EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 22: B.J. Cunningham #3 and Keith Nichol #7 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrate Nichol catching a game-winning 44 yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins #8 as time ran out to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers 37-31 at Spartan Stadium on October 22, 2011 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/Getty Images)
The 2011-12 academic year was a great year for MSU athletics.
Two weeks ago, we opened up the nominations for the top MSU sports moment of the year. You provided a solid list of candidates, and the TOC staff has voted and put together the top five. So here it is:
I don't think there was really a debate here. Kirk Cousins' Hail Mary pass to Keith Nichol gave the No. 15 Spartans a win over No. 4 Wisconsin. It continued a streak of home-field dominance in this series' recent history, and took the budding rivalry up a few notches. Although the Badgers got their revenge a few months later in the Big Ten Championship, it was the top highlight in a year that proved that the 2010 season wasn't a fluke, and that MSU football is back among the nation's best.
Find out the rest of the top five after the jump
2. Anthony Rashad White's Field Goal Block In Outback Bowl
After a heartbreaking loss in the Big Ten title game and being spurned by the BCS, MSU still earned a marquee bowl matchup against Georgia in the Outback Bowl. The game was a major struggle early, with the offense sputtering on every drive. But the defense kept the Spartans in the game, then got them back in it with two interceptions by Darqeueze Dennard. Cousins was intercepted in the first overtime, and it appeared the final pass in his storied career would be a tough pill to swallow. But Georgia missed a field goal. After two field goals in the second, Keshawn Martin dropped an easy first-down pass in the third overtime, resulting in another field goal. Anthony Rashad White blocked Georgia'a attempt and secured the win for the winningest senior class in MSU history. The victory brought national credibility to MSU for beating a solid SEC team. Although the Big Ten again struggled on New Year's Day, MSU shined by standing toe-to-toe with and beating Georgia.
3. Big Ten Tournament championship
(This one finished one point behind the field goal block in the TOC voting). Throughout a surprisingly successful men's basketball season, MSU and Ohio State stood out as the conference's top two teams. With a chance for an outright Big Ten title on Senior Day, the Buckeyes stunned the Breslin Center with a late jumper from WIlliam Buford. During the postgame ceremonies, Tom Izzo declared that the Spartans would go to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament to win their championship back. After dispensing Iowa and Wisconsin, MSU and Ohio State would have their rematch. With a championship and a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament on the line, the teams slugged it out in what could be considered one of the best games of the season. A late three-pointer from Draymond Green secured MSU first Big Ten Tournament title since 2000.
4. Carrier Classic
It can only be called one of the most amazing atmospheres in college basketball history. Mark Hollis' dream of a basketball game on an aircraft carrier finally became a reality on 11-11-11 — Veteran's Day. The Spartans and Tar Heels played in front of President Obama and thousands of soldiers. Green also wore Delvon Roe's No. 10 jersey in a special tribute for his friend, who had given up basketball a few months earlier. Although the Spartans lost, there were many moments when you realized MSU could have a special season. But it wasn't about basketball that night. It was about honoring the troops. Now, games on carriers are quickly becoming a craze.
5. Men's Basketball Win At Wisconsin
This was the moment when MSU went from "could have a special season," to "is having a special season." MSU hadn't beat Wisconsin in Madison since 2001. It was an ugly affair for most of the night, and it went into overtime. With a chance to ice the game, Green missed two free throws with a few seconds left and MSU leading by three. Jordan Taylor missed a three-pointer, but Ryan Evans grabbed the rebound, ran to the three-point line and chucked up a shot. It banked in, and the Badgers thought they had tied the game. The replay showed that the clock on the basket and the clock in the arena were not synced. That proved to be the difference, and MSU came away with the victory, while Bo Ryan had BoRyanFace.
"When the TOC staff began sharing with each other their individual picks for the Top MSU Moment of 2011-2012, I was shocked at one consistent omission - anything at all from our fourth consecutive victory against Michigan in football. Perhaps the game wasn't as "moment-worthy" as others but 10/15/11 included a nice pick-6 by Isaiah Lewis to seal the game and upstage one of the most hyped players in the conference. It wasn't Rocket or the prestige of the Carrier Classic but I still get a major thrill from beating our Maize & Blue neighbors, a thrill I have no interest in relinquishing or downplaying. Have we come so far as Spartans?!? Do victories against Michigan in football hit the fan radar with the same force as road wins inside the horseshoe at OSU or the men's soccer team's stunning win at Akron? Tom Izzo himself will tell you that we're a football school and beating Michigan is something Spartans hang our hat on. Let no one take that for granted! Con-T, SpartanDan, Patrick, Chris, KJ - I'm looking squarely at you! History will judge us by the hubris of our lists and scatterplots! Beating Michigan belongs in the Top 5!
(Note: I'm having fun, clearly. In the end, the omission of beating Michigan says more about where our athletic program has arrived than those guys' madness. I think.)"
So there you go. While I agree that the win over U-M should definitely be up there, I think it's more a statement about the other moments. But it does say something about where the football program is, as well. Disagree with the list? Let us know. Regardless, it's easy to see how successful a year it was for MSU athletics.