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1991 Central Michigan’s intense road to the record books

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The Banner Society Advent Calendar’s entry for December 15.

Three teams will forever share the record for most ties in a college football season. 1937 Temple, 1939 UCLA, and 1991 Central Michigan all ended four games without winning or losing, and thanks to the adoption of overtime in 1996, no team will ever get the chance to go for five.

The first two are largely products of their time. Temple’s ties were all scoreless, as were two of UCLA’s. Offenses tended to be slow, plodding things in all but the most lopsided contests, and the vast majority of teams averaged fewer than 14 points per game.

Lower scores and less offense made ties more frequent; in 1937, there were 55 total tie games, and while that number dipped a bit in 1939, college football still had 39 ties that year. 1991 only had 15 games end in a draw, and Central Michigan was the only team in the nation involved in more than one of them.

A scoreless tie necessarily lacks any inflection point. The first play is just as meaningful as the last; it’s also just as meaningless, because neither one (nor any of the plays between) resulted in points. But Central Michigan didn’t have any 0-0 games.

And if you go back and look at those four ties, they all came down to the last minute. Here’s how each game got added to CMU’s third column, in reverse order of tenseness:

CENTRAL MICHIGAN 14, EASTERN MICHIGAN 14: With one minute to play, EMU lines up for a 53-yard field goal. The holder bobbles the snap, however, so the Eagles don’t get a chance to pull ahead.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN 16, TOLEDO 16: Down three, the Chips successfully score on a 22-yard field goal with eight seconds left.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN 10, MIAMI-OHIO 10: CMU misses a field-goal from 49 yards with 28 seconds to go that would have broken this deadlock.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN 17, OHIO 17: Down seven, Central Michigan mounts an 88-yard drive and throws a 4-yard touchdown with two seconds left in the game; the extra point completes the tie.

That’s a lot of stress to endure as a fan, but ties are weird things, so maybe they were outliers for this team, right? WRONG. VERY WRONG. The sole Chips loss of the season (by seven to Bowling Green) was sealed when a CMU receiver dropped a pass that would have converted a 4th down. What about the wins?

The wins had plenty of bonkers in their ingredients, too!

  • The first victory, against Southwestern Louisiana (now known as the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns) was almost the second tie; Central Michigan kicked a field goal on the last play of the game to win by three and avoid an 0-0-2 start.
  • Against Akron, CMU needed a field goal with three seconds left to win by two.
  • CMU was even with Western Michigan late in the fourth quarter and careening towards sole possession of the ties record … until the Broncos threw three picks in the final five minutes and Central Michigan won by ten.

75 percent of the 1991 Central Michigan season turned on late-game chaos. The three comparatively boring outcomes, all CMU victories, were a 16-point clobbering (these things are relative, okay?) of winless Kent State, a win by a touchdown over Ball State, and a road defeat of #18 Michigan State by 17 points.

That’s right. If you were a Chips fan in 1991, the most relaxing game you watched all year was the program’s first-ever matchup against the Spartans. Congratulations/condolences on now being immortal, depending on how you feel about walking the Earth for the rest of time.