Much of the year's big college news came off the field, as the Big 12 was again the epicenter for conference realignment. The stories surrounding that dominated the headlines for a second consecutive summer as the league somehow avoided certain death once again.
Among all the in-fighting and dysfunction, the Big 12 gave us one school threatening legal action against another, an ousted commissioner, a little-sister school long kept at bay finally being allowed to join the party and a 118-year-old rivalry being put to rest. And, oh yeah, there were a few crazy twists and turns on the field in 2011. And on the field, no one did it better than Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
Here's one look at the most memorable college stories of 2011. Ranking them from 10 to 1 -- saving the best of the bunch for last -- surely was an exercise in subjectivity:
10. Baylor threatens to sue Texas A&M. Frightened at a future outside of the quickly forming (at the time) super-conference structure, Baylor gave new meaning to the Battle of the Brazos by threatening a lawsuit against Texas A&M, which planned to leave the Big 12 for the SEC. Baylor took a lot of heat for taking the litigation route, but it was only looking out for its own interests: relevance in the major college sporting world and a potential devastating loss of revenue if left out of a super-conference world. Obviously, Baylor didn't stop A&M from leaving, but it remains safe for now in the resurrected Big 12.
9. TCU stuns Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. TCU capped its magical undefeated 2010 season with a 21-19 victory over Big Ten co-champ Wisconsin in "The Granddaddy of Them All." More than 30,000 Frogs fans made the journey to Pasadena, Calif., for the New Year's Day game to take in one of the most picturesque settings in all of sports, and they saw a great game to boot. TCU linebacker Tank Carder knocked down a 2-point conversion attempt with two minutes to go to seal arguably the most historic victory in TCU annals. The Frogs finished No. 2 in the BCS rankings.
8. Texas/Oklahoma-led move to form Pac-16 falls apart. The reports were fast and furious throughout September. The Big 12 was dead; the Pac-16 was coming. Even as efforts were being made to save the Big 12, reports had Oklahoma wanting to head west with or without Texas. Then we heard Pac-12 presidents didn't want to expand to 16 (also including Oklahoma State and Texas Tech). Texas was unwilling to compromise on its ESPN-partnered Longhorn Network, which was deemed the reason the Pac-16 never happened. Instead, the Big 12 somehow survived a second tumultuous summer.
7. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is ousted. One condition Oklahoma made clear for the Big 12 to move beyond its second summer of defection, dysfunction and discontent was for Beebe to leave his post. The OU crowd believed Beebe kowtowed to a certain burnt-orange bunch in Austin. And so, Beebe was gone, replaced with a longtime college mover and shaker, 79-year-old Chuck Neinas. He stepped in as interim commissioner, and immediately was charged with bringing together the remaining schools and re-establishing some measure of trust within the group. He got the schools to agree to equally share revenue from the conference's most lucrative TV deals for the next six years, a big step forward for the sniveling league.
6. Texas Tech stuns No. 3 Oklahoma 41-38. Back on the gridiron, the Texas Tech Red Raiders headed to Norman, Okla., where former coach Mike Leach never could pull off the big victory. Tech led 31-17 after three quarters and held off the Sooners late, significantly damaging OU's national-title aspirations. The win snapped OU's 39-game home winning streak, the longest active home streak at the time. Only eight Football Bowl Subdivision teams in history had won as many as 40 in a row at home. As for the Red Raiders, they lost their remaining five games after the Oct. 22 stunner.
5. Robert Griffin III's Heisman-primer performances lead Baylor past Oklahoma and Texas. Against Oklahoma, the junior quarterback threw for 479 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning 34-yarder to Terrance Williams with 50 seconds to play. It was Baylor's first win against the Sooners in 21 tries. The performance vaulted Griffin to the top of many Heisman Trophy lists, lifted Baylor to its first eight-win season in 20 years and positioned the Bears for their first 10-win season since 1980. Griffin then passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for another two scores, as the Bears beat the Longhorns 48-24 on Dec. 3.
4. TCU receives long-awaited invite to Big 12. Most folks on the Fort Worth campus never believed the day would come. Texas long had been viewed as having no interest in bringing the Horned Frogs into the league. But with interim commissioner Chuck Neinas at the helm, views seemed to quickly change, and the excuses to keep out TCU, a national non-automatic-qualifier power that played in BCS games the previous two seasons, were set aside. TCU was prepared to head to the now-crumbling Big East, but when the Big 12 called in early October, the Frogs didn't hesitate to jump aboard and replace Texas A&M. Since the demise of the Southwest Conference, TCU has played in the WAC, Conference USA and Mountain West. So if anyone questions the move that centers around the Big 12's stability, TCU won't be interested in that discussion.
3. Texas A&M joins the SEC, Missouri follows and West Virginia is invited to the Big 12. The long flirtation finally became a marriage Sept. 25. Texas A&M will leave behind its Texas ties and become the Lone Star State's lone member in the SEC. Fueled by its little-brother complex and mounting frustrations with Texas and its Longhorn Network, the Aggies decided to part ways and head to the more stable, lucrative life to the east. At the time, it certainly seemed like the Big 12 was history, and that Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech would move west to form the Pac-16. But that didn't happen, and now the Aggies are on their own to compete in the nation's toughest football division, the SEC West. Missouri left soon after, but the Big 12, anticipating the move, invited West Virginia (from the Big East) to come on down. Once again the Big 12 is at 10.
1. Robert Griffin III becomes Baylor's first Heisman Trophy winner. Throughout the season, while NFL scouts continued doting on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Baylor junior quarterback Robert Griffin III just kept on piling up statistics and wins. A magnificent come-from-behind win against Oklahoma started to turn the tide, and then his brilliant dissection of a strong Texas defense that gave the Bears their first nine-win season since 1986 tipped the scales. Griffin ended the regular season with 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He completed 72.4 percent of his passes (267-for-369) for a school-record 3,998 yards, with a bowl game still to go.
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com.