It's going to be a while before we see some Big Ten football again. So now's a good time to reflect on the 2011 season and reminisce about the best game atmospheres we experienced.
The addition of Nebraska and the Sea of Red added another great game-day experience to the league, making it even tougher to narrow this list down to five. We are only going to include games that one of us actually attended.
Here are our picks for the best atmospheres:
Notre Dame at Michigan, Michigan Stadium, Sept. 10: This one had it all. The first night game at the Big House created a carnival-like atmosphere all around Ann Arbor. Though Michigan Stadium had a reputation in the past as being too quiet for its size, the place was loud from start to finish on this night, with an NCAA-record 114,804 fans on hand to celebrate. And they had a lot to cheer about in the second half, as their Wolverines rallied for an improbable 35-31 victory in a thrilling and wild final few minutes. For this night, at least, the Big House was the center of the football universe.
Ohio State at Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Oct. 8: It took a while for the Sea of Red to start rocking, but Ohio State found out in the final 26 minutes just how difficult it will be to win games at Nebraska. As the Huskers mounted the biggest comeback in team history, the crowd went nuts, undeterred by rain falling for most of the game. No one left despite Nebraska' 27-6 third-quarter deficit, and as a result, they got to witness a bit of history in Nebraska's first Big Ten home game.
Wisconsin-Michigan State I at Spartan Stadium, Oct. 22: This was an all-day, all-night event as Spartan Nation came out in force for ESPN "College GameDay" in the morning and created an electric atmosphere at kickoff as the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers took on their beloved Green and White. Everyone knew this could be a springboard-type game for Michigan State, and the ebbs and flows of the contest created an incredible vibe inside Spartan Stadium. It culminated with the most exciting ending of the college football season, as Keith Nichol hauled in a Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expired to lift Michigan State to victory and spark a party.
Wisconsin at Ohio State, Ohio Stadium, Oct. 29: It wasn't a typical season for Ohio State, but The Shoe still can rock and it did on this night. Buckeyes fans packed the place and created a hostile environment for Wisconsin, which struggled for most of the game before mounting a late charge. After the Badgers reclaimed the lead in the closing seconds, Ohio State's Braxton Miller sent the crowd home happy with the game-winning touchdown pass to Devin Smith. Miller's heroics sparked an ear-splitting roar as Ohio Stadium quaked.
Wisconsin vs. Oregon at Rose Bowl Stadium, Jan. 2: No scene in college football is better than the Rose Bowl, and this year proved that yet again. Badgers and Ducks fans showed up in full force, and temperatures hovered near 80 degrees at kickoff for one of the warmest Rose Bowls in history. With big plays coming at a fast and furious pace, both sides had plenty of reasons to keep the place loud. With yet another picture-perfect sunset over the San Gabriel Mountains and one of the best games of bowl season unfolding, there was no better place to be in early January.
Strangest atmosphere: Nebraska at Penn State, Beaver Stadium, Nov. 12: This game gets its own special category. We doubt there has ever been much of an atmosphere anywhere quite like the first game after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and legendary coach Joe Paterno was fired. After student-led riots in the streets of State College, security was on high alert, including mounted police outside the stadium. There were protesters of Penn State and those holding signs in support of Paterno, and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini later said he didn't think the game should be played. Dozens of former Penn State players attended and stood on the field, and the two teams met at midfield before the game for a goose-bump inducing prayer. Once the game got started, it wasn't terribly different than any other. But everything around the stadium that week was wildly abnormal.