LINCOLN, Neb. – Another week, it looks like another officiating blunder.
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.
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 e-mail.
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.
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 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."
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.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio sidestepped a question on the call.
"Everybody saw the replay," he said. Later in his postgame news conference, Dantonio added, "You have to credit the people we played against, and I didn't think the officiating lost us the game."
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."
In an October game, the Big Ten acknowledged a breakdown of officiating mechanics in regard to down and distance during Nebraska's game at Illinois. The error cost the Illini a down, but the play did not effect the result. Illinois won 14-13.
No disciplinary action was announced in that case, but the Big Ten said "errors of this nature have a significant impact on game assignments, bowl assignments and overall year-end status."