10 Upsets That Would Ruin the 2014 College Football Season
College football is a game that thrives on unpredictability. You never quite know when a season-changing upset is going to pop up seemingly out of nowhere on an otherwise benign fall Saturday, altering the complexion of an entire year.
Upsets can be fun, sure. But they can also rob us of potentially special games between national powers that look oh-so-appealing on the schedule in late April and early May. Oh, sure, the games will be played regardless, but those upsets have a way of stealing meaning from potentially truly momentous Saturdays.
With the College Football Playoff entering its first season, more games will be meaningful, but there is always the chance of a major late-season upset keeping a national power out of the four-team field and taking some luster from the first playoff.
Here are 10 upsets that, as of now, would ruin the college football season. Please note that these aren’t predictions, and they aren’t meant to favor or slight one team or another: They’re viewed from a national point of view.
Arizona over Oregon
With both Oregon and UCLA likely to begin 2014 in the top 10 nationally, the teams’ Oct. 11 meeting looms as one of the Pac-12’s most anticipated games this fall.
To get there, however, the Ducks must get past a tough Michigan State team also expected to be a preseason top-10 pick and then survive an Oct. 2 visit from Arizona.
While Arizona has yet to settle on a starting quarterback, the Wildcats remain a challenging bunch. A year ago, they ended the Ducks’ national title hopes with a 42-16 rout. It’ll be a matchup of high-tempo offenses in Eugene, and points will come fast and furious.
Oregon won’t take the Wildcats lightly after 2013’s embarrassment, but Rich Rodriguez’s bunch will be no easy mark en route to the Oregon-UCLA showdown.
Florida over Florida State
The Seminoles have a highly favorable schedule as they prepare to defend their BCS National Championship. FSU opens in a neutral-site game against what will be a graduation-depleted Oklahoma State team, gets archrival Clemson and Notre Dame at home and its toughest road games are Louisville and Miami.
Get through that slate unscathed, and there’s an excellent chance that Jimbo Fisher’s group, with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, will have a chance to defend its title in the first College Football Playoff.
There is the matter of the regular-season finale against archrival Florida in Tallahassee, however. A year ago, FSU embarrassed the injury-riddled Gators in Gainesville in what was offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s final game.
Florida coach Will Muschamp fired Pease and hired Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to add a no-huddle, fast-paced look to the Gators’ offensive attack. With a healthy Jeff Driskel at quarterback, Florida should be much better than 2013’s 4-8 record. Will the Gators be national-title worthy? Not likely. But with an improved overall look, they should be much better by late November. Good enough to ruin Florida State’s playoff party? We’ll see.
Georgia over Auburn
A year ago, Auburn’s hopes of an SEC title were on life support with under a minute left against Georgia. The Tigers faced a fourth-and-18 from their own 27 when quarterback Nick Marshall threw up a Hail Mary, which was tipped off of a Georgia defender’s hands and into the arms of Ricardo Louis, who finished a stunning 73-yard touchdown catch-and-run that handed Auburn a miracle 43-38 victory.
Auburn rode the magic to a last-second BCS National Championship loss to Florida State, and the Tigers’ 2014 slate sets up favorably again. They host SEC West rivals LSU and Texas A&M as well as South Carolina, and an Iron Bowl visit to Alabama sets up as one of the biggest, most anticipated games of the season.
First, though, there is the not-so-small matter of getting past Georgia. The Bulldogs pushed Auburn last season despite a rash of injuries that depleted their tailback and wide receiver corps. Tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are all expected to be healthy this fall, joining star tailback Todd Gurley to give new starting quarterback Hutson Mason a wealth of offensive options to explore.
Georgia will likely start the season outside the top 10, but if Auburn holds serve, Mark Richt’s bunch would welcome the Tigers to Athens as the lower-ranked team. The SEC could land two teams in the College Football Playoff, but a loss so late in the season could ruin the Tigers’ hopes of joining that group.
Kansas State over Oklahoma
The Wildcats took a small step back last season, starting 2-4 including a season-opening loss to FCS power North Dakota State. Bill Snyder’s team finished very strong, however, winning six of its final seven games behind quarterback Jake Waters, who’ll return this fall.
The only loss? A 41-31 defeat to Oklahoma that saw KSU push the Sooners hard for three-plus quarters before fading in the final period. Kansas State learned from that defeat and will surely remember it when it travels to Norman on Oct. 18.
That game comes a week after Oklahoma’s always-emotional rivalry showdown with Texas and two games before a possible top-10 showdown against Baylor.
If the Wildcats spring the upset, it’ll surely take away from Oklahoma-Baylor and lessen the Big 12’s chances of earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Michigan over Michigan State
In a rough 2013 season, the Wolverines’ 29-6 loss to Michigan State was a low point. Michigan managed negative-48 rushing yards, the lowest total in program history, in an embarrassing defeat to its in-state rival, one of the biggest reasons why offensive coordinator Al Borges was shown the door at season’s end, replaced by Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
With Nussmeier directing a pro-style offense, which should better display the talents of either Devin Gardner or Shane Morris at quarterback, Michigan should be improved. And it will be motivated entering an Oct. 25 game in East Lansing.
An experienced Spartans team should be among the nation’s top 10 to begin the season and entering a Sept. 6 showdown at Oregon. But the Big 10’s game of the year will be Nov. 8 when Michigan State and Ohio State face off.
A Michigan upset of its in-state rival could seriously remove national buzz from that game and also make it tougher for the Big 10 to make a College Football Playoff run.
Oklahoma State over Oklahoma
The Sooners took a huge step forward in 2013 with their Sugar Bowl win over two-time defending national champion Alabama as one of the program’s most significant wins in recent memory.
Bob Stoops’ team should be a preseason top-10 team, and assuming it survives games like Texas, Kansas State and Baylor, it could enter the regular season finale Dec. 6 with a shot at making the College Football Playoff.
There’s a reason that Oklahoma-Oklahoma State is called Bedlam, though. It’s always crazy, unpredictable and generally unforgettable.
In the teams’ last five meetings, the lower-ranked team has won three times, including No. 17 Oklahoma’s 33-24 upset of No. 6 Oklahoma State last December. Oklahoma State has only one win over the Sooners since 2003, and the Cowboys will be far less experienced than their cross-state counterparts this fall.
Perhaps Mike Gundy’s team is due for a rivalry-shaking upset, which would alter the Big 12’s hopes of making a true national impact this season.
Penn State over Ohio State
While serving the third year of a four-year postseason ban connected to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State has few tangible rewards to play for this fall. That doesn’t mean the passion has left Happy Valley. On the contrary, in fact. 72,000 fans attended the Nittany Lions’ spring game, and new coach James Franklin has injected excitement into his new home.
Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg should be improved in his second season under center, and Ohio State’s Oct. 25 visit will be a marquee moment. It has already been picked for an 8 p.m. kickoff and national telecast by ESPN/ABC, meaning a frenzied atmosphere is likely to prevail.
The Buckeyes have lost to only one Big 10 team in the last two seasons, Michigan State, and the Nov. 8 rematch of their Big 10 title loss to the Spartans is surely a game they’ve circled on their schedule as well.
But if they can’t get past the Nittany Lions, that game will lose plenty of buzz. It won’t be easy, for certain.
Texas over UCLA
UCLA broke out last fall as one of college football’s most improved teams, and with star quarterback Brett Hundley back under center, the Bruins could be a trendy dark-horse national championship pick.
To get there, however, they face a significant early obstacle in a neutral-site game against Texas and new coach Charlie Strong at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Strong badly wants to show America that he has imbued the Longhorns with toughness, and a meeting with the Bruins would be a perfect opportunity to show the Horns’ fanbase that he is the man for the job with a marquee victory.
Oregon-UCLA on Oct. 11 will be one of the most anticipated games in the Pac 12 and nationally, but to make it truly meaningful, the Bruins must survive a possible ambush in north Texas.
Tennessee over South Carolina
Despite losing star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and steady quarterback Connor Shaw, South Carolina figures to remain among the nation’s elite this fall and potentially challenge for a spot in the first College Football Playoff, especially with experienced senior backup Dylan Thompson stepping in for Shaw.
One potential pitfall? A Nov. 1 visit from Tennessee. Last year, the 5-7 Vols stunned South Carolina 23-21, and two years ago, USC was fortunate to escape with a 38-35 victory.
Butch Jones is rapidly improving the talent pool in Knoxville, and while Tennessee isn’t among the SEC’s elite yet, the Volunteers will be more than capable of pulling an upset or two this fall.
South Carolina should be on alert. With Texas A&M, Georgia and Auburn on the league slate, the Gamecocks will need every win possible to stay in contention for the SEC East title and a possible playoff berth. Losing to the Vols would put a major damper on those hopes and take out a national contender.
West Virginia over Baylor
Last season, the Mountaineers’ 4-8 record snapped a postseason streak that stretched back to 2001. But Dana Holgorsen’s team has plenty of talent at tailback and wide receiver to surround the eventual quarterback, be it Paul Millard, Clint Trickett or incoming freshman William Crest.
Their last two meetings with Baylor have been defense-optional, with West Virginia winning 70-63 in 2012 and Baylor winning 73-42 last fall.
The Bears and prolific quarterback Bryce Petty come back to Morgantown on Oct. 18, two games before a potential showdown with Oklahoma on Nov. 8. The Oklahoma-Baylor game will be the Big 12’s game of the year, with both teams potentially entering in the top 10.
But if the Mountaineers can settle on a quarterback and find some offensive consistency, they could have enough firepower to spoil that party.