Top 5 moments: Gibbons beats MSU

Kicker Brendan Gibbons hit three field goals against Michigan State, including a late game-winner. AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

This week, WolverineNation will look at the five most critical moments of Michigan's 2012 football season (bowl excluded). These aren't necessarily positive or negative moments, but the five moments that most impacted this football season.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Two seasons ago, as a redshirt freshman, Brendan Gibbons was one of the worst kickers in the FBS. He lost his job to walk-on Seth Broekhuizen.

He made only 1 of 5 field goals before seeing his job disappear, a scholarship kicker on the sidelines in the final season of Rich Rodriguez’s tenure.

The shift in coaching staffs from Rodriguez to Brady Hoke, along with a new season in 2011, led to a renewed confidence from Gibbons and culminated last season in a game-winning kick to beat Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

That set up this season, and Gibbons came through again -- this time against a rival. Gibbons made three field goals against Michigan State, including a 38-yarder to give Michigan a 12-10 win over the Spartans, the No. 3 most critical moment of the Wolverines’ season.

“They are all pretty big kicks,” Gibbons said after the game, asked to compare his Sugar Bowl kick to this one. “This one is a big one. Our bigger goal is to win the Big Ten championship, not just beat Michigan State.”

Michigan obviously didn’t reach the Big Ten title game -- although at that point in the season the Wolverines were on pace for it. Instead, beating Michigan State turned into the biggest win of this season.

Michigan had not beaten Michigan State in the four previous meetings, in games ranging from near blowouts to a crushing overtime loss in 2009 that might have shifted Rodriguez’s entire tenure at Michigan, had the Wolverines won.

And the Wolverines, as had happened in those earlier losses, were unable to do much offensively. Michigan failed to score a touchdown, relying on the leg of Gibbons for four field goals and its defense to stifle the Spartans.

Gibbons has changed dramatically from his rough freshman season. He has been relied on more often by his coaches and his confidence has soared.

Gibbons has made 14 of 16 field goals this season and 27 of 33 over the past two seasons. He also has connected on 10 in a row entering the Outback Bowl -- a long way from his first season in Ann Arbor.