10 Greatest College Football Upsets of All-Time
One of the things that fans love about sports — especially in college football — is how unpredictable things can be. College players tend to be a little more inconsistent than their professional counterparts, which can sometimes lead to heavy favorites having an off day and losing to a huge underdog.
Yes, programs such as Alabama, Clemson and LSU always seem to rise to the top at the end of the season. But every now and then, the college football world experiences a monumental upset that shocks the world.
With those kinds of upsets becoming more and more common nowadays, we decided to look back at some of the biggest and most shocking upsets in college football history.
10. 2007 Fiesta Bowl: Boise State Shocks Oklahoma
For the record, Oklahoma was a modest 7.5-point favorite in this game, so in that sense, this wasn’t a monumental upset. But who in their right mind gave Boise State a chance to win this game?
After all, dominating the WAC was different from toppling Big 12 heavyweight Oklahoma. However, the Broncos accomplished what most believed was impossible, doing so in the most unlikely of ways.
This was hands-down one of the most entertaining college football games ever played. The fact that Boise State won it with a hook-and-ladder trick play and the Statue of Liberty two-point conversion also help make it one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
9. 1957: Notre Dame Upsets Oklahoma
Heading into the 1957 season, Notre Dame was in rough shape after a 2-8 campaign the previous season. Meanwhile, Oklahoma had just won back-to-back championships during its 47-game win streak when they met the Fighting Irish.
While the Sooners were a mere 19-point favorite, Sports Illustrated has previously declared them “unbeatable,” implying an easy win over Notre Dame.
With Oklahoma already shutting out three of their first seven opponents that season, it wasn’t surprising to see a low-scoring defensive battle. However, the OU offense couldn’t get anything going either. The Irish finally put together a 20-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter for the only score of the game.
The Irish won 7-0 to give the Sooners their first loss in nearly 50 games and their first shutout loss in 123 games.
8. 2018: Butler Beats Youngstown State
Youngstown State has traditionally been one of the more impressive FCS programs. They opened the 2018 campaign as the No. 25 team in the FCS polls, although that quickly changed when they faced Butler in the season opener.
The main difference between these two teams is that Butler didn’t have any players on scholarship while Youngstown State had 63. Yet, the Bulldogs were able to keep pace with the Penguins, scoring two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes to make it a 21-20 game.
Trailing by a point, the Bulldogs attempted a two-point conversion but failed, allowing the Penguins to retain a one-point lead. However, Butler recovered an onside kick and had enough time to kick a 44-yard field goal to win 23-21 in one of the most overlooked upsets in recent memory.
7. 2007: Syracuse Shocks Louisville
It’s easy to forget that Syracuse was unspeakably bad in the mid-2000s. They had begun the 2007 season 0-3, getting outscored 118-32.
They were 37-point underdogs when they traveled to Louisville, a team that was 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl the previous season and was rocking a 20-game home win streak.
Not even the most optimistic Orange fans gave Syracuse a chance on that day. But Syracuse scored a 79-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and things just seemed to go the Orange’s way after that.
Eventually, a 38-21 lead was whittled down to 38-35. However, Syracuse held on for the win, which was more of a sign of Louisville’s quick demise than a resurgence from Syracuse.
6. 1998: Temple Tops Virginia Tech
It’s worth remembering that Temple was a trainwreck during its 14 seasons in the Big East. They literally won just 14 league games in 14 seasons, tallying no more than four victories in a single season during that stretch.
With losses to Toledo, Akron, and FCS opponent William & Mary, the Owls were 0-6 when they traveled to Blacksburg in October 1998. The Hokies were 5-0 and No. 14 in the nation at the time. Virginia Tech didn’t play great, but it looked like they would cruise to victory after leading 17-0. But the Owls kept fighting and came back to shock Virginia Tech 28-24, a silver lining in a 2-9 season.
The loss also ended up costing Virginia Tech a share of the Big East title that season.
5. 1985: Oregon State Outlasts Washington
Washington finished 1984 as the No. 2 team in the country and was poised for big things in 1985. Despite losing two games to start the season, the Huskies won four in a row before playing host to lowly Oregon State in mid-October.
At the time, the Beavers were missing their starting quarterback and had scored six total points in their previous three games. That stretch included a loss to FCS Grambling State and back-to-back scoreless losses to USC and Washington State.
In theory, the Huskies should have steamrolled the Beavers, which is why they were 38-point favorites. But that’s why they play the games. The Huskies couldn’t get out of their own way, constantly turning the ball over to keep the Beavers in the game.
Late in the fourth quarter, Oregon State blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown, giving them a 21-20 win. In addition to being humiliated, if the Huskies had won the game, they would have tied UCLA for first place in the Pac-10 and by virtue of their win over the Bruins that year, Washington would have played in the Rose Bowl. Ouch.
4. 2010: James Madison Upsets Virginia Tech
After a heartbreaker against Boise State the first week of the season, the Hokies continued to feel the pain against play James Madison the following week. In their defense, they played Boise State on a Monday night and then had to play the following Saturday.
On the other hand, James Madison is a strong FCS program that was ranked No. 12 in the FCS polls at the time, so they should have taken the Dukes a little more seriously. Instead, the Hokies got complacent after leading 16-7 early in the third quarter.
No. 13 Virginia Tech didn’t score again while the Dukes found the end zone twice to win 21-16. It was the second time that an FCS team defeated a ranked FBS team.
The funny thing is that the Hokies rebounded from the loss to James Madison by winning 11 in a row, including a win over Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.
3. 2007: Appalachian State Shocks Michigan
Nowadays, Appalachian State is a top-notch mid-major, but in 2007, they were an FCS team just looking for a paycheck when they visited Ann Arbor.
Michigan, who began the season ranked No. 5, paid Appalachian State $400,000 for what they thought would give the Wolverines an easy to win to begin the season. Michigan made the mistake of scheduling a team that had won the last two FCS national championships. They weren’t going to roll over and give Michigan the game.
In fact, the Mountaineers led 28-17 at halftime, forcing the Wolverines to come from behind. Michigan eventually took the lead, only to allow Appalachian State to kick a go-ahead field goal with 26 seconds left.
The Wolverines had enough time to set up their own field goal try, but it was blocked, giving the Mountaineers a 34-32 win in one of the most memorable upsets in college football history in a game the Wolverines will never be able to live down.
2. Stanford Over USC, 2007
It’s hard to believe that any game between longtime rivals can be categorized as an upset, but it was when USC entered their showdown with Stanford as 41-point favorites at home. The Trojans had won their last 35 home games and outscored the Cardinals 93-21 in their two previous meetings. Stanford was also 1-3 on the season and coming off a 41-3 loss to Arizona State the previous week.
On top of that, the Cardinal was playing backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard, who had just three career pass attempts. In other words, the No. 2 Trojans should have had no problem turning this into a blowout. But the Stanford defense played tough and kept the Cardinal in the game.
In the second half, Stanford got a pick-six and Pritchard made some big plays, including the game-winning touchdown pass with just 49 seconds left to give Stanford a 24-23 win.
It would end up being the first of many big wins the Cardinal would have under Jim Harbaugh, who was coaches just his fifth game at Stanford.
1. Howard Over UNLV, 2017
To be fair, UNLV has never been a football powerhouse. They’ve had just one winning season since 2001. That being said, Howard was a subpar FCS program, so the Rebels should have won easily, especially after paying Howard $600,000 just for showing up.
The result of the game was so certain that not all oddsmakers even bothered listing this matchup. Those that did set UNLV as a 45-point favorite. Alas, the Rebels took the win for granted, only to watch Cam Newton’s younger brother Caylin rack up 190 passing yards and 190 rushing yards in his collegiate debut.
Despite the Rebels leading 33-21 midway through the third quarter, the Bison scored three touchdowns in the final 17 minutes, including a 4-yard run by Newton to give Howard a 43-40 win.
To date, it’s the biggest upset against the spread in college football history.
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