I will always think back fondly on the 2011 college football season, and for a reason that has nothing to do with the season itself — it’s the year I started writing about football full-time. It was the culmination of one path for me and the start of another.
That said, it was also a pretty great year on the field ... at times, anyway. October was a chalky drag, and obviously the national title game was a matchup no one really wanted. (Though hey, it helped get us a College Football Playoff, so no complaints.)
Still, September was dynamite — the best game of the season took place on the second day of the season, and Week 1 was maybe the best Week 1 of the decade; plus, we had the best set of mid-week MACtion shootouts we’re ever going to have, and between Oklahoma State-Stanford, WVU-Clemson, and Oregon-Wisconsin, the non-title BCS bowls were either fun, extremely impactful (see: Clemson’s response to getting blown up defensively), or both.
And I don’t care what anyone says: the first Bama-LSU game, at least, was fantastic.
Let’s relive 2011.
Sept. 2: Baylor 50, No. 14 TCU 48
God, such a perfect game. Our perceptions of this Baylor era have changed retroactively thanks to what we know came about four or five years after 2011, but this honestly might have been the best Friday night college football game ever. Just dynamite from start to finish.
Sept. 3: No. 23 Auburn 42, Utah State 38
This game both introduced us to USU’s Chuckie Keeton and dropped a pretty big hint regarding how shaky Auburn was going to be without Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, etc.
Sept. 3: No. 5 Boise State 35, No. 19 Georgia 21
In terms of precision, this really might have been the peak of the Chris Petersen era at Boise State. Georgia proved its athleticism, but Boise State was excellent in the trenches, and the Broncos’ offense was two steps ahead of Jarvis Jones and the UGA defense almost all game. BSU was basically two breaks from playing for the national title in 2010 and started 2011 looking even better.
Sept. 3: USF 23, No. 16 Notre Dame 20
ZERO. POINT. ONE. PERCENT. POSTGAME WIN EXPECTANCY. Between the storm delays and the extreme creativity Notre Dame showed in blowing scoring chances, this was one of the most surreal Saturdays of football South Bend has ever seen.
Sept. 3: No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27
LSU’s brilliant run to the national title game, against one of the toughest schedules known to man (yes, they were No. 1 in SOS), began with some good fortune. If the ball bounces as it’s supposed to, and efficiency matters as it usually does, then the Ducks are well-positioned for a win here. But instead, LSU led 33-13 early in the fourth quarter and cruised.
Sept. 10: No. 3 Alabama 27, No. 23 Penn State 11
Not sure if this was the best Nick Saban defense at Alabama, but it was, to me, the most malicious, anyway. The Tide proved in Happy Valley that they were capable of downright cruelty. Just look at those passing stats! PSU QBs went 12-for-39 overall ... and 3-for-15 on standard downs, when the offense is supposed to have the advantage!
Sept. 10: No. 15 Ohio State 27, Toledo 22
Luke Fickell’s season as interim head coach was dicey from the start, as the Buckeyes got out-gained and out-efficiency’d in this reasonably lucky win. They’d end up 6-7, one of only two losing seasons in the last 50 years.
Sept. 10: No. 12 South Carolina 45, Georgia 42
Here’s really only play that mattered:
Gorgeous. I love that Melvin Ingram is still doing nasty things in the pros, too.
Sept. 17: No. 1 Oklahoma 23, No. 5 Florida State 13
Let this serve as a reminder that at one point in this season OU was the top-ranked team in the country, and b) FSU was in the top five. Neither of those things continued very long.
Sept. 24: No. 2 LSU 47, No. 16 West Virginia 21
Outside of Baylor-TCU, this was maybe the most enjoyable game of the non-conference slate. We’d already had a wild ride in September, and everything about this game was bliss. And once again, LSU rode some nice bounces and a return touchdown to a bigger lead than stats said it deserved. That’s okay — the Tigers would begin truly dominating soon enough.
Sept. 24: No. 7 Oklahoma State 30, No. 9 Texas A&M 29
Texas A&M pulled off something truly magical in its last year in the Big 12. The Aggies were a legitimate top-15 team, playing a top-15 schedule and basically playing well enough to win all but one game. But they went to creative lengths to figure out different ways to blow leads against OSU, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas State, and Texas, and Mike Sherman was fired, setting the table for Kevin Sumlin to inherit a dynamite team for 2011.
The first blown lead might have been the cruelest. A&M looked like a damn national title contender in the first half of this game. Second half, not so much.
Oct. 1: No. 18 Arkansas 42, No. 14 Texas A&M 38
After blowing a 17-point halftime lead, A&M proceeded to blow an 18-point lead the very next week.
Oct. 1: Kansas State 36, No. 15 Baylor 35
This might have been the most Bill Snyder game of the second Bill Snyder era at KSU. The Wildcats slowed the tempo to a crawl (Baylor had only 62 snaps) and looked completely overmatched for much of the game. It seemed like Baylor was going to pull away at any second. And then KSU won basically every play of the fourth quarter.
Oct. 22: Texas Tech 41, No. 3 Oklahoma 38
OU had crushed Texas earlier and would destroy K-State’s national title hopes the week after this game. But the Sooners got a couple of bad bounces and suffered some lapses in what was, if I recall correctly, a game drastically delayed by storms. Tech went on a 24-0 run over 15 minutes in the middle of the game, and the Sooners couldn’t quite come back. Tommy Tuberville with yet another top-five upset.
Oct. 22: No. 15 Michigan State 37, No. 4 Wisconsin 31
So ... a Hail Mary broke my tables, apparently.
So it appears that the way I calculate scoring opportunities doesn’t include a) scores on the last play of a half that b) take place from more than 40 yards out (and therefore aren’t in range of being a “scoring opportunity”). So really, this should have been four scoring opportunities for Sparty instead of three. Oh well.
Oct. 29: No. 3 Oklahoma State 59, Baylor 24
After surviving A&M, OSU went on a downright murderous run in conference play. Utterly destroying the eventual Heisman winner was a particularly impressive résumé item.
Oct. 29: No. 4 Stanford 56, No. 20 USC 48
USC was banned from the postseason and lost by three touchdowns to Arizona State in September, so we were all off the scent a bit. But the Trojans were excellent late in the year, and a tremendous Stanford team needed a late touchdown and two overtimes to survive in the Coliseum.
Nov. 1: NIU 63, Toledo 60
When someone says the word “MACtion,” this is most likely the game you think of first. From Tommylee Lewis’ two kick return scores in the first five minutes to the 43-POINT FOURTH QUARTER, this was a masterpiece in every way.
If I had been doing my Top 100 Games of the Season list this season, the scores of the top three games would have been 50-48, 9-6, and 63-60. College football is amazing sometimes.
Nov. 5: No. 3 Oklahoma State 52, No. 17 Kansas State 45
Another game in which this Bill Snyder had no business being as close as it was, and yet the Wildcats damn near pulled it out.
OSU would respond to this near-upset by beating Texas Tech — the team that had won in Norman! — by sixty points.
Nov. 5: No. 1 LSU 9, No. 2 Alabama 6
Six points in seven scoring opportunities. Still not sure how that happened.
Nov. 8: Toledo 66, WMU 63
After Toledo lost a shootout it should have won against NIU, it won one it shouldn’t the next week in a game that saw at least 35 points scored in three of four quarters. Just nutty.
Nov. 12: No. 6 Oregon 53, No. 3 Stanford 30
In 2010, Stanford leapt out ahead, then got reeled in by Chip Kelly’s Ducks. This time around, the unbeaten Cardinal started out down 22-9 and nearly came back a couple of times before 10 late points (a FG and pick six) put the game away.
Nov. 12: TCU 36, No. 5 Boise State 35
The 2010 Nevada game was the ultimate cruel twist for Boise State — if they win (as they almost did in about eight different moments), and Alabama beats Auburn (as it did on paper), then the Broncos are quite possibly in the national title game.
This game was nearly as cruel, though. BSU was fifth in the BCS standings, behind Oklahoma State (which would soon lose to Iowa State) and Stanford (which lost to Oregon that same day). The Broncos probably don’t advance higher than third if still unbeaten, but they would have had a chance. And then they lost to an old friend thanks to a two-point conversion...
...and, in the cruelest twist (considering how the Nevada game ended), a missed chip shot.
This is a really mean sport sometimes. BSU maybe goes 40-0 from 2009-11 if not for chip shots.
Nov. 18: Iowa State 37, No. 2 Oklahoma State 31
And speaking of missed field goals and college football cruelty...
Nov. 19: No. 25 Baylor 45, No. 5 Oklahoma 38
As far as Heisman moments go, this is pretty impressive. Baylor needed some lucky bounces and got them.
Nov. 19: No. 18 USC 38, No. 4 Oregon 35
Like I said, USC was pretty damn good late in the year.
Nov. 24: Texas 27, Texas A&M 25
Texas knows how to say goodbye. A year after wrecking soon-to-depart-the-Big-12 Nebraska’s unbeaten season with an out-of-nowhere performance in Lincoln, the Horns said goodbye to Texas A&M with what I’ll politely call an unlikely turn of events late in the game, capped with this field goal:
Nov. 25: No. 1 LSU 41, No. 3 Arkansas 17
LSU was legitimately on the ropes in this game, as an excellent Arkansas led 14-0 midway through the second quarter. But 41-3 runs are generally pretty effective.
Nov. 26: No. 17 Michigan 40, Ohio State 34
Just to document the last time this happened.
Dec. 3: No. 1 LSU 42, No. 12 Georgia 10
I have no problem with Robert Griffin III being the 2011 Heisman winner. But if I had a vote, it would have been difficult for me to pick anyone over Tyrann Mathieu with the way he finished this damn season.
Dec. 3: No. 3 Oklahoma State 44, No. 13 Oklahoma 10
OU was legitimately excellent. But OSU had a statement to make and made it. It was nearly enough to get the Pokes into the national title game.
Dec. 3: No. 15 Wisconsin 42, No. 11 Michigan State 39
Lots of important games went against post-game win expectancy in 2011. That usually results in some nuttiness. After Sparty beat Bucky in unlucky fashion in the regular season, Wisconsin returned the favor, albeit without the Hail Mary.
Dec. 29: No. 15 Baylor 67, Washington 56
If you have three hours to kill, do yourself a favor: watch the full-game broadcast of this game, and count the number of times Chris Spielman either outwardly groans or sounds like he’s about to throw his headset down, put on a uniform, and charge onto the field to show these teams how to play defense. Making him broadcast this game was maybe the most beautifully cruel thing ESPN’s ever done in its announcer pairings.
Jan. 2: No. 6 Oregon 45, No. 9 Wisconsin 38
You have to give this to Wisconsin: the Badgers certainly didn’t know how to win Rose Bowls in the 2010s (they lost in 2010, 2011, and 2012), but they knew how to play in great Rose Bowls. So there’s that.
Jan. 2: No. 3 Oklahoma State 41, No. 4 Stanford 38
A CFP in 2011 would have been lovely, potentially featuring matchups of LSU-Stanford and OSU-Bama. Instead, we basically got a consolation game of sorts, decided by missed field goals.
Huge missed field goals were sort of a theme this year.
Jan. 4: No. 23 West Virginia 70, No. 14 Clemson 33
Jan. 9: No. 2 Alabama 21, No. 1 LSU 0
lol, okay, yeah, I can defend the first game a lot better than I can defend the second...