2011-2012 College Football Review: Year of the Kicker

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2011-2012 College Football Review: Year of the Kicker
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

 

How fitting is it that the final game of the college football season gave much-needed relief to college football fans?

A kicker didn’t blow the game.

Sure, the season might have a dark blotches from scandals in Columbus, State College and beyond, but, on the field, this year’s disasters and headlines were owned by kickers. 

Many kickers single-handedly—single-footedly?—caused chaos amongst all the college football faithful.

Where else to start with but with national champs, Alabama.

The nation eagerly tuned in on November 5 when Louisiana State University came to town. The contest was dubbed the “game of the century,” but turned into the "game of crummy kickers."

The Crimson Tide kicking duo of Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley went 2-6 on field goals, and Alabama lost 9-6.—

At the time, it knocked Alabama out of contention for a chance to play for the national championship, but thanks to other upsets—including a few due to game-winning field goals made or missed—the Tide got back in the title game against LSU.

We all know how that ended—Shelley redeemed himself by going 5-7 on field goals Monday night.

Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Sharp overcame early season disasters to boot a game-winner against Stanford.

That collective sigh of relief you heard might have come from all those fans who were glad that the game did not come down to a field goal attempt.

The endings of many games this season were a mixture of sweet and sour for a lot of other teams and their followers, whose hopes rode on the foot of the of the skinny, scared kicker trotting onto the field with little time left on the clock. 

Just ask any fan from Oklahoma State, Utah, Oklahoma, Boise State, Georgia, Stanford or Virginia Tech. 

Oklahoma State’s kicker, Quinn Sharp, missed horribly on a 37-yard field goal that would have sealed a victory for his then-undefeated team when the Cowboys played Iowa State.

That missed kick almost assuredly kept the ‘Pokes out of the BCS championship game. 

Mediocre Iowa State forced overtime, and then upset the second-ranked team in the country because of Sharp’s shanked boot. It’s a kick that probably cost the school millions of dollars and a shot at the national title. 

The biggest groan when Sharp smoked it wasn’t from the fans—it was from Oklahoma State’s athletic director, school president and coaching staff.

Kicking woes haunted the other big collegiate football team in Oklahoma, too. 

The Sooners’ undefeated season and national championship dreams were crushed when they were upset by Texas Tech in late October, 41-38.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Kicker Michael Hunnicutt missed a 39-yard-field goal in the first half and a 28-yarder off the right upright with 2:52 left in the game, sealing a victory for the Red Raiders.

That kick hit the Sooner athletics’ bank account hard.

Even though the Sooners would go on to lose a nail-biter to Baylor and got spanked by Oklahoma State, it hurt the Sooners' chances of making it to a BCS game as an at-large bid. Many pundits agree that if the Sooners had taken out the Red Raiders, they would have been selected ahead of Virginia Tech for the Sugar Bowl.

Kickers can face a fickle fate—you’re a hero one week; the next week, your own mom might not even claim you.

Kicker Coleman Petersen of Utah knows the feeling.

He was the PAC-12 player of the week for his stellar performance against Washington State, which included a game-winning field goal in overtime.

Then, the horrible Buffaloes of Colorado, winners of a paltry two games all year long, came to Salt Lake City to face Utah. The Utes were riding a four-game winning streak and found themselves in place for a chance at the division championship.

Colorado’s senior class had never won a road game, losing 23 straight. It seemed like a sure bet that Utah would make easy work of the outmanned Buffs and send the senior class home winless.

Enter Peterson along with his right foot.

Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images

A week after being the hero, he missed three field goals—one from a measly 26 yards out, a distance most high school kickers routinely put between the uprights.

Needless to say, the Buffaloes are on a one-game winning streak heading into next season and Utah never made it to the PAC-12 championship game.

Even Cinderella had some kicking issues.   

Yep, the Boise State Broncos' season took a nose dive when a kicker choked in the clutch. 

Again.

For two years in a row, BSU rode an undefeated season and a potential BCS berth going into the last few weeks.  Last year, kicker Kyle Brotzman missed two short field goals in a 34-31 overtime loss to Nevada. That loss knocked Boise State out of the BCS.

This season?

Same story, only with a different kicker and different opponent.

Dan Goodale missed a 39-yard field goal—from the middle of the field, mind you—that sailed into another zip code against Texas Christian University. The missed kick came as time expired and allowed TCU a narrow 36-35 victory over fifth-ranked Boise State.

Memo to the BSU coaching staff: Recruit a (very) good kicker in the off-season.

Those two kicks have been estimated to cost Boise State $10-20 million in bowl game money, as well as heaps of prestige and respect.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Ouch. 

The kicking meltdowns expanded into the bowl season, too, as Georgia’s Blair Walsh missed a 42-yard field goal and had a field goal blocked in a 33-30 loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.

Virginia Tech kicker Justin Myer was automatic in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as he nailed four field goals during regulation. Of course, with the game on the line in overtime, Myer's 37-yard field goal attempt became the most important stat of the game.  

He botched the kick, and the Wolverines topped the Hokies when their kicker, Brendan Gibbons, nailed a 37-yard field goal in overtime. Needless to say, that kick has all coaches looking for brunette girls to help with special teams next year.

There wasn’t much of a fiesta for the Stanford faithful during the Tostitos Fiesta bowl as they watched sophomore Jordan Williamson go wide left, very wide left, as time expired. 

Williamson also had an overtime attempt sail on him. Luckily, Oklahoma State's kicker, Quinn Sharp, got over his kicking woes and nailed a 22-yard field goal in overtime to seal the victory.

Kickers count.

They can cost a school millions of dollars. The last phrase any coach wants to hear in a close game is “wide right.”

But it’s part of the deal.

A kicker knows going into any game that, with thousands in the stadium cheering or jeering him, millions of fans rising from their couches in agony, tens of millions of dollars could be riding on his foot, with eternal fame or infamy seconds away.

Now the waiting game begins and the wounds can heal.  

Spring practices are two months away, but you can bet that the words “laces out” will be ringing in some fans' ears until next August, when college football begins again.

A single kick can make the difference between millions of broken hearts and millions of dollars.   

 

You can follow KC on Twitter @KcSmurthwaite 

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