Here is the play in question:
And here is the NCAA rule regarding a play like this. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE VERY END OF THE RULE!
"If a Team B player contacts the passer or ball after forward movement begins and the ball leaves the passer’s hand, a forward pass is ruled regardless of where the ball strikes the ground or a player (A.R.
So, now, *if* Ainge's forward motion has begun, the landing point of the ball, whether backward or forward, is irrelevant. Is Ainge's arm going forward? It's hard to tell, but I believe it is. Why? Because of the trajectory of the ball after the hit. If Ainge just has the ball in grasp without forward motion, does the ball fly UP like that? I don't think so. The call on the field was a fumble, which is baffling to me. The officials should know this rule, and should call that incomplete.
In the end, this play wasn't why Tennessee lost, but could it have changed the game? Sure! That early momentum can change everything after that moment. Like a butterfly effect, if you will. Still, Cal won this game because they were more prepared and wanted it more. I do wonder how it would have gone if this were called correctly.