We're just about a week away from the start of the 2012 college football season. It's almost here, gang. There hasn't been a worse offseason to get through in the meantime, but we did it. Football season is coming back.
So let's look back, not only on the best moments of the 2011 season, but the types of moments that we hope to see again this year.
Denard Robinson doing Denard Robinson things
When he's off, he's unbearable; just ask Michigan fans about the Michigan State, Iowa and Virginia Tech games last year. But when Denard Robinson is on, when he's making things happen, he's the most fun Big Ten player to watch since...can you even think of anybody?
Crazy, improbable last-second heroics from someone you'd never suspect
It's not that Keith Nichol was a no-name. If, the week before the Wisconsin game at Spartan Stadium, you had asked average Michigan State fans if they knew who Keith Nichol was, the vast majority would have answered correctly: former quarterback, moved to receiver, not a star but it's cool that he stuck around. Then most probably would have been concerned that you were even asking in the first place—like, why are you asking? What happened to him?
But after the Wisconsin game? Let's just say he'll never have to buy a drink in East Lansing again.
The most amazing aspect of the first Wisconsin-Michigan State game in 2011 was, of course, the game-winning Hail Mary. That was awesome, and the only thing that would have made it more awesome is if it didn't necessitate further review, delaying the celebration for minutes on end.
Granted, the review's the only reason the touchdown was called—we're not lamenting that—but it would have been nice if Nichols fell into the end zone and the celebration could have just started right then and there.
But probably the only reason the game was even decided in regulation in the first place was Bret Bielema's decision to start calling timeouts when Michigan State was backed up in its own territory with the clock ticking in regulation, hoping to force a punt and maybe get a shot or two at getting into field goal position. Whoops.
And in that exact same game in almost the exact same circumstance (2nd and 20, inside the 25, less than 90 seconds left), Michigan State did the exact same thing in the first half...and got a blocked punt and a touchdown out of the deal. Why? Because forcing a punt is usually the right call in that situation. It's just that Wisconsin forgot to actually force the punt.
Rex Burkhead giving someone the SKRRRRRRRT!
For someone who's barely bigger than the average tailback, Rex Burkhead is an absolute horse. He doesn't go down on first contact, he punishes tacklers more than they punish him, and he's at his best in the second half, when defenses are wearing down and he's...well, not.
So that's fun to watch. What's even more fun is when Burkhead flips the script on an unsuspecting safety who's expecting contact and sends him flying harmlessly past, as he did with Ohio State's Christian Bryant on the game-tying touchdown in Nebraska's comeback victory. If you can watch that clip and not have some sort of audible reaction, you have no soul and we hate you.
A championship for the ages
And finally, the finale. Wisconsin-Michigan State II was a deliriously great game from start to finish. It lacked the last-second drama of the Keith Nichol Hail Mary and was decided on an entirely sensible (yet still disappointing) running-into-the-kicker call, but it was without question the two best teams in the Big Ten playing the games of their lives.
If we can get that again in 2012—another 60-minute slugfest between any two teams that earn their way to Indianapolis—we'll all be better off for it. Here's to hoping. And here's to football.