Thursday, January 12, 2012
Top 10 moments of the Pac-12 season
By Ted Miller
What were the top 10 games or moments of the 2011 season? Here's a stab at a list.
10. Colorado wins 17-14 at Utah: If the Utes had won Nov. 25, they would have won the Pac-12 South Division -- instead of UCLA -- and played at Oregon in the first Pac-12 championship game, in their first year of Pac-12 play. As it was, the Buffaloes' surprising victory ended a 24-game losing streak outside of the state of Colorado.
9. Shelly Lyons' pick-six vs. Matt Barkley: Arizona State ended an 11-game losing streak to USC on Sept. 24 in a quaking Sun Devil Stadium. The most memorable play was Lyons returning an interception 41 yards for a touchdown to ice the 43-22 victory. This victory seemed to announce the Sun Devils' arrival as a top-25 team.
8. Third-and-29: Arizona State's shocking 29-28 loss at UCLA on Nov. 5 was the first of five consecutive losses that derailed the Sun Devils' season and got coach Dennis Erickson fired. While it's most remembered for kicker Alex Garoutte missing three field goals, the biggest play of the game was the Bruins converting on a third-and-29 play on their go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter. Kevin Prince connected with Nelson Rosario for 33 yards to the Sun Devils' 6-yard line. After that play, pretty much nothing went right for the Sun Devils the rest of the season. Further, UCLA wouldn't have played in the Pac-12 championship game without that play.
7. Halliday! Celebrate! Freshman Connor Halliday, the third quarterback Washington State used this season, threw for a Pac-12 freshman-record 494 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-27 victory over Arizona State on Nov. 12. It was his first significant playing time.
USC's win at Oregon, and Matt Barkley's decision to stay, signaled the Trojans' return to relevance.
6. Utah at USC, Sept. 10: It was a good game that wasn't decided until the waning moments, with USC prevailing 23-14, but that's not why it was memorable. It was the first official Pac-12 game. (California's trip to Colorado earlier in the day didn't count as a conference game; it had been pre-scheduled as a nonconference game).
5. LSU-Oregon, third quarter: The Ducks were statistically superior but trailed LSU 16-13 at halftime on Sept. 3 because Tyrann Mathieu scored a touchdown after stripping the ball from Kenjon Barner on a punt return. Then the third quarter happened. Two fumbles from De'Anthony Thomas in Oregon territory set up a pair of Tigers touchdowns, and the game was pretty much over before it got to the fourth quarter.
4. Stanford wins at USC 56-48 in triple overtime: Start with this: The Oct. 29 meeting was a fantastic game, clearly one of the top five regular-season contests in the nation this year. What was most memorable to me wasn't the fumble that ended it, but Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck regrouping after throwing a 33-yard pick-six to Nickell Robey and coolly leading a 76-yard touchdown drive to tie the count with 38 seconds left.
3. USC wins at Oregon 38-35: When the Ducks missed a late field goal to tie the Nov. 19 game, several things happened, starting with the end of a 21-game home winning streak as well as the end of a 19-game conference winning streak. It eliminated Oregon from the national title hunt. It also announced USC's return to national relevance. This victory -- as well as quarterback Matt Barkley's decision to return for his senior season -- is why many see the Trojans as 2012 national title contenders.
2. Black Mamba strikes in the Rose Bowl: For those in the college football world who only remembered De'Anthony Thomas from his fumbles in the opener against LSU, they got reintroduced in the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl. Thomas' touchdown runs of 91 and 64 yards were two of the most stunningly athletic plays of the bowl season. Immediately everyone thought: 2012 Heisman?
1. No Fiesta for Williamson: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed a 35-yard field goal wide left as time expired that would have given the Cardinal a victory over No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2. Williamson then missed from 43 yards in overtime, setting up the game-winning kick for the Cowboys. Of course, Stanford wouldn't have been in that situation if it had stopped the Cowboys on one of their two fourth-down conversions. Or if they tackled Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon better. Or if they hadn't fumbled inside their 10-yard line.