Friday, September 1, 2017

Football Friday: Top 10 College Football Upsets of the Past 25 Years (Happy 10th Anniversary Appalachian State over Michigan!)


Ten years ago today, the college football world was rocked by one of the biggest upsets in its history when the Mountaineers of Appalachian State marched into the Big House and took down the #5 ranked Michigan Wolverines--a team featuring stars such as QB Chad Henne, WRs Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington, LT Jake Long, and RB Mike Hart.

Just to put this in perspective a little more: Long was a first-team All-American in 2006 and 2007, Manningham a second-team All-American in 2007, Hart was first-team All-Big Ten in 2004, 2006, and 2007, Henne was first-team All-Big Ten in 2007; Henne and Manningham went on to be starters on NFL teams and Jake Long was the #5 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft as well as a starter for the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams).

This monumental upset would just be the beginning of what would eventually become known as the "Year of the Upset" in college football. According to Wikipedia: "An unranked or lower-ranked opponent defeated a higher-ranked team 59 times over the course of the [2007] regular season. Teams ranked in the top five of the AP Poll were defeated by unranked opponents 13 times during the regular season, setting a new record in the history of the AP Poll when at least 20 teams were ranked."

So in the spirit of this seismic upset in the annals of college football history and the 10th anniversary of this incredible game--and of the "Year of the Upset"--we at Vundablog present our favorite upsets of the past 25 years (roughly the amount of time that I [Derrick] have been watching college football) based on the magnitude of the upset, its importance, and the overall quality of the game (in that order). Enjoy!


Honorable Mentions:

Kentucky Over #1 LSU (2007)

This LSU team was a juggernaut in a year that no team was really a juggernaut--or at least that's how it felt. This game marked one of two separate times that a #1 ranked LSU team would fall to an unranked SEC opponent in triple overtime (yes both games went to 3OT), the other being at the hands of an Arkansas team led by Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden and the then-brand-new Wildcat (or "Wildhog" as Arkansas called it) offense. The main reason this didn't make the list is because LSU went on to become the only two-loss team ever to play in the BCS national championship game--and won the national championship over a one-loss Ohio State team. Of course, the only reason that even happened was because the #1 and #2 teams entering the final week of the regular season both lost their final games--the third time that season that the #1 and #2 teams would both lose in the same weekend (something that hadn't happened once since 1996). Oh, and the other two times that happened were LSU's two losses that year. Yeah, it was a pretty wild year.

Ole Miss Over #4 Florida (2008)

The Gators were led by Urban Meyer and defending Heisman winner Tim Tebow and had a national championship in their sights when the Runnin' Rebels came into The Swamp and spoiled their evening. This didn't make the list for the same reason as Kentucky's win over LSU: the Gators would go on to play in and win the national championship game. In fact, this game would give birth to Tim Tebow's celebrated speech to the media at the post-game press conference where he apologized for his performance and vowed that "[y]ou have never seen any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of this season and you'll never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of this season, and you'll never see a team play harder than we will the rest of this season." Soon after the championship season, this speech would be memorialized in a plaque outside the front entrance to the football facility at Florida Field.

North Carolina State Over Florida State (1998)

Florida State has had a lot of trouble with NC State over the last twenty years. Between 1998 and 2012, the Seminoles racked up a troubling 8-7 record against the Wolfpack, many of those losses coming when the Noles were ranked including a few when the Noles were a top five team. This is the one that started it all. It doesn't make the list because, again, FSU ended up playing in--albeit losing--the national championship game.

The List:

10. Georgia Southern Over Florida (2013)

This one is one of my own personal favorites (despite the fact that it kinda diminishes the win that my Hurricanes got over the Gators earlier in 2013). I mean Georgia Southern?! Come on. Georgia Southern doesn't beat FBS teams. They basically exist to be trounced by the Floridas of the world. But not on this day in The Swamp when the Eagles shocked the Gators on their way to their first ever win over a FBS team. This one goes a little lower on the list just because Florida was kinda hot garbage that year, finishing 4-8 in what would somehow only be Will Muschamp's second-to-last year as head coach.

9. James Madison Over #13 Virginia Tech (2010)

Virginia Tech had been slipping a bit in 2010 but were still ranked #13 heading into what should have been a lay-up against cupcake James Madison (which I was surprised, at the time, to find was an actual school with a football team). Also a little lower on the list because it wasn't particularly significant.

8. Temple Over #14 Virginia Tech (1998)

This was one of the first huge upsets of the modern era of college football that may have opened the doors to a much greater level of parity in the sport. It also may very well have provided Temple a bit of a stepping stone to the Al Golden years that started in 2005 and saw them improve to winning records and bowl appearances before sinking back into obscurity after he left for Miami.

7. #6 Texas Tech Over #1 Texas (2008)

This one will always be remembered for the incredibly gutsy play by Michael Crabtree in the final seconds, taking in a pass from Graham Harrell on the sideline in the red zone (in a one-point game) and shedding a tackle on his way to the end zone. The loss would keep Texas out of the national title game. Texas Tech would rise to #2 in the country before being blown out by Oklahoma, losing their spot in the Big 12 championship game and not even receiving a BCS bowl bid. They would lose to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl.

6. Texas Over #1 Nebraska (1996)

A game more famous for what it represents than the game itself. This was the first ever Big 12 championship game. Then Nebraska head coach Tom Osbourne had strenuously objected to the institution of the conference championship game saying that one day one of these games could cost a team a chance at a national championship. His prophecy would come true sooner than he realized when an unranked Texas team defeated his #1 ranked Cornhuskers--who were without their star RB Ahman Green--costing them a chance at a national title.

5. Stanford Over #2 USC (2007)

This was the coming out party for Jim Harbaugh and the Stanford Cardinal and a stepping stone to them becoming a national power. USC was favored by 41 points and carried a 38-game home Pac-10 winning streak and a 24-game Pac-10 winning streak into the Coliseum where they were edged out by Harbaugh's Cardinal. Harbaugh would eventually rise to an NFL coaching job (and a Super Bowl appearance) while the Cardinal would become a perennial favorite in the now-Pac-12.

4. Pitt Over #2 West Virginia (2007)

Not only was West Virginia ranked #2 in the nation and cruising toward its first ever spot in the BCS national championship game but this was also a rivalry game. One of the most awesomely-named rivalry games in all of sports: the Backyard Brawl. Pitt was unranked and supposed to roll over easily for the Mountaineers but no one told them that and they spoiled West Virginia's one chance for glory, punctuating the "Year of the Upset" (as well as the 2007 "Curse of the #2") with a scrappy upset victory.

3. #6 Utah Over #4 Alabama (2008)

This is one of a handful of huge wins for non-BCS conference schools that paved the way for consideration of such schools for BCS bids. Alabama was widely considered the "real" #2 team in the country who lost out on a BCS bid after losing the SEC championship game to Florida in a tight, #1 vs. #2 battle that left many wanting to see a rematch in the national championship game. The Tide may well have been feeling the let-down from that loss when the Utes showed up in New Orleans ready to play like this was their Super Bowl and resoundingly defeated the Tide to finish undefeated and ranked #2 in the country, leaving many wondering what would happen if the Utes and the national champion Florida Gators were to face off in a +1 game, creating even more momentum for the institution of a playoff in college football.

2. #9 Boise State Over #7 Oklahoma (2006)

This was the game that really made people stand up and take notice of non-BCS conference teams vying for BCS bowl bids. In one of the greatest college football games ever played, featuring perhaps the greatest finish in college football history, the Boise State Broncos defeated the Oklahoma Sooners using a hook and ladder to send the game into overtime and a Statue of Liberty play on a two-point conversion to seal the game in the first overtime, making a huge statement in the conversation of the worthiness of non-BCS teams in the BCS and the national title picture. (Side note: although it took place in the 2006 college football season, the Fiesta Bowl was played on January 1st, so technically, this was the first of many upsets in the 2007 calendar year. Seems only fitting, doesn't it?)

1. Appalachian State Over #5 Michigan (2007)

What else could it be? The first and only FCS team to beat a top five ranked FBS team and one that was packed with star players and NFL prospects and thinking national championship in what would ultimately be Lloyd Carr's last year as head coach. There's an argument to be made that this may well be the greatest upset in college football history. There is also, however, an argument to be made that this is not as big of an upset as many people think. A lot of people didn't realize at the time that Appalachian State was the two-time defending FCS champion and the #1 ranked team in the FCS to start 2007. They would go on to win their third consecutive FCS national championship in 2007. Still. Michigan was #5 in the nation and Appy State was an FCS team. It may not be the biggest upset of all time but it's at least in the conversation.

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