executive director Todd Berry, is unlikely to gain any real traction because of the sheer difficulty of defining it and implementing it.

Officials have enough trouble calling targeting.

So instead of changing the rule, change the penalty -- the foul can still carry disqualification without carryover to the next game. It's an idea NCAA coordinator of officials Steve Shaw said could be discussed when the rules committee meets in early March in Indianapolis.

Currently, if a player is flagged for targeting in the second half of a game, he is disqualified for the rest of the game -- and misses the first half of the next game. Shaw said that 99 of the 174 targeting fouls that were enforced last year came in the second half. That's the equivalent of 49.5 games of missed playing time.

Instead, toss the player only for the rest of that half or that game -- unless it's his second targeting foul of the season. In that case, the player should miss the entire next game.

Talk about a deterrent -- and based on 2021, it would be an anomaly, which overall would cut down on the amount of playing time actually missed. According to Shaw, only seven players last year had two targeting fouls -- and four of them were in the second half.

By changing the penalty instead of the rule, it would cut down on missed playing time, continue to encourage player safety and modifying behavior, and at the same time act as a punishment for players who can't seem to learn from their first mistake.

The NCAA can't fine its players like the NFL, so the most valuable commodity is playing time. Sure, there are still going to be disagreements and angry in-game tweets about the actual rule, but if the coaches can keep their star defender in the lineup for the first half of the next game, it just might be worth the compromise. -- Heather Dinich

Helmet off, stay in for the next play

Look, I know this is small and largely inconsequential, but every time I hear a referee announce that "player X" will have to miss the next play because he lost his helmet during the previous play, I say -- no, scream -- in my head, "Why?!"

I'm all for player safety, but I don't see how this actively contributes to that in a tangible way. The play is dead already and the punishment does not fit the crime -- especially when the "crime" in this context is another player ripping a helmet off.

I don't understand why there's a need to police something that doesn't happen that often and is often out of a player's control. If anything, we're lucky this particular rule hasn't affected a meaningful game yet. Imagine DeVonta Smith losing his helmet on the play just before Tua Tagovailoa threw him the game-winning touchdown pass in the national championship? I don't want to live in a world where a helmet coming off during a play denies us an upset, decides a game or robs us of history. -- Paolo Uggetti