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You Can Change The Outcome Of One Play In Penn State History. What Play Do You Pick?

Let's use some 20/20 hindsight and change the past.

G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images

Last week, Deadspin posed a really interesting question. The folks over there wanted to know what play's outcome you would change if you could go back in time and change it. Some of the more notable ones:

  • Christian Laettner's shot against Kentucky in the 1992 Final Four
  • Gordon Hayward's missed half-court shot against Duke in the 2010 national title game
  • Bartman
  • The Tuck Rule game between the Patriots and the Raiders
  • David Tyree

That's a good list! The way I see it, two college basketball national champions would change, the Cubs probably would have played for a World Series (and the 2003 World Series champion would change), the Patriots dynasty possibly never becomes a thing (and at least the 2001 Super Bowl champion changes) and Mercury Morris would never drink champagne again (and the 2008 Super Bowl champion possibly changes) if all of those things occurred.

So, following the lead of our friends over at Maize n Brew, we decided to debate amongst ourselves this question, but limited to only Penn State. Here's what we picked:

Jared: If I had the power to change the outcome of a single play in all my years of Penn State fanhood, there is no doubt it would be for Iowa's last-second field goal to sail wide in 2008. While there are plenty of options to agonize over and count the endless amount of hypothetical outcomes, that one true field goal on a cold and blustery day likely cost Penn State a national championship. Yes, a national championship.

Had Penn State finished the 2008 regular season undefeated, they would have went on to play the Oklahoma Sooners, the nation's only other unbeaten team. I firmly believe on a neutral field that the 2008 squad would best the Sooners, who in reality lost the BCS Championship 24-14 to the Florida Gators. The '08 defense would have had similar success in suffocating the Sooners offense, while the offense was explosive enough to put up at least 24 points against a stingy Sooners defense. Thanks to the now-defunct BCS, Penn State would have received a more favorable match-up than Florida or USC, who were clearly the nation's best teams in 2008. Penn State would have been just another team that managed to do what was required in the old system without necessarily being the top team. In the end, all anyone would remember was that Penn State was the last team standing when it was all said and done.

It's easy to forget about now, but we were really that close. If only that damn field goal would have found its way on the other side of the upright...

Cari: December 14, 2012. #1 Penn State takes on Oregon in the NCAA semifinals. On set point in the second set, an Oregon player clearly hits the net--a rules violation that, in 99 out of 100 instances, would give Penn State the point, the set, and the 2-0 lead. This was not one of those 99 times. In a call that was so egregious that it caused Russ Rose to rise from his perennial perch from the sideline, the sideline umpire who was right in front of the net violation refused to make the correct call, and Oregon won the point--and, eventually, the set.

Rather than taking a virtually insurmountable 2-0 lead, Penn State went on to lose the match 3-1 behind a clearly hobbled but still serviceable then-sophomore Micha Hancock.

How did the squad rebound after this defeat in the tournament, as the favorite? Oh, only by winning the next two national titles. No big deal.

After all, ball don't lie.

Nick B: Clearly, the correct answer is the 1979 Sugar Bowl, because the National Championship hinged on one play. I'm often wrong, so instead I'm going with my earliest Penn State hoops memory February 9, 1993, the Nittany Lions hosting top-ranked Indiana in Rec Hall. Off an inbound pass, the Hoosiers' Chris Reynolds grabbed Greg Bartram's jersey as he streaked towards the basket and scored, but an offensive foul whistled out of nowhere ultimately took the upset with it. The game went double overtime, however the correct call instead ices the game in regulation.

Tim: I think the football choices are fairly obvious, so I'm going to be a rebel and go down the hoops route, instead. It was Valentine's Day 2007, classes had been cancelled at PSU that day thanks to a massive snow-storm, and 2nd-ranked Ohio State led by a trio of freshman studs in Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, was visiting the BJC that night. A good friend and I took advantage of the free admittance for students (as a result of the weather), even though we fully expected the Buckeyes to stomp all over a lowly Penn State team that had reverted back to bottom-feeder status after getting to the NIT the previous year. But hey, this was a chance to see future NBA Hall-Of-Famer Greg Oden* up close and personal. Sure enough, things appeared to be playing out exactly as expected, as OSU jumped out to a seemingly insurmountable 25-point advantage early in the second half.

* -- So much for that, huh? Damn you, Oden's knees!

Things then took a very Penn State basketball-like turn for the strange, when slowly but surely, PSU crawled its way back into the game, thanks to Geary Claxton and Jamelle Cornley's undersized aggressiveness down low and Mike Walker's hot hand lighting it up from three-point range. Before we knew it, PSU had the ball down two with the shot clock turned off, with a chance to either tie or win the game with a three-pointer. After getting double-teamed down low, Claxton noticed Walker wide open at the top of the key, proceeded to pass it out to Walker, who then launched a shot that looked to be right on target...only for it to hit the back iron and rim out. Game over. Good job, good effort.

I'm not going to pretend that it would have been a program-changing win had Walker's buzzer-beater gone in, but it sure would have felt good to storm the court and get national love on SportsCenter that night for rallying to upset the No. 2 team in the country. We also would be laying claim to another transitive property runner-up title (in addition to Michigan in 2013), as well.

Oh, and there's actually highlights from this game (made by an OSU fan). You can go ahead and skip to the 3:50 mark if you don't like seeing OSU basketball highlights set to Lenny Kravitz's cover of "American Woman."

Matt: The obvious pick for most Penn State fans is probably Henne to Manningham in the 2005 edition of PSU-Michigan. However, the play I go back to more often from that game is the one that immediately preceded it. Michigan had the ball, 3rd down, around the Penn State 10, with only a few seconds remaining. The Lions were able to get pressure on the Michigan QB, forcing him to look for his outlet, Steve Breason in the flat. PSU's freshman cornerback, Justin King, did what he had been told to do since he put on pads: make a play on the ball. And that is precisely what he did. At just about any other point in the game, it's a great play by a great player. In this case, however, had Breason hauled in the pass, he would've almost certainly been stopped well short of the end zone, and time would have run out. Instead, Michigan had 1 second remaining, and the rest is history.

Page: Henne-Manningham TD. My first real year knowing what I was watching and being fully indulged with the team, and my heart was broken. I was watching 10 minute highlights of each game from that season a while back and you bet your ass I skipped the Michigan game


Again, a really good list, in my absurdly biased opinion. As for me, everyone went with a bad thing that happened, and would have changed it so something good happened, which is great, but I want to do something a little different. Let's go back to the 2013 Michigan football game and pick one of the many fortunate things that inexplicably went in Penn State's way.

I won't pick the Allen Robinson catch -- which you can watch 20 times, right here -- which when you look back on it, was completely absurd. Instead, let's head to the third overtime. Allen Robinson fumbles the ball on the first play of the frame, Michigan recovers it and the Wolverines get the ball. They proceed run it for no gain, throw a nine yard completion to get to the 16-yard line and center the ball on third down. Brendan Gibbons comes out to kick one of the easiest field goals of his career from 33 yards out. Gibbons came into the game as one of the best kickers in the sport, and while he missed a few earlier in the game, this seemed like a guaranteed make.

Instead, kicking into Penn State's student section, he pushed the ball left. I still can't believe it. Sure, this doesn't have any bigger impact on Penn State football, other than the Nittany Lions have a worse record in 2013 and they go 6-6 or worse, but that was the best football game I've ever seen in real life and the fact that Penn State won it is unfathomable. Also: Bill O'Brien isn't as hot of a coaching commodity of PSU is .500 or worse in 2013, and maybe he's still at Penn State. Neither here nor there.

So, after reading what we think, we'd like to open this question up to you in this week's MMQB. If you could go back in time and change the outcome of one play in Penn State history, which play would you pick? It could be any play in Penn State's athletic history, and it can involve any team. Want to say D.J. Newbill's jumper over Aaron Craft last year doesn't happen? Sure! You're an asshole, but sure! Want to say that the ball bounces a different way for the field hockey team in 1994 and they win a game that they instead lost? Go ahead! Have some fun with this.