ASU's season was really defined by segments: pre-Oregon and post-Oregon. Needless to say, a lot of ASU's strong games came before the post-Oregon stretch, and that's where we find the 2011 ASU football Game of the Year.
The Winner: ASU vs. USC Trojans (Saturday, Sept. 24th)
This game was huge for three big reasons:
1) The Sun Devils had an awful history with the Trojans heading into the game, going winless against the Trojans for more than a decade (11 years, to be exact). Breaking that kind of dominance adds an extra dimension to any college or professional game.
2) The USC game marked ASU's first ever Pac-12 conference game. In sports, it's always important to generate and sustain momentum. This victory helped create some momentum for ASU as it began Pac-12 play.
3) It spawned the incredible Vontaze-Burfict-calling-out-Matt-Barkley photo on the left just days after Barkley calleld Burfict a "dirty player". Perhaps it's not as good of a reason as the other two, but the 2011 Game of the Year certainly gave way to the 2011 Photo of the Year.
Click through for more on 2011's Game of the Year.
Cameron Marshall kicked things off with a bang by rumbling 70 yards for a touchdown in the game's opening minutes, giving ASU a quick 7-0 lead and fans everywhere confidence about the team's chances. Brock Osweiler sustained that confidence throughout the first half, tossing two short scoring strikes to Gerell Robinson and Jamal Miles to give ASU a 21-9 lead halftime lead.
Things got much tougher in the second half, however. The Trojans made the push that we all knew they would behind two quick Barkley touchdown passes (one to Marqise Lee and the other to Marc Tyler), and with 6:11 left in the third quarter, the Trojans took a 22-21 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
The 6:11 mark signified ASU's make-or-break moment of the game. Would ASU crumble in the face of adversity? Or would they prove that this year could be different?
ASU chose the second route. Cameron Marshall had two more touchdown runs, and Shelly Lyons picked off Matt Barkley with 6:37 left in the fourth quarter to effectively put the game away. By the end of it all, ASU had picked up its first win over USC in a very long time with a 43-22 victory.
As we all know, things didn't turn out quite the way that the Sun Devils planned over the course of the season, but for at least one night, the Sun Devils made us believe. Beating the Trojans represented, in our minds, a changing of the guard.
And fair or not, this win gains even more weight given how USC performed over the course of the year (10-2, fifth overall in the final AP Poll). Though we can look back on the game now and see it for what it is- an impressive early season performance that wasn't indicative of things to come- it still gives us a sense of optimism for what can be for this program. If Todd Graham can make the right moves and get his athletes inspired, we may be able to recapture more of those feelings that we felt after this game in the coming years.
Honorable Mention: ASU Vs. Missouri Tigers (Friday, Sept. 9th)
The Mizzou game was another early season delight for Sun Devil fans. With a gutsy 37-30 win over the No. 23 Tigers, ASU recorded its first win over a ranked opponent in 11 tries.
In a way, this game generated the momentum and hype of the USC game. A loss to Mizzou would have lowered expectations significantly for USC two weeks later. Inadvertently, this first big home win of the 2011 college football season helped set the stage for ASU's eventual Game of the Year against the Trojans, and for that it commands this year's Honorable Mention.