25 Things We Loved and Hated About 2011 College Football
The 2011 college football season was full of ups and downs. From scandals to upsets to Cinderellas to dramatic finishes to BCS controversy, the 2011 season had something for everyone.
Looking back on the 2011 season, there's plenty to talk about.
We decided to separate the good from the bad into our list of 25 things we loved and 25 things we hated about the 2011 season.
No. 25 Loved: Optimism in Ann Arbor
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It's hard to be a college football fan and not realize that the University of Michigan—the winningest program in the history of the sport—has fallen on some pretty rough times.
It wasn't just the abysmal record the Wolverines put up under head coach Rich Rodriguez—the worst record in the history of a program that stretches back to 1879.
There was somehow a lack of enthusiasm about football at Michigan. There was a dark cloud hanging over Michigan Stadium for the past few seasons. Something wasn't right.
Add to this the seven straight losses to rival Ohio State, and it's easy to see why “Go Blue” had turned into “having the blues.”
Rich Rodriguez was promptly fired after an embarrassing loss to Mississippi State in the 2011 Gator Bowl. Brady Hoke was hired as his replacement, and unlike Rich Rod, Hoke had some legitimate Michigan street cred.
While a relationship with the program might not be a big deal at a place like Florida or Texas or Oregon, at Michigan it's everything. After all, the quintessential “Michigan Man” Bo Schembechler coined the phrase, and it's been the watchword of the Wolverine faithful ever since.
It turns out there was good reason for the renewed optimism in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines posted a 10-2 record, beat “that school from Ohio” (as Brady Hoke puts it), and earned an at-large BCS berth in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
Even if you hate Michigan, you have to admit the college football world is a better place when Michigan is in the hunt for a BCS berth.
No. 25 Hated: Tattoo-Gate
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On the flip side of the Ohio-Michigan saga is Ohio State and its fall from grace this season.
In reality, the issue of receiving a few tattoos in exchange for a few trinkets isn't that big of a deal. All things being equal, Ohio State's compliance office, the Big Ten, and the NCAA probably would have agreed on that.
But in this case, all things were not equal.
Like politics, the college football world is pretty forgiving—provided you fess up, admit wrong-doing, and promise not to do it again.
Any disgraced former Congressman can tell you it's not the crime, it's the cover-up that gets you.
We're forced to wonder how the season might have been different had “Slick Jimmy” Tressel just fessed up.
“Hey, folks. This is what's going on. It's a problem, we're addressing it, we're putting a stop to it, and we're suspending some players because of it.” No big deal.
“Hey, folks. There's nothing going on. I've never heard of this problem. I'll sign my name to a statement for the NCAA saying I have no knowledge of the problem even though there's hard evidence I previously tried to cover it up.” Very big deal.
The latter scenario is what played out in Columbus, and Tressel was unceremoniously ushered out of his palatial office suite at Ohio State.
In the end, our biggest issue is with Tressel, not the players. Tressel held himself out to be the better man all through his career at Ohio State. He was a man of integrity. He preached always doing things the right way.
In the end, he turned out to be the biggest hypocrite we've seen in quite some time.
It's also worth mentioned on a side note the Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee found himself looking like an impotent fool after saying in a press conference that he hoped Tressel didn't dismiss him before Tressel was eventually forced to resign.
The fact Gee still has his job is absolutely astounding, and further shows the lack of institutional control by the Board of Trustees at The Ohio State University.
No. 24 Loved: Mark Richt
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It takes a special group people to call for the ouster of a head coach who has an overall record of 96-34, including a 53-27 mark in the SEC with four East Division titles and two conference championships over ten seasons.
But that's exactly what was happening in Athens.
Despite some great success, including three BCS berths (2-1), Mark Richt found himself on the hot seat this season.
Why? We still can't figure that out. Apparently one 6-7 season is too much for some short-sighted Georgia fans.
After a season-opening loss to Boise State, the chorus to fire Richt grew louder (because Georgia shouldn't lose to Boise State, never mind the Broncos were the then-No. 5 team in the nation).
After dropping the second game of the season, it looked as if the calls for Richt's head might get the better of the 51-year-old Nebraska native But a funny thing happened on the way to the unemployment line. Richt's Bulldogs rattled off 10 straight victories, claiming the outright title in the SEC-East and earning another trip to the SEC Championship Game.
After a 10-3 season, it's clear Richt is a coach that can not only ignore silly distractions, he can also rise to the occasion, and prove all those naysayers wrong in the process.
No. 24 Hated: Florida Atlantic
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We can excuse an FAU loss to Florida. We can look past an FAU loss to Michigan State. We can understand an FAU loss to Auburn.
But turning the expected 0-3 start into loss after loss after loss really makes us wonder why programs like Florida Atlantic made the decision to join the FBS in the first place.
The program began in 2001 in the FCS. After moving to the FBS a few seasons later, FAU has been the mark of consistent mediocrity. FAU's existence in the FBS reached a new low this season, when the Owls posted a program-worst 1-11 record.
It was apparently enough for even legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger, who retired after coaching all 11 seasons of the Owls' existence, posting a 58-73 overall record, including the FCS years.
While we don't expect FAU to be knocking off the ranked teams (FAU is 0-8 all-time), it's about time the Owls begin playing at least to the level of their fellow Sun Belt members.
No. 23 Loved: Talk of a Playoff
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One great thing about BCS chaos is that is really has spurred discussion of some sort of playoff system.
Even if it's just a “plus one” style playoff, would that be better than what we currently have?
No. 23 Hated: BCS Press Releases
Just a quick browse of the BCS's own website (bcsfootball.org) shows some of the self-aggrandizing “press releases” BCS lovers love to quote.
If you're looking for real BCS news, you probably won't find it in some of the press releases you'll find from the BCS, such as arguments against a pending lawsuit and how the BCS “does it's job every season.”
No. 22 Hated: Terrelle Pryor
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It's hard to imagine one player who didn't even play this season to make our list, but if anyone deserves it, it's Terrelle Pryor.
The Tattoogate cover-up was bad enough. But when Pryor accepted a five-game suspension and agreed to return to the Buckeyes this season, it seemed as if Ohio State might be able to get past the troubles and compete in the Big Ten this year.
Then came allegations of more rules violations by Pryor, and he beat a path towards the nearest freeway on-ramp in Columbus for the NFL.
It wasn't long before the NFL found him in contempt for allegedly violation their draft rules, and Pryor served out a five-game suspension before joining his new team, the Oakland Raiders.
In his wake, he left an Ohio State team utterly without an offense in 2011.
No. 22 Loved: Andrew Luck
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The preseason Heisman favorite had another impressive season that oozed skill, accuracy, talent, and strength.
So why didn't Luck win the Heisman? Taking a look at his résumé from this season, it's not because he didn't have the stats.
It's more likely that Luck didn't take home the hardware this season because he lacked that “Heisman moment” voters look for these days.
Still, Luck has quite a consolation prize: he's led Stanford to yet another BCS berth, and this time the Cardinal will be looking to bring home the Fiesta Bowl trophy to sit beside last season's Orange Bowl trophy.
No. 21 Loved: Montee Ball
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It's hard not to like a running back that has accomplished all Montee Ball has this season.
Running the football in the Big Ten Is no picnic, so it's surprising that Ball has been so successful this season, breaking numerous school and conference rushing records.
Ball was a big part of Wisconsin's Big Ten Championship, and he was rewarded with a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
No. 21 Hated: Cliff Harris
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After numerous suspensions and rules violations, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly had finally had enough.
Cliff Harris was unceremoniously dismissed from the Ducks team after violating team rules while still on suspension. Apparently, Harris was again cited for possession of marijuana on November 25, and that was the last straw for Oregon.
Such a disappointing end to a once-promising career from an All-American corner.
No. 20 Hated: Mississippi State
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How quickly things can come crashing down.
Mississippi State began the 2011 season as a potential contender in the SEC-West.
By Week 5, the Bulldogs (preseason No. 20) were 2-3, and the second win was a 26-20 overtime nail-biter against Louisiana Tech.
After a 6-6 finish, Dan Mullen may begin to feel some heat on his rear end of the Bulldogs can't turn things around soon.
No. 20 Loved: Wake Forest
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The Demon Deacons aren't winning any championships, but Wake Forest played far above expectations this season against some stiff ACC competition.
Wake Forest will meet up with Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl where the Deacons hope to set the tone for future successes in 2012.
No. 19 Loved: Al Golden
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Was there a nicer, more upstanding guy this season that suffered a sucker punch the way Al Golden did at Miami?
It's not often you'd hear any coach say, “Boy, I wish I was back at Temple,” but that's exactly what must have been going through Golden's mind after the news broke about a massive benefits scandal at “The U.”
The players may not be getting off of planes wearing fatigues any more these days, but it seems there's still that undercurrent of seedy behavior at Miami.
Al Golden had absolutely nothing to do with any of the alleged violations, and Miami hid the secret investigation from Golden until after he was hired.
Much to his credit, Golden muddled through the season without much further incident, and he courageously and with integrity agreed to forgo any bowl options for the Hurricanes this season.
Al Golden's challenge now is to rebuild Miami into a winning program, but do so in the right way—which would be a real change for “The U.”
Plus, the man is bringing the necktie back to the sidelines...
No. 19 Hated: Nevin Shapiro
Has there ever been an instance of such a mighty program being utterly destroyed from the inside out by such an inconsequential person?
If someone had asked a few years ago who Nevin Shapiro was, there wouldn't be anyone any of us knew who could answer. Today, his name has become synonymous with slimy, underhanded deals and how money can buy to access to almost anything at the University of Miami.
His exploits have been well documented by both Sports Illustrated and Yahoo! Sports. Thankfully, however, Miami now seems to have a handle on the situation by announcing they would decline any bowl invitations, and the NCAA seems to be satisfied (for now) to let Miami complete their own investigation.
It also happens that no one is paying attention to Miami any longer. Just as the Hurricanes took the spotlight off of Ohio State, another program (which we'll talk about later) took the spotlight off of Miami.
No. 18 Hated: The MAC
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There's definitely a problem in the MAC.
Everyone knows that the football played in the MAC isn't of the highest caliber. There are FCS teams that could annually compete—and probably win—in the MAC. The conference sits right in the middle of Big Ten country. Available recruits are few and far between.
But none of these reasons is what we're talking about here.
The MAC's problem is complete and utter apathy from football fans.
Let's take just one example. On November 5, Eastern Michigan hosted Ball State in a MAC conference game. The recorded attendance for that game was 3,288. Just so there's no misunderstanding of belief of a misprint, that's three thousand, two hundred and eighty-eight fans. In a stadium that seats 30,200.
To compare, we're going to look at a Division II game also taking place in the state of Michigan. On November 12, Grand Valley State hosted Saginaw Valley State in a GLIAC conference game. The recorded attendance for that game was 11,163—nearly 8,000 more fans than attended the EMU-Ball State game a week earlier—in a stadium that seats 8,950. This is a game two divisions below the FBS, yet it's drawing 8,000 more fans.
How can this be? Doesn't the NCAA have attendance standards for the FBS?
In fact, the NCAA requires FBS programs to average 15,000 actual or paid attendance at home games in at least one season over a two-year rolling period. So far, no MAC team has failed to fall under that line.
How is that possible if MAC games are drawing fewer than 4,000 fans? Simple. You can guarantee that teams like Eastern Michigan will be giving tickets away to anyone who wants them next season, guaranteeing that football program “sells” (or in this case, distributes) at least 15,000 tickets to each and every home game.
Poof! It's magic! EMU saves the day by not becoming the first team booted from the FBS for failing to have anyone care about its games.
In truth, it would probably help if the NCAA actually did take action. At least it wouldn't appear as if the folks in Indianapolis are preoccupied by minor rule violations by big programs at the expense of ignoring shocking failures by lesser programs.
No. 18 Loved: Southern Mississippi
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The 2011 Conference USA Champions gained that title by doing what no one thought they could: beat the Houston Cougars.
For the first time all season, each team was facing a ranked opponent. Houston was undefeated, as had put together a string of lopsided victories that was pretty staggering. The Golden Eagles, on the other hand, had dropped an early season game against Marshall before dropping a conference game against Alabama-Birmingham on November 17.
While USM was a solid football team, no one game the Eagles much of a change against the 12-0 No. 6 Houston Cougars.
But in the end, Southern Miss proved the better team on December 3, and Houston walked off the field a demoralized, beaten team.
Underdog victories are always entertaining, but massive underdogs beating up on an apparently helpless top ten team in a championship game is the stuff from which legends are born.
No. 17 Loved: Tyrann Mathieu's Dominating Play
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Has there been a more dominating defensive player in the history of LSU?
That's probably up to LSU football historians to decide, but on the surface, it doesn't appear so.
Mathieu is the do-it-all corner back, returning kicks, forcing fumbles, picking off passes, sacking quarterbacks... About the only thing he hasn't done this season is throw a touchdown pass.
His on-field match-up with Alabama's Trent Richardson in the BCS title game is easily one of the top player vs. player match-ups to watch this bowl season, and Mathieu won't disappoint—at least he hasn't yet this season.
No. 17 Hated: Tyrann Mathieu's “Touchdown” Toss
It's no secret that Tyrann Mathieu is a special player, and he's done some special things this season in the defensive backfield and returning kicks for LSU.
But special players don't play by special rules. Everyone still has to cross the goal line before letting go of the football. Apparently Mathieu forgot about that during the SEC Championship Game.
We might have let it slide if Mathieu hadn't made light of his faux pas after the game.
No. 16 Hated: The Big Ten's Division Names
Yes, we still hate them.
We understand that the divisions don't really stack up nicely into geographical regions, such as East-West or North-South, but neither does the ACC.
And the ACC managed to pick division names that aren't the eternal butt of jokes.
Enough already. The Big Ten needs to abandon the Legends and Leaders and find something more palatable to the fan base.
There has to be some PR undergrad at one of those fine institutions that can lend a hand...
No. 16 Loved: Texas Christian
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So the encore to the 2011 Rose Bowl Championship season wasn't as great as initially expected. TCU still makes our list for two reasons: first, the Horned Frogs managed to beat Boise State in Boise.
Secondly, that win helped catapult TCU to another MWC title.
There won't be a BCS trip for TCU this season, but that doesn't mean there was plenty of success in Ft. Worth.
No. 15 Loved: Boise State
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So, the Broncos can be beaten at home.
Of course, ti takes a missed last-second field goal (again) by Boise State to secure the opponent's victory, but TCU accomplished something that hadn't been done in ages: beat the Broncos in Boise.
Still, there was a lot to like about this year's BSU team. An 11-1 record is nothing to shake a stick at, and the Broncos finished the season in the top ten yet again.
The Broncos also have the distinction of being the highest ranked eligible team not to be selected for a BCS bowl (since Arkansas wasn't eligible due to conference limitations).
It looks as if Boise State finally has had enough of this BCS snubbing. It looks as if Boise State may soon be headed for another, more BCS-friendly conference.
No. 15 Hated: The Mountain West Conference and Rocky Long
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When the Mountain West announced their coup by luring mighty Boise State away from the WAC, the media didn't immediately notice the little footnote included in Boise State's agreement with the MWC.
The Broncos had agreed to an as yet unwritten MWC rule that barred Boise State from wearing all-blue uniforms while playing at home in Boise on the famous blue turf.
What the...? Really?
It seems the conference was playing hardball with Boise, which despirately wanted out of the WAC in search of better competition that could boost those all important BCS computer rankings at season's end.
But why would the MWC make such a stupid demand?
As it turns out, there were members of the MWC—like San Diego State—who believed Boise State's blue turf amounted to an unfair advantage when playing in Boise. SDSU head coach Rocky Long even went so far as to say that he believed Boise State should be forced to remove the blue turf!
Clearly Long has lost his mind. We don't blame Boise so much for agreeing to this numbskull rule (based on their need to get out of the WAC) although there is a case to be made for such blame, but the MWC and Rocky Long should have known better. It's no wonder Boise State is looking for a quick exit from the conference.
No. 14 Hated: Illinois
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When Illinois started 6-0 for the first time is countless decades, the Illini groupies finally began to believe that the promise of success under Ron Zook had finally arrived.
Zook and Illinois then proceeded to go 0-6 down the stretch to finish 6-6.
Illinois clearly had enough, and promptly fired Ron Zook, who was just 34-50 at Illinois.
Looking at those numbers, it's hard to believe he wasn't fired sooner.
No. 14 Loved: Michigan State
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This isn't your grandfather's Spartan football team.
In year's past, Michigan State's m.o. Has been to breeze through much of the non-conference schedule and early Big Ten games before hitting a wall and utterly collapsing before season's end. With the hiring of Mark Dantonio, MSU had hoped to put those troubles behind it.
It looks as if the Spartans may be succeeding.
After last season's Big Ten co-championship, it wasn't considered rude to wonder aloud if MSU could continue their winning ways. A year later, we have our answer.
Dantonio is clearly intent on building MSU into a perennial Big Ten contender, and the Spartans are already well on their way with their fair share of impressive wins against ranked opponents and thrilling last-second victories.
Not only is Michigan State becoming a team accustomed to winning, it is also becoming one of more entertaining teams to watch in college football.
No. 13 Loved: Clemson
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It's not surprising that Clemson wasn't receiving much attention when the season began.
The Tigers finished 2010 with a 6-7 (4-4) record, tied for fourth in the ACC-Atlantic, and ended the season with a Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to South Florida.
So the 8-0 start was certainly a surprise for most, and the Tigers soon found themselves ranked No. 6 in the Coaches Poll, well within sight of that elusive national championship.
But just when people were beginning to believe this might be Clemson's year, the wheels began to come off, as has happened so many times before.
It started with a loss to Georgia Tech, followed two weeks later with a loss to NC State and a crushing defeat at the hands of in-state rival South Carolina.
But to the credit of Dabo Swinney and his players, Clemson was able to stop the bleeding just long enough to get past then-No. 4 Virginia Tech for a second time in 2011, this time to win the ACC Championship Game and earn a trip to the 2012 Orange Bowl.
Clemson is a feel-good story for 2011, and even though the fantasies of national glory didn't come to fruition, the remarkable turnaround from only a year ago is impressive.
No. 13 Hated: Clemson
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Once again, it seems the Tigers built up lofty expectations within the span of a month or two only to end up disappointing fans who had once again started to believe a national championship might be within reach.
The difference this time around is that Clemson didn't quite fall as far as it has in previous quick starts.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era in Clemson football. Tigers fans can only hope...
No. 12 Hated: Army and Navy
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Every December, the Army-Navy Game gives America a chance to witness one of the grand sporting traditions.
While this year's installment of America's Classic didn't disappoint, it was the last game of the season for both teams. Both Army and Navy will miss a bowl game for the first time since 2002 when the academies were a combined 2-23.
Since then, Navy had made a bowl season each year. Army's track record is far worse. The Black Knights not only dropped their 10th-straight to the Midshipmen, but the Cadets will fail to make a bowl game for the 15th-consecutive season.
Americans will never stop being proud of the young men who choose to attend these great institutions, especially during a time of war.
But watching the football teams from West Point and Annapolis continually struggle wears thin.
No. 12 Loved: Oregon
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You really have to hand it to Chip Kelly and company up in Eugene.
After dropping the season-opener to LSU, the Ducks responded by going on quite the tear, winning their next nine games, climbing to the No. 4 spot in the AP Poll before losing to USC.
But even that second loss, which knocked the Ducks from BCS title contention, didn't detract from the first goal of any team: winning the conference championship.
The Ducks skated past UCLA in the Pac-12 title game, and in doing so earned their third-straight BCS berth.
The Ducks will meet Big Ten Champion Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on January 2. Both teams lost their last visits to Pasadena, Wisconsin to TCU last season and Oregon to Ohio State two seasons ago.
No. 11 Loved: Case Keenum
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We love records.
It's engrained into our society somehow. Whether it's most home runs in a season, most three-pointers in a game, most hat tricks in a career, or most passing touchdowns ever, we love big numbers.
If you ever need your fix of mammoth stats, all you need to do is take a glimpse at the numbers put up by Case Keenum over his career at Houston.
Here's just a sampling: 1501-of-2160 (69.5 percent) for 15,685 passing yards and 152 passing touchdowns.
It doesn't matter what the level of competition is, that's downright impressive, and Case Keenum's seemingly unstoppable ability to put up big numbers made Houston one of the teams to watch in 2011.
No. 11 Hated: Houston
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As the wins kept piling up for the Houston Cougars, the rankings climbing.
By conference championship week, Houston had finally found its way into the BCS top ten, and a win against Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Championship Game would catapult the Cougars into a BCS bowl.
But as it turned out, Houston just wasn't as good as everyone thought.
In their only game against a ranked opponent, Houston was completely dismantled by a clearly superior Southern Mississippi team.
Prior to the C-USA title game, Houston pointed to its season-opening win over UCLA as proof that it could hold its own against top-flight competition. But as UCLA stumbled to a 6-7 record, people began remembering the fact that Houston won by a meager four points over the Bruins.
Now, add in the collapse against Southern Miss and you have a team that clearly fooled not only themselves, but the rest of the nation for much of the season as well.
No. 10 Hated: Wisconsin's Victory over Nebraska
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When the Cornhuskers entered the Big Ten, the confident Nebraska fan base self-assuredly assumed the Huskers would be a dominant force in their new conference.
The Big Ten opener at then-No. 7 Wisconsin was going to be then-No. 8 Nebraska's coming out party.
Beyond making an early statement in the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers could announce to the nation that Nebraska was indeed a BCS contender in 2011.
Instead, the prime time network television audience witnessed Nebraska getting absolutely undressed by a vastly superior Wisconsin team.
We try to be as even-handed as possible: We don't hate the fact Wisconsin won and we don't hate the fact Nebraska lost. What we hated was how thoroughly Nebraska was humiliated after all of the early-season bluster.
No. 10 Loved: Michigan State's Victory over Wisconsin
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There's nothing better than two conference titans standing toe-to-toe going punch-for-punch.
That's exactly what college football fans saw on October 22 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
The home team didn't disappoint a homecoming crowd of 76,405. After battling for 59 minutes and 56 seconds, the final four seconds would determine the game. Michigan State had just surrendered a late score to Wisconsin, and it seemed inevitable the game was headed into overtime.
Wisconsin had capture the momentum, and had erased a seemingly insurmountable fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game at 31. Rather than concede the final four seconds and regroup for overtime, Mark Dantonio dialed up another late-game special, and had Kirk Cousins roll out to buy MSU's receivers time to run the 44 yards to the end zone. Cousins then hurled the ball 50 yards, where it was tipped in the end zone to Spartan wide receiver Keith Nichol, just outside of the end zone. Wisconsin's defenders valiantly fought to keep Nichol from crossing the goal line, and he was ruled down just shy of the end zone. Overtime.
But in the mayhem, the referee received that now-familiar buzz on his belt from the replay official. Despite cameras shaking wildly as the entire stadium shook when Nichol caught the ball, the Big Ten replay booth was able to find a replay with a steady shot that captured just the right angle: Nichol had barely crossed the goal line. Before the referee could finish his sentence, Spartan Stadium erupted once again, and MSU players, coaches, and staff stormed the field.
If last season's “Little Giants” fake field goal win in overtime against Notre Dame was the best college football finish in MSU history, it's been replaced just one season later by the “Rocket” Hail Mary.
No. 9 Loved: Arkansas
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After earning a berth in last season's Sugar Bowl, there were more than a few people who thought the Razorbacks could make some noise this season.
Sure, Alabama and LSU were getting all the preseason love, but Arkansas had a ton of talent returning, and the early season clash between the Hogs and Crimson Tide was seen as a good barometer of how the SEC-West would shake out this season.
Arkansas lost, but rebounded quickly, sporting a 10-1 record heading into their regular season finale against LSU.
The Hogs also lost that game, but considering the 10-2 record with the losses to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation, there's a lot to love about the Razorbacks.
If it weren't for that pesky rule limiting a conference to two BCS invites, the Razorbacks would be a shoe-in for another BCS bid this season.
No. 9 Hated: Arkansas
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For as much as we love the Hogs (as we just pointed out), there's also a good deal of reason to believe Arkansas is not the third-best team in the nation, or even the SEC.
Although the two losses were to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, the losses were by a combined 48 points.
Niether game was close, and the Hogs had some close calls of their own (including a 31-28 squeaker against Vanderbilt).
But we also need to mention that part of our “hate” here is the fact that Arkansas accomplished so much this season yet its reward seems less than fulfilling.
No. 8 Hated: The Pac-12 South Division
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The 2011 season began with some hope for the new divisonalized Pac-12 South with newcomer Utah and experienced Arizona State gearing up for a USC-less battle for the division title.
What we got instead was a hot mess of barely bowl eligible teams.
Amazingly, the Pac-12 South Champion was 6-6 UCLA, which predictably was destroyed by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
One thing is very, very clear: without some massive leaps in quality of play, the South Division will belong to USC for the foreseeable future now that the Trojans will once again be eligible to play for a conference title.
No. 8 Loved: The Big Ten
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The Big Ten has been much maligned over the past few years.
The conference has been berated by ESPN constantly as being “down” compared to national competition, and the Big Ten has struggled mightily in bowl games against other BCS AQ conferences.
But the post-expansion Big Ten seemed to walk with renewed confidence this season, and some of the most entertaining games of the season were from the Big Ten.
It remains to be seen just how far the conference has come this year, but in one month's time, there will either be a lot of happy Big Ten fans, or a lot of happy SEC fans.
No. 7 Loved: The SEC
How good is the SEC?
If you had any doubts before this season began, you shouldn't now. The SEC is clearly the best of the best in college football, as the conference finished with four top ten teams (No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama, No. 7 Arkansas, and No. 10 South Carolina).
Georgia was also ranked at No. 18, giving the SEC five teams in the pre-bowl season AP Poll, trying the Big Ten for most ranked teams.
At one point this season, the SEC claimed the top three spots in most polls and the BCS rankings—a feat never before accomplished, and something we probably won't see again for a long, long time.
The SEC is guaranteed its sixth-straight BCS title, and until someone else can come along and knock it off of the mountain top, the SEC will continue to be considered the best conference in all of college football.
No. 7 Hated: Replay Officials
It's easy to pick on the referee during the game, but what about the guys up in the booth?
The stripes on the field are calling plays that are whizzing by, and the officials have to make snap judgments. Overall, the officials across the nation do an outstanding job.
But every now and then, we need a replay official to take a second look. No body is perfect, so we have our trusty replay guy to slow things down, look at the play again in super slow motion from every conceivable angle to ensure that the call on the field was the correct call.
In this facet, there shouldn't be any room for errors.
Yet in 2011, we not only saw errors, we saw some aggregations errors—one even changing the outcome of the game.
The two most famous—or infamous—instances in 2011 occurred in the Louisiana Tech-Hawai'i game and the Syracuse-Toledo game.
In the former, the WAC official Michael Goshima stopped the game for an agonizing 22 minutes while trying to determine if Hawai'i had received five downs on the drive that just ended. Hawai'i had punted the ball on fourth (or fifth) down to Louisiana Tech after some confustion as to whether or not the third down play counted when Hawai'i called a timeout as the ball was snapped.
In the end, WAC commissioner Karl Benson apologized to both teams for “an embarrassment to the WAC.” The delay contributed to the game lasting nearly four hours (three hours, 56 minutes).
The second error was an even bigger head-scratcher. During the Syracuse-Toledo game at the Carrier Dome, the Orange scored a touchdown with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to take a two point lead over Toledo. The extra point sailed wide left, clearly passing in front of the left upright. The call of the field was that the PAT was good, giving Syracuse a three point edge.
The replay official correctly buzzed the field, and decided to take a second look. Incredibly, despite clear video evidence showing the ball crossing in front of the left upright, the call of the field was upheld, and Syracuse's three point margin stood.
Toledo drove down the field and kicked the would-be winning field goal. Instead, the field goal simply tied the game. Syracuse went on to beat Toledo in overtime, ironically by a field goal.
No. 6 Hated: The Big East
Something has to give.
It's time to face the fact that the Big East just isn't a quality conference, at least when compared to the likes of the BCS AQ heavyweights.
As if losing three teams wasn't bad enough for the eight-team league, the Big East again found itself with a barely-ranked conference co-champion, meaning the conference was barely able to even qualify for the BCS, even with it's automatic bid.
The conference has been scrambling these past few weeks to replace Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and TCU (which hadn't even fully joined before leaving). Even if successful in adding the likes of Boise State and San Diego State, it doesn't mean the Big East will be able to hang on to it's status as an AQ conference.
At this point, it's probably safe to say that the conference doesn't deserve to hand on to their BCS tie-in.
No. 6 Loved: USC's Never Say Die Attitude
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It doesn't matter if you're a USC fan or not. You have to be impressed with the way the Trojans handled themselves this season.
Sure, it was another year of sanctions. Sure, it was another year without a conference title chance or bowl berth.
It would have been so easy to simply coast through 2011. After all, what did it matter? There wouldn't be any trophies at the end of the season anyway.
But USC showed a great deal of pride in its storied program, and simultaneously announced to the college football world that USC is still USC.
Beware 2012 opponents: USC is back, and very hungry to prove that they can win championships and earn their way to the BCS—hopefully the right way this time.
No. 5 Loved: Bill Snyder and Kansas State
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It's about as good of a feel-good story as we can find this year in college football.
In his 20th season overall (3rd year in his second stint) at Kansas State, Bill Snyder did the unthinkable. The Kansas State Wildcats finished the season ranked in the top ten of the BCS with an improbable, impressive 10-2 record.
Here probably isn't a nicer guy in the college football world than Bill Snyder, and there may not be a man more deserving of the success.
Kansas State has already named the football stadium after him. About the only thing left is to rename the school Snyder State University.
No. 5 Hated: Penn State Saga
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It's difficult to talk about, and really makes football seem trivial, but even though it wasn't directly related to the game itself, the horrific allegations against Jerry Sandusky at Penn State have not only changed the face of that university forever, but more importantly destroyed the innocence and lives of so many young people.
The allegations are so disturbing, it's difficult to even read through the grand jury report detailing the events that supposedly took place between Sandusky and numerous young boys. It's difficult to even talk about the alleged crimes without instantly becoming furious at not only Sandusky, but the entire Penn State power structure that bungled their handling of the affair from the first moment these crimes against nature were discovered.
While it's easy to feel sorry for some caught up in this mess, including (for some, but not all) Joe Paterno, the current football players, and Penn State fans across the nation, we must remember that the real tragedy here isn't a lost job or a lost football game or a loss of prestige for an institution. The heart-wrenching, nightmarish reality is that the childhood of so many children were destroyed.
As Americans we believe in the rule of law. As such, Jerry Sandusky deserves a vigorous defense during his day in court.
What should happen if and when he is found guilty is another matter entirely.
No. 4 Hated: Florida State
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Where was all that swagger? All that talent? All that dominance we were all led to believe would be oozing from Tallahassee this season?
A preseason top five team turned into a massive dud this year, falling so far so fast there wasn't even time to listen for a thud.
Florida State finished just 8-4 and will have to settle for a date with Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl on December 29.
No. 4 Loved: LSU
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There was a lot of talk about Oklahoma and Alabama and Oregon when the season began. LSU was firmly a top five team, but for the most part was surprisingly unloved. After knocking off Oregon in the season opener fairly easily, the Tigers announced to the nation that they deserved some attention.
Before long, LSU was attracting first-place votes, and had even supplanted Oklahoma as the No. 1 team in the nation (even before the Sooners had lost a game). As LSU continued to rattle off impressive win after impressive win, it became apparent that Les Miles was engineering something special down in Baton Rouge.
After all, LSU wasn't playing your typical SEC schedule. Sure the conference slate is tough, but the Tigers didn't opt for the usual diet of cupcakes headed into conference play.
Nope, the Tigers found themselves running around, over, and through some of the nation's best from other conferences. In fact, LSU defeated the eventual conference champion and BCS representative from two other BCS AQ conferences before even entering the guantlet of SEC play.
As LSU began to shrug off conference opponents, it wasn't long before talk of another BCS Championship began to swirl.
All the Tigers need now is another 60 minutes of near perfection... hopefully enough to make up for the last time they faced Alabama.
No. 3 Hated: Oklahoma
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When the 2011 season began, the Sooners were at the top of most people's list to compete for a national championship this year.
A loss to Oklahoma State might be able to be explained away. A loss to eventual Heisman winner Robert Griffin and his Baylor Bears is almost understandable.
But losing to a hapless Texas Tech team at home before everything else had happened?
In one fell swoop, the Sooners had played their way out of consideration for the BCS National Championship Game berth—a situation only exacerbated after the additional losses to the Bears and Cowboys.
No. 3 Loved: Oklahoma State's Offense
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The Cowboys were just fun to watch this season when they had the ball. Despite some forehead to the palm moments on defense, the Oklahoma State offense was a force with which no one could reckon this season.
The Cowboys put up 557.0 yards per game (3rd in the FBS, surprisingly 2nd in the Big 12 behind Baylor) and 49.3 points per game (2nd in the FBS). Brandon Weeden and company led the Cowboys to their first-ever Big 12 title and first BCS invite, even if it wasn't the game many believe they deserve.
No. 2 Loved: The Big Ten Championship Game
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In 2011, the Big Ten gave us its first-ever Championship Game, and it was one for the ages.
By far the best conference championship game of the season, the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan State Spartans treated the nation to a classic, knock-down, drag-out Big Ten brawl that wasn't decided until the final two minutes of the game.
In stark contrast to the ACC, Pac-12, and SEC, the Big Ten game was in doubt until the final drive of the game, and Wisconsin proved the old adage “it's tough to beat a good team twice in the same season” true.
No. 2 Hated: The Slap-Fight of the Century
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It was going to be another epic battle.
It was the game to end all games.
It was going to put the 2006 No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Michigan game to shame.
It would be a game you'd tell your children about one day.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, and true (but for the wrong reason).
No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama turned out to be more of a sorority pillow fight than a colossal clash of two titans of the south. When this over-hyped tickle-fight ended, we had watched two ineffective offenses sputter and kickers choke their way through a 9-6 field goal fest.
Some still argue that it's was the defenses that rules the day.
In reality, it was the penalty-riddled, butterfingered offenses that stick in our minds.
But wait! There's more...
No. 1 Hated: The BCS, Again
Across the nation, there's no one happy about seeing Alabama and LSU again.
Okay. The SEC-philes and the folks at ESPN are probably happy, but beyond that...
Really, weren't we tortured enough the first time around?
If ever there was a season that we could all point to as reason for a change in the current BCS system, 2011 is it.
No.1 Loved: Robert Griffin, III
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There's just something about a guy who wears Superman socks with little capes to the Heisman Trophy presentation ceremony that makes you smile.
This unassuming young man from Baylor University impressed more than the folks in Waco this season, guiding Baylor to a 9-3 record and No. 12 ranking.
The Bears are headed to the Alamo Bowl, thanks in large part to the dominating play of RG3, the first Baylor player to win the Heisman Trophy.
Griffin is not only a spectacular player, but by all accounts, he's a spectacular person, as well. This well-spoken, humble, and good-humored player is sure to find his way into the NFL—be it this spring or next—where he will likely become a role model for a new generation of young athletes dreaming of Heisman glory.