First college football targeting call of 2023 shows we still don’t know what targeting is

A detailed view of a referee's penalty flag laying on the field (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)
A detailed view of a referee's penalty flag laying on the field (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images) /

A college football rule that continues to drive fans insane on a yearly basis is the much-disputed “targeting” call. And 2023 is off to a running start as to the debate on what is and isn’t considered targeting.

Targeting. The bain of many a college football fan. When the announcers start mentioning “that could be targeting” you can hear the collective cursing from living rooms all across America.

The first game of the 2023 season — Navy vs Notre Dame — managed to be completed without the dreaded targeting penalty being called.

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But in the first half of the day’s second game — UTEP vs Jacksonville State — a hit was made, a helmet went flying, a yellow flag was tossed, and CBS play-by-play announcer Rich Waltz began the “this could be targeting” discussion.

What is a targeting penalty in college football?

If you look at the NCAA rulebook and search the word “targeting” you literally get 239 different references. The word is used in conjunction with different rules governing the use of the helmet and forcible contact to a defenseless player, and on, and on, and on.

There are four “indicators of targeting” in the rulebook to confuse us even more.

  • Launch — a player leaving his feet to attack an opponent by an upward and forward thrust of the body to make forcible contact in the head or neck area
  • A crouch followed by an upward and forward thrust to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area, even though one or both feet are still on the ground
  • Leading with helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand, or elbow to attack with forcible contact at the head or neck area
  • Lowering the head before attacking by initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet (crown now being defined as “the top segment of the helmet; namely, the circular area defined by a 6-inch radius from the apex (top) of the helmet.”)

That brings us to the hit in today’s game between the Miners and Gamecocks. After catching a pass, UTEP tight end Zach Fryar was walloped by linebacker Larry Worth. Fryar’s helmet flew off during the hit, which from some angles looked clean, and from others, not so much.

That led to the discussion in the booth with analyst Aaron Taylor stating emphatically “looked like a clean hit to me” and describing how good a tackle it was, while Waltz mentioned from a front angle how it looked like helmet-to-helmet.

The points of emphasis were put on the TV screen, and the debate was on…

Targeting? Not?

In the end, the officials called the hit targeting and Worth was disqualified from the game. That didn’t seem to satisfy the masses on social media.

So what really is targeting? Much like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.