The important awards are over. Bring on the Switzies! Below, a few sports figures and moments in time we’ll lock away in heart-shaped boxes to keep us warm through a cold and college football-less offseason. (These heart-shaped boxes apparently conduct heat. #sciencethings)
• Play of the year, offense. Since Brad Wing’s touchdown-that-wasn’t can’t technically be counted, got to give this one to freshly-coronated Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. The Bears are playing for overtime versus the Sooners, and Bob Stoops wants to give Baylor a little time to consider this decision? OK by RGIII. A 34-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left in regulation gave the Bears their first win in program history against OU.
• Plague of the year, offense. Flip side of Baylor‘s success this year: The Bears kicked a field goal down 42-0 in the third quarter against Oklahoma State. Don’t forget.
• Play of the year, defense. The simple, clean snake job Cincinnati’s Walter Stewart pulled on UConn’s Johnny McEntee just days ago was somehow more delightful than any number of leaping interceptions seen this season.
• Plague of the year, defense. Arizona State linebacker and internet favorite Vontaze Burfict temper-tantrumed his way into the hearts of a nation once more, with three beautiful goal-line stand plays against Colorado on October 29 … that he followed up immediately with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
• Play of the year, special teams. Arkansas was good at football this year; Tennessee, not so much, but the obvious talent differential at play here doesn’t stop this Joe Adams punt return from being a thing of exquisite, impossible beauty.
• Plague of the year, special teams. Oh, Will Hagerup. You gave the Wolverines quite a scare for a minute there, in what was only the biggest game of the year. But you gave all disinterested third parties the visual equivalent of a sporting Wilhelm Scream, and for that we honor you.
• Series of the year. For sheer entertainment value, there was no beating Kansas‘ second drive against Texas A&M, where 11 plays took up five minutes of clock and moved KU from their own 49-yard line right back into their own endzone for an Aggies safety. Relive the magic here.
• Game of the year. Again, I’m not speaking here of quality, necessarily, but which contests will you save on your DVR until next August, brushing off the digital dust every couple months to while away a dull February evening? I’m going with October’s Hawaii-San Jose State tilt, a Friday night WACtion contest nonpareil: 914 yards of offense, 41 first downs, six sacks, 12 turnovers, six punts and Tessitore-Gilmore in the booth.
• Turnaround of the year, offense. Washington State opened the season fielding a starting quarterback afflicted with a stomach virus, whose collarbone was broken on the fifth play of the first game. Jeff Tuel’s eventual successor, redshirt freshman Connor Halliday, did a yeoman’s job in two November games before being quite forcefully knocked out of commission before the Apple Cup with a lacerated liver. But between them and Marshall Lobbestael, the Cougars patched together a top-10 passing attack … and now they’ll be coached by Mike Leach.
• Turnaround of the year, defense. Under another, better Greg, the Michigan Wolverines morphed from a No. 108 national ranking in defense to No. 18, still only good for fifth place in the grind-happy Big Ten but a jaw-dropping improvement nonetheless.
• 2011 college football off-field MVP. We’ll probably never stop being amazed at the Pinstripe Bowl scout who obtained credentials for the (first) LSU-Alabama game. That would be the Pinstripe Bowl, typically designated for the fourth-choice Big East team and the seventh-choice Big 12 team, that this year will feature Iowa State and Rutgers, securing a ticket to a game between two SEC undefeateds. Nice work, if you can get it.
• GameDay sign of the year. Houston‘s not BCS-bound, and the way the Sugar shook out will be infinitely less entertaining for it, but you can’t say their student section didn’t come hard (and in the correct frame of mind) for the GameDay crew’s first visit to campus.
• Quote of the year. We said earlier this year that we’d like to see a statue of Braxton Miller winking and a plaque that reads, simply, “We’re all right,” as a counterpoint to Tim Tebow’s now-famous postgame sob speech. Anybody got the text of that thing memorized, still? Can Urban Meyer make Miller bronze-worthy? The promise is there.
• Photo of the year. There’s just so much to love about this photo, snapped by Bill Haber at the Auburn-LSU game. Barkevious Mingo closing in for the hit. The sinister eye of the Pro Combat glove. The defending national champions conceding to new contenders.
These are our fondest memories of 2011, and this is the Internet, so you’re probably ready to argue right now. Make your case for some awards of your own in the comments. Be sure to cuss, throw things, and take everything in this piece way too seriously. It’s what the Internet is for.