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Officials adjusting to ever-changing game

Watching as much college football as I do each week, I see as many bad calls – and maybe more – than the next guy.

But one thing I've noticed about the officiating: many of the missed calls could be avoided if they'd just add another official.

It seems with the pace of play these days, and all the offenses who want to run 80+ plays per game, officials sometimes are missing calls because they can't get to their proper spots in time to see the plays develop.

Now, I'm the first to admit that I used to blame the refs when my teams would lose. But as I've covered countless high school sporting events these past 15 years, and hear fans complaining about the officiating after their team loses games where the referees had little or no affect on the outcome, I've gotten a different perspective on things.

Granted, I'll still loudly voice my opinion – in the stadium or in my living room – when I see a bad call made. But after the game ends, I'm much less likely to say that one call cost my team the game, if only because I've come to realize that one or two missed calls rarely make all the difference. (Plus, it seems that things in the sports world almost always even out in the end.)

But I digress.

Just imagine my surprise, as I sat there on the couch one weekend watching a Big 12 game and thinking about how the addition of another official might make things easier on everybody, when I see an official with an 'A' on the back of his striped shirt. Not only was he spotting the football after every play – something the umpire usually does – but then he's jogging back into the offensive backfield, opposite the referee.

So I looked into this, and the Big 12 – a conference of wide-open spread offenses and very little defense (most of the time) – is experimenting this season with an eighth official "to attempt to keep pace with the game's speed, spot more penalties and better protect players."

Longtime NFL official and Big 12 officiating coordinator Walt Anderson told The Birmingham News' Jon Solomon in February that seven officials "are really appearing inadequate just to keep pace with the game" and cover all the areas that need watched as a play unfolds.

In addition, unlike the NFL adding an eighth official – a "deep judge" downfield during the 2010 season, the Big 12 is putting the "assistant referee" in the ideal spot to help out. Instead of adding a sixth official watching things downfield, they added a third near the line of scrimmage to help the referee and umpire, while still allowing for five officials to watch the receivers and DBs on pass routes. It's a better "mathematical mix," according to Anderson.

As always with my million-dollar ideas, it seems like I was a day late and a dollar (or a million) short. The league that has had the most explosive offenses per capita the past few seasons already had the idea of helping the officials keep up with things, and they actually approached it in the best possible manner. (Hear that, politicians? It can be done!)

Here's hoping the idea pans out and is adopted by other conferences. I know human error is part of the game, but in this technological day and age, anything we can do to reduce it is going to make the players, coaches and (especially) fans happier.

Unless your favorite hobby is yelling at and complaining about the officials. Then, sorry to tell you, but you might need to find a new favorite activity.

No. 13 Michigan State at Northwestern

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Ryan Field, Evanston


Line: Michigan State by 7

What's up: The Spartans have secured a berth in the Big Ten championship game, and have found an offense to go with the best defense in the country. The Wildcats are looking for a signature win, and could still become bowl eligible with wins in their final two games.

My pick: Michigan State 24-10

No. 19 Wisconsin at No. 25 Minnesota

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis


Line: Wisconsin by 16½

What's up: The Golden Gophers have been on a roll lately, and have cracked the BCS top 25 for the first time. The Badgers, though, have pretty much steamrolled everyone in their path lately, and will look to grind down Minnesota's 'D'.

My pick: Wisconsin 38-13

No. 5 Oregon at Arizona

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson


Line: Oregon by 20½

What's up: The Ducks are back in the driver's seat in the Pac-12 North, but need to make sure they don't trip up in a potential trap game on the road against the Wildcats.

My pick: Oregon 52-14

No. 12 Texas A&M at No. 22 LSU

When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge


Line: LSU by 4½

What's up: The Tigers handled Johnny Manziel pretty well last season in College Station, though it was still early in his first year as starter then. If LSU's defense can slow down the Aggies even a little bit – a tough task – the Tigers' offense could keep pace with A&M.

My pick: LSU 45-42

No. 17 Arizona State at No. 14 UCLA

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena

TV: Fox

Line: Arizona State by 2½

What's up: The Bruins are in control of their own destiny in the Pac-12 South, and if they beat the Sun Devils and USC, they're in the Pac-12 title game. The Sun Devils are in the same boat, though, and a big road win here would all but solidify their title-game berth.

My pick: UCLA 41-38

No. 4 Baylor at No. 10 Oklahoma State

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater


Line: Baylor by 9½

What's up: The Bears are the real deal and could basically clinch a Big 12 title with a win, but the Cowboys have found some consistency on both sides of the ball. Look for yet another Big 12 shootout.

My pick: Baylor 63-56

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