There were plenty of memorable moments in 2011, some amazing individual performances, and numerous records set. It wasn’t easy to narrow the list down to 10, but I gave it my best shot. Feel free to drop me a note in the mailbag with your nominations, and if I get enough good ones, I’ll do a separate post on Friday with your suggestions. These are the top 10 in my book:
1. ACC expansion. It was the morning after Florida State lost to Oklahoma and I was scrambling to wake up and get on a plane home when the ACC announced its decision to add Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the league. It was an historic moment for the conference, and it was a strong, stable move in a time of great uncertainty throughout college football. A lot of things happened this season, but none affected the entire conference like this one.
2. Clemson goes 8-0 for the first time in 11 years. With a 59-38 victory over North Carolina, Clemson started 8-0 for just the fourth time in school history. That week, the Tigers were ranked No. 5 in the country in the BCS standings, and had a legitimate shot at playing for the national title.
3. NC State’s comeback over Maryland. It was the biggest comeback in school history and the second-biggest comeback in the ACC. NC State overcame a 27-point deficit to beat Maryland 56-41 and keep its bowl hopes alive. NC State trailed 41-14 with six minutes left in the third quarter before scoring six consecutive times. The Pack had 35 fourth-quarter points.
4. Luke Kuechly wins it all. In a span of eight days, BC’s star linebacker won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, Lombardi Award and the Lott Trophy. He was a consensus All-American for the second consecutive season, and named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year. His interception return for a touchdown against Miami helped the Eagles end the season on a winning note, and it was quite the encore performance for the NFL draft-bound Kuechly.
5. David Amerson’s record-setting Belk Bowl. The defensive back's two interceptions in the victory over Louisville broke the ACC’s single-season record and moved him into a tie for second place in FBS history for single-season interceptions with 13. He returned one 65 yards for a touchdown, and the other sealed the win on fourth down at the goal line.
6. Frank Beamer gets win No. 200 at Virginia Tech. A 17-10 victory over East Carolina on Sept. 10 gave Beamer his 200th win as head coach at his alma mater. Only nine other FBS coaches have won that many games at one school.
7. Sammy Watkins’ record-setting season. The true freshman was one of the nation’s most spectacular players, and he finished the season with school records for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. His reception total was second best in school history, and his 2,288 all-purpose yards were the second best in ACC history. His most memorable performance came against Maryland, when he racked up 345 total yards.
8. Logan Thomas’ game-winning touchdown run against Miami. It was one of the most memorable games of the season, and Thomas provided the highlight. With 56 seconds remaining in the game, Thomas ran 19 yards for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 to help Virginia Tech beat Miami 38-35 on Oct. 8. He scored more touchdowns in that game (three) than he threw incompletions (two).
9. Virginia becomes bowl-eligible for first time since 2007. With a 31-13 win over Maryland on Nov. 5, the Cavaliers exceeded expectations in just the second season under coach Mike London. Virginia was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division, but a four-game winning streak proved otherwise.
10. Two BCS bowl teams for first time. Had Virginia Tech or Clemson been able to do anything with these opportunities, this would have been much higher on the list. It almost didn’t make the cut, but you can’t ignore it -- especially considering how shocking Virginia Tech’s selection was and what kind of national news it generated. For better or for worse, most college football fans aren’t going to forget the year the ACC had two BCS bids.
Just missed the cut, in no particular order:
• FSU almost blanks Florida with 21-7 win
• Record crowd at the ACC title game
• Beating Auburn and Ohio State in Week 3
• Dwayne Allen wins Mackey Award
• Wake Forest defensive back Merrill Noel tied for national lead in passes defended
• North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard becomes the nation’s leading freshman runner
• Florida State's Shawn Powell leads the nation in punting average
• Wake Forest upsets Florida State
• Georgia Tech’s big day against Kansas
• Maryland’s Labor Day uniforms