50 Feel-Good Stories from the 2011 College Football Season

Joe PenkalaCorrespondent IDecember 22, 2011

50 Feel-Good Stories from the 2011 College Football Season

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    With the 2011 regular season behind us, the college football world has already seen some bowl matchups with plenty more to come.

    While the regular season is gone, it has left us with many memories, both good and bad.

    Coming into the 2011 season, college football was taking its hits, but here is a look at 50 feel-good stories that turned things around for college football.

Robert Griffin III

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    Overall, Robert Griffin III had a great year.

    During the 2011 season, Griffin led Baylor to nine wins, a bowl game and electrifying wins over teams like TCU and Oklahoma, the latter of which included a final-minute touchdown heave. 

    To top things off, Griffin won the 2011 Heisman Trophy and was the first to do so at Baylor.

Case Keenum Returns from Injury

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    While the end of this year was not what Case Keenum imagined, it doesn't erase the year he did have.

    After suffering a season-ending injury in the first game of the year in 2010, Keenum returned in 2011 and was able to break some NCAA records and lead Houston to a 12-0 regular-season record.

LaMichael James Returns from Ugly Injury

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    On a Thursday night, LaMichael James was having an amazing game against Cal and seemed to be putting himself into Heisman positioning.

    Late in the game, James suffered a nasty-looking injury that appeared to end his great career at Oregon. Luckily for James and Ducks fans, he escaped with a sprained elbow and returned after only missing two games.

Night Game at the Big House

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    For the first time, Michigan hosted a night game that lived up to all of the hype.

    The Wolverines and Irish did battle for four quarters only to see a frenzy of scoring happen at the end of the game. Most dramatic was Denard Robinson throwing a touchdown pass with time running out to win the game for Michigan.

Urban Meyer Returns to Ohio

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    As the struggles continued at Ohio State, the writing was on the wall for coach Luke Fickell. Many guessed that he would be a one-year coach, and that ended up being true.

    When the season came to an end, Ohio State announced that Urban Meyer would be returning to his Ohio roots and will be back in college football.

The Honey Badger

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    Despite one off-field issue, Tyrann Mathieu was the talk of college football in 2011 and appeared to be all over the field for LSU.

    From the opening kick against Oregon through the SEC title game against Georgia, Mathieu made big play after big play and earned himself an invitation to New York City for the Heisman ceremony.

Mike London Reviving Virginia

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    After a 4-8 season in 2010, the bar was not all that high coming into 2011.

    With outstanding play and coaching, Virginia not only turned things around but had a shot at winning its division in the final week of the year.

Michigan State vs. Wisconsin Times Two

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    While everyone is talking about the rematch in the national title game, the two-game set that provided the most entertainment this year was Michigan State and Wisconsin.

    From the Hail Mary that secured Michigan State's victory during the season to the late penalty that earned Wisconsin's theirs in the Big Ten title game, these two games were some of the most entertaining of the year.

Clemson Rides a Hot Streak

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    Despite its three losses down the stretch, Clemson got off to one of the hottest streaks in the nation and had a three-game stretch that could compete with any other team in the nation.

    During those three weeks, Clemson managed to earn huge victories over Auburn, Florida State and on the road against Virginia Tech, the same team it would defeat for the ACC crown.

USC Returning to Form

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    This year, USC served notice to the country and its conference that it is on its way back and that after this year its sanctions would be no more.

    During the 2011 year, USC went 10-2, managed to win at Oregon and pushed Stanford to triple overtime. 

    If not for the Trojans' postseason penalties, they would have given the nation a treat with a rematch against Oregon.

Pac-12 and Big Ten Title Games

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    For the first time, the expanded conferences of the Big Ten and Pac-12 held their conference title games, and they could not have been more different. 

    In the Big Ten, Wisconsin and Michigan State played a back-and-forth battle that went down to the very end. Over on the West Coast, Oregon took advantage of a weak UCLA team and punched its ticket to the Rose Bowl.

Hail Mary Wins

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    Unless you're a Wisconsin fan, this was great theater for college football.

    In back-to-back weeks, the Badgers played in East Lansing against Michigan State and Columbus against Ohio State and lost both games on deep Hail Mary passes in the last minute.

NC State Finds Success Without Russell Wilson

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    When Russell Wilson transferred from NC State to Wisconsin, expectations for the Wolfpack went out the window.

    Despite the slow start, NC State and Tom O'Brien got things turned around and ended up finishing the 2011 season strong.

Plenty of Great Out-of-Conference Games

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    While many still desire more of these matchups, the out-of-conference schedule did provide fans with some good games.

    Games like Oregon vs. LSU, Alabama vs. Penn State, Oklahoma vs. Florida State, TCU vs. Baylor, LSU vs. West Virginia and Boise State vs. Georgia kept us entertained early in the season.

Playoff Talk Is Heating Up

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    While LSU and Alabama fans are excited about the rematch against each other in the national title game, the rest of the nation continues to feel cheated.

    Despite the debate every year around college football using a playoff system, this seems to be the year that more people are coming around to the idea, and it appears that it may only be a matter of time now.

Mark Richt Leading Back Georgia

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    Coming into the 2011 season, many believed that the hottest seat in the country belonged to Mark Richt down in Georgia.

    Things continued to go bad as the Bulldogs got off to an 0-2 start, but Richt and the Bulldogs ripped off 10 straight wins, earned a spot in the SEC title game and saved his job—for now.

Brady Hoke Revives Michigan

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    At the end of last season, Michigan parted ways with Rich Rodriguez and brought in new leader Brady Hoke.

    Hoke has turned around the program's attitude and revived a fanbase that was itching for a win since Rodriguez came to town.

    In his first year, Hoke went 10-2, earned wins over Notre Dame and Ohio State and got the Wolverines into a BCS bowl.

Andrew Luck Has Successful Return

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    Too many times you see players hesitate to come back for another season because of the risk of injury. While the concern is legitimate, Andrew Luck decided to take that chance, and it worked out well for him.

    Despite coming up second in the Heisman and losing to Oregon for Stanford's only loss for the second straight year, Luck still had a great season and cemented himself as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

Wake Forest Surpasses All Expectations

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    After an awful 2010, the Demon Deacons had very low expectations coming into this season.

    With a 4-1 start to the year, Jim Grobe and Wake Forest were able to secure a bowl game and surpassed many people's expectations.

Montee Ball Runs Wild

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    While most of the attention was on the transfer of Russell Wilson to Wisconsin, Montee Ball stole the show by having one of the best seasons in history.

    With the Rose Bowl coming up, Ball is close to Barry Sanders' touchdown record and is having a season to remember.

Despite Everything Else at Miami, Al Golden Has It on the Right Path

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    Despite all the issues that have gone on at "The U" this year, Miami seems to be in good hands with Al Golden.

    Golden has done a great job of keeping his team focused throughout the year, and if you judge a book by its cover, Miami has a solid man in place as its head coach. 

Make-A-Wish Foundation

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    Throughout the season, teams across the nation continue to work with the Make-A-Wish foundation and make some dreams come true for some deserving kids.

    While all stories may not be that well publicized, it is great to know that programs continue to do their part.

Rose Bowl Redemption

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    This year, Oregon and Wisconsin will be playing in the Rose Bowl. This matchup provides both teams with an opportunity to avenge a previous Rose Bowl loss in the last two years.

    Two years ago Oregon lost to Ohio State, and the next year Wisconsin lost to TCU. With the two teams going up against each other, one team will redeem itself.

Southern Miss Coming out of Nowhere

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    When the Conference USA title game began, many believed Houston would pass its way to an undefeated season and punch its ticket to a BCS bowl game.

    What the Cougars didn't expect was Southern Miss playing the role of spoiler and causing many people around the nation to tune in for a game they might not otherwise watch.

TCU Stays Strong

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    After an opening-week shootout loss to Baylor and a home loss to SMU, many began to write TCU off, especially considering it did not have quarterback Andy Dalton.

    Slowly, TCU earned win after win, and once the Horned Frogs took down Boise State on the blue turf, they regained the nation's focus and ended up wining the Mountain West Conference title.

Bill Snyder Leads Kansas State to Great Season

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    Not many people saw this coming, but Bill Snyder and Kansas State surprised a lot of people by coming out of the gates hot and ending the year with a 10-2 record.

    Despite losses to both Oklahoma schools, Snyder led the Wildcats to an outstanding season and deserved a BCS bowl game.

Arkansas Overcomes Knile Davis Injury

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    Before the season began, the Arkansas Razorbacks were already overcoming adversity. At the start of summer camp, Arkansas lost star running back Knile Davis, and it was viewed as a major setback.

    Despite that loss, Arkansas went 10-2 and only lost to the two teams playing for the national title, LSU and Alabama.

Iowa State Pulling off the Upset of the Year

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    Despite the tragedy that Oklahoma State was dealing with, Iowa State hosted it on Thursday night and had its crack at the No. 2 team in the nation.

    Iowa State took advantage of its chance and won its biggest game of the season and the program's history.

Michigan Beats Ohio State

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    After a long wait, Michigan finally broke the grip that Ohio State had over it and beat the Buckeyes.

    Despite the down year Ohio State was having, fans and players still relished the win and will hope it leads to more starting next year.

Penn State vs. Nebraska

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    After an ugly situation unfolded at Penn State off the field, the players on both Penn State and Nebraska's team provided a positive outcome on the field.

    While many were unsure of what was going to unfold in Happy Valley, the two teams came together and showed great sportsmanship throughout the game.

Trent Richardson Running Solo in Alabama

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    When Mark Ingram went to the NFL, it left the backfield in the hands of Trent Richardson.

    Many knew that Richardson provided a great change of pace for the Crimson Tide, but many questioned his ability to carry it on his own.

    Richardson exceeded all expectations, helped lead the Tide back to the national title game and was a Heisman finalist.

Florida Atlantic Earns Howard Schnellenberger a Final Win Before Retiring

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    Towards the start of the year, Howard Schnellenberger announced that this would be his final year as a head coach.

    While Schnellenberger was known for his time at Miami, it appeared he would go out on a winless season.

    With only two games remaining, the Owls finally put together a solid performance and got a final win for Schnellenberger before retirement.

UNC Becoming Bowl Eligible Despite Firing Butch Davis

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    After reaching success with Butch Davis, some off-field issues led to his firing, and interim head coach Everett Withers stepped in and led the Tar Heels to a bowl game despite all the distractions.

    Despite Withers' efforts, Larry Fedora has been named head coach and will lead the team into the 2012 season.

Army vs. Navy

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    Any time these two teams get together to end the year, it is a special event. These young men sacrifice their time and bodies to defend our nation but also get to escape and play football.

    Between the pageantry, atmosphere and history around this game, the Army-Navy game is truly special.

Ron English Leads Eastern Michigan to Amazing Season

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    Last year, Ron English and Eastern Michigan could only muster two wins, which was still a step up for the program. This year, the program truly took a step forward and reached a level nobody saw coming.

    After the 2011 season, English led the Eagles to a 6-6 season and far exceeded expectations.

Another Year with the Coach Lee Corso

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    Despite some health issues, Lee Corso continues to entertain all college football fans throughout our Saturday mornings.

    As one of the pillars of College GameDay, Corso is a true entertainer and one of the best personalities in college football.

Justin Blackmon Makes a Special Friend

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    One of the best stories this year is the special relationship that Justin Blackmon developed with Olivia Hamilton, a young girl suffering from cancer.

    After developing a relationship with her, Blackmon received a bracelet from Hamilton and has worn it in every game as a tribute to the young girl.

Luke Fickell Staying on with Ohio State

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    While Luke Fickell being bumped out by Urban Meyer could be a negative, Ohio State has found a way to put a positive spin on the situation.

    Despite losing his position as head coach, Fickell will still be staying on Meyer's staff and with the program during the 2012 season.

The Rematch

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    While many can go back and forth arguing about how we got to this point, the fact is two outstanding teams will be going head-to-head for the national title.

    Granted, the first game between the two was a defensive showdown, but both teams have talent all over the field and should put on another great show.

Jerry Kill Coming Back

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    Jerry Kill took over at Minnesota, but his biggest challenge this year was a seizure he suffered at the start of the year.

    Kill was able to bounce back and lead Minnesota through the end of the year, giving a good ending to a story that could have gone much worse.

Air Force Being Bowl Eligible

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    Last year, we were treated to the fact that Air Force, Navy and Army were all bowl eligible. Unfortunately, only Air Force will return to a bowl this year.

    For all that these schools do for our nation, it is good to see at least one of them being rewarded with a bowl berth.

No Team Goes Winless

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    One thing that nobody really wants to see is a team go through an entire season without earning a victory.

    This year, every FBS team earned a victory and made sure it didn't go into the offseason without putting one in the win column.

Rich Rod Gets a Second Chance

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    After a short stint with Michigan, Rich Rodriguez was fired and watched Brady Hoke come in and lead the Wolverines to a 10-win season and BCS bowl with his players.

    Luckily, Rich Rod has the track record that earned him another shot, and he will be taking his spread offense to the Pac-12 and Arizona.

Louisiana Tech Donation

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    While it did not happen during the regular season, Louisiana Tech is turning a lot of people's heads early in the bowl season.

    One thing that is well known by now is that the gifts the players receive for going to their respective bowls are amazing. Louisiana Tech is heading to the Poinsettia Bowl this year and is donating all of its bowl gifts to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

SMU Continues to Recover

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    The sanctions placed on the SMU football program are well documented and known by all college football fans. After being leveled with the "Death Penalty," SMU has slowly begun to build its program back up, and it is in another bowl this year and posted a great win at TCU.

De'Anthony Thomas Has Breakout Year

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    Last year, players like Michael Dyer and Marcus Lattimore were freshmen that came right onto the football field and made a huge impact.

    This year, De'Anthony Thomas made a late switch and committed to play football for Oregon. He wasted no time getting involved in the run, pass and special teams games.

    Under Chip Kelly, it will be interesting to see how things turn out for Thomas in that wide-open offense.

Matt Barkley Sticking It out at USC

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    One thing that cannot be overstated is the commitment that Matt Barkley made to his teammates by sticking it out at USC after the sanctions were placed on the program.

    Barkley was a highly sought-after recruit out of high school and could have transferred out, but instead he stuck it out at USC and is still weighing his options after his junior season.

Mike Leach Is Back

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    Mike Leach is back and is making up a very interesting conference for coaches. 

    After another losing season, Washington State made the choice to bring Leach in and take the program in a different direction.

    It will be interesting to see how coaches like Leach, Lane Kiffin, Rich Rodriguez and Chip Kelly coexist in the Pac-12.

Unpredictability of College Football

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    One thing that continues to make college football special is the unpredictability of each week, and it is great to see teams continue to win games that many believe they should not.

    This year saw the nation's longest home winning streak end four times and continued to further the point that college football is the greatest sport in the nation.

Eric LeGrand

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    After an awful injury that has left him in a wheelchair, Eric LeGrand was able to come out and lead his team onto the field this year from his motorized wheelchair.

    LeGrand continues to push and strive to recover and has done exceptionally well to this point.


    Joe Penkala is a B/R Featured Columnist that covers College Football and the Oregon Ducks. You can contact him @joepenkala.