Every team can be beaten.
If the last two college football seasons have taught us anything, it's that any game can be like quicksand to the top teams in the country. It's almost like "The Upset" is a new trend in college football.
Sure, before 2007 there were some remarkable wins by teams that had no business winning them. But the upsets in the 1990s and early 2000s didn't come as frequently as they have in recent years. Teams of the One-Double-A variety are coming into big time stadiums against big time teams and competing. Conference bottom feeders are coming out of nowhere and knocking off their elite counterparts in Interleague Play.
Every college football fan can conjure up images of that sunny September day in Ann Harbor, Michigan. Appalachian State came into the Big House with inferior athletes, about 300 of their fans, and a $400,000 check signed over to them by UM.
The coin was flipped, the ball was kicked off, and Appalachian State carved up the Michigan defense like a pumpkin on Halloween. The mountaineers scored 21 points in the second quarter alone. Appalachian State’s quarterback, who isn't tall enough to ride most roller coasters at the theme park, outperformed All-Big-Ten-Conference quarterback Chad Henne. The thrilling 34-32 game ended on a blocked Michigan field goal that would have won the game for them.
Five weeks later, No. 2 USC hosted Stanford, a 41-point underdog, in a game that most of the country didn't bother watching.
There were a lot of things in that game you would expect. The Trojans moved the ball up and down the field to the tune of 450-plus yards of offense. They held the opposing quarterback to 11/30 passing for under 150 yards. Even Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh gave USC all the love in pre-game, declaring them the greatest team of all time. But five Trojan turnovers doomed them in the end. As the game clock hit zero, Coach Jim Harbaugh got the Gatorade bath; sealing the upset for the Cardinals and drowning USC's chances for a National Championship.
Will the string of improbable upsets continue this year? Will each week bring a new jaw-dropping loss by a national title contender?
Ten of the best football teams going in to the 2009 college football season should look out for these games as possible upsets.
The possible upset: Colorado Buffaloes—November 19th
There are a lot of people who are excited about the 2009 edition of the Cowboys. The offense will be explosive with returning starters Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant, and Kendall Hunter leading the way. They’re eager to erase the memories of a disappointing bowl loss where the defense collapsed to Oregon in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. Head coach Mike “I’m a man, I’m FORTY!!!” Gundy should lead a team that will be better on both sides of the ball in 2009.
Hopefully, they don’t look past Colorado.
November could be tricky for the Cowboys. They open up the month with an easy opponent in Iowa State, but they have two monster games with Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Sandwiched in between those two opponents is Colorado. If that isn’t enough, the Colorado game is a Thursday night affair. So five days after chasing around all of Mike Leech’s wide receivers, they’ll have to try and avoid looking ahead to their biggest game of the season with the Sooners and focus on the Buffaloes.
If you don’t think Colorado is capable of an upset, ask West Virginia what happened last year when the two teams met up. Or you could ask the mighty Oklahoma Sooners what happened in '07. Coach Dan Hawkins seems to have a “one upset per year” policy in Boulder. If the Cowboys aren’t careful, coach Hawkins will have his policy renewed in 09.
The possible upset: Minnesota Golden Gophers—October 17th
The last time these two met (2006), a missed extra point in overtime by Minnesota cost them the game. The two teams have headed in opposite directions since then.
Penn State has been in the upper tier of the Big Ten while Minnesota spent its time as the conference pariah (excluding last year). The 2008 season was one where many believed Minnesota turned the corner, halting the downward spiral they were in.
The Gophers will try hard to continue their momentum by ruining homecoming weekend in Happy Valley.
The last time we saw Penn State, Mark Sanchez and USC were scorching their secondary for 400+ yards. If the Nittany Lions don't improve their pass defense, their weakness will play right into Minnesota's strength.
The Gophers return dynamic Quarterback Adam Webber and all Big-Ten receiver Eric Decker. Those two could hook up for some big plays and an even bigger upset on October 17th.
The possible upset: Auburn Tigers—October 24th
Let me start this off by apologizing to any LSU fan who stumbles on this article. All the other teams have cool pictures of their star players, their mascots, their head coaches deep in thought, or even their cheerleaders. When I saw this picture, it was too hard to pass up. "I am Les, hear me ROAR!!!"
Back to the matter at hand—it's strange to see Auburn as a pick to upset anybody considering their success as a powerhouse football program. But last year's experiment with Tony Franklin's spread offense failed miserably, and the team experienced one of its worst seasons in recent memory.
Gene Chizik brings a fresh look and a fresh start to the '09 season, but not many people are picking the Tigers to battle for the SEC West.
Any Tigers (Auburn or LSU) fan will tell you that these games are always close. The average margin of victory the last four times these two teams played is a whopping 4.5. The last time Auburn won (2006), the final tally was 7-3.
LSU will be coming off a bye week. The week before, they will have played Florida in a night game at Tiger Stadium. If LSU doesn't use that off week to refocus their energy against Auburn, head coach Gene Chizik might be getting his first big conference win.
The possible upset: Illinois Fighting Illini—September 26th
The Terrelle Pryor show is set to debut September 5th against Navy. A lot of people are thinking that game is the best chance for the Buckeyes to be upset. Navy does have a potent attack with the triple option, but I don’t see a military branch rolling in to The Shoe on opening day and winning.
And believe what you want about Ohio State, but they don't lose to teams they shouldn't lose to very often...or at all. It's just those really, really good teams they struggle with.
Illinois poses a much bigger threat than the midshipman. The Illini will be well-rested with a cupcake game against Illinois State and a bye week before they play the Bucks. Ohio State, on the other hand, might be licking their wounds from a colossal battle between Big Ten Slayer, Toledo (yes, that was a not-so-subtle jab at Michigan).
On a serious note, Ohio State's defensive struggles against balanced spread offenses are well documented. The Illini will bring the most talented and dynamic offense in the Big Ten to Columbus, believing they can win. Why shouldn't they believe?
They got a win in C-bus two years ago against the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes. With a new line-backing core for Ohio State, the Illini might be able to repeat history and stun the Buckeyes once again.
The possible upset: UCLA Bruins—November 28th
USC fans are probably laughing right now, and honestly, they have every right to. They've won 9 of the last 10 games against the Bruins. The talent at USC stretches much deeper into the Trojans depth chart than UCLA's. And to top it off, USC will have a bye week going in to this game. If anyone has even remotely followed Pete Carroll and the Trojans, they'll know that they never lose when they come out of a bye week.
This is the part of the article where I execute my right (as the writer) to create a word. That word is... neuheiseled.
A team can be “neuheiseled" by the simple act of losing to head coach Rick Neuheisel and his UCLA Bruins.
So... why would I pick the USC Trojans to get neuheiseled this fall? Actually, the answer is pretty simple:
I have absolutely no idea.
There is no simple logic to this pick. Weather shouldn't be an issue. There are no apparent match-up problems that would hurt USC. I already stated that USC has that victory-clinching bye week coming into the game. The Trojans won't even be distracted by UCLA's drop-dead gorgeous California cheerleaders because they already have their own (pictured above)...
All I can say is that for the last few years, USC has inexplicably lost one game per season that they had NO business losing. Three years ago, they lost to a very mediocre UCLA team. A year later, they dropped the ball against 41 point-dog Stanford. Last year, it was the Beavers.
I was able to pick UCLA as the upset by putting all of USC's opponents in a hat and then drawing one. I saw it was UCLA and said to myself, "Why not?"
The possible upset: @ Duke Blue Devils—October 3rd
No people, I'm not talking about basketball here. I realize I just said that the Duke Blue Devils (read: the armpit of ACC football) could possibly upset the reigning conference champion Hokies. Hear me out:
I'm sorry Blacksburg, but you're probably not going to like me very much after this. I think Virginia Tech, year in and year out, is one of the most overrated programs in the country. Watching their prime-time games is like torture to me. I'll give it Frank Beamer though; he sure knows how to block a punt...
While considering that, look at last year’s game between these two. The game was played in Blacksburg, and the Hokies still only managed to score one offensive touchdown. ONE OFFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN!!! Against Duke!
I could get 10 of my most unathletic friends and make a team with me as the quarterback, and score at least four touchdowns against Duke.
This year’s game will be in Durham, not really considered one of the toughest places to play. Regardless, Virginia Tech will have arguably the toughest September of any team in the country with games against Alabama, Nebraska, and Miami on the slate. The Hokies could be limping in to this game come the first week of October.
The possible upset: @ Kentucky Wildcats—October 3rd
If Alabama beats Virginia Tech in the season opener (you already know how I feel about the Hokies) and get past an improved, Ryan Mallet-led Arkansas team; the Tide should be 4-0 going into this game. But the first conference road game for Alabama could prove to be Nick Saban's first stumbling block in '09.
The Kentucky Wildcats will be energized by their home crowd, and encouraged by the memories of last season’s game. They battled then-No. 2 Alabama for sixty minutes in an exciting 17-14 Crimson Tide win.
Things will be very different this time around.
Alabama won't have a composed senior quarterback to lead the team as they did last year. They won't have Glen Coffee doing his best impersonation of Superman, rushing for 218 yards and a touchdown. On the other hand, Kentucky does return its quarterback, Mike Hartline, who threw for 240+ yards and two touchdowns last season against the Tide.
The turnover at key positions for Alabama could play a huge role in this game.
The possible upset: @ Texas A&M Aggies—November 26th
Of the ten teams I'm reviewing here, I have the hardest time justifying anyone to upset the Longhorns. I'm not saying that Texas is bulletproof, but the teams I could see them losing to are Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Those can't be considered upsets. The rest of the schedule for Texas is very, very manageable.
Other than the 40 point shellacking we saw in Austin last year, Colt McCoy has struggled with the Aggies. In '06, Colt was held to 160 yards passing, no touchdown passes, and three interceptions. Colt's next crack at A&M was a little better, but he still only threw for 229 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in a losing effort.
Outside of the fact that Colt is 1-2 vs. the Aggies, there's not much more to say. The game will be played in College Station. Kickoff has already been set at 8:00, so it'll be under the lights.
If A&M can find their old groove against Colt, they might pull out a win. If the Aggies can’t get the upset, don’t expect anyone else to.
The possible upset: Brigham Young Cougars September 5th
I know that BYU has had recent success and proven themselves as a good college football program, but you can't tell me it wouldn't be an upset if the Cougars beat the Sooners.
Let's look at the facts. BYU isn't known as a defensive juggernaut, but they could have an advantage in the season opener. Oklahoma has to replace four starters from last year’s offensive line. Ask any team in the country what the most important aspect of an O-Line is and they'll tell you its chemistry.
In the first game of the season, the Sooners might not be in rhythm up-front. If BYU can score enough points to keep pace with Oklahoma (which is a good possibility with star quarterback Max Hall returning), the inexperienced front could end up hurting the Sooners.
It's not completely out of the realm of possibility for Oklahoma to drop its season opener to a non-power-conference opponent. In 2005 they lost their first game of the season to TCU in Norman.
The possible upset: Tennessee Volunteers—September 19th
Can you imagine? There would be pure pandemonium in the streets of Gainesville. Tim Tebow would be giving another post-game speech about how hard his team will practice and that a lot of good would come of this. Heck, I could even see coach Lane Kiffin committing a few recruiting violations as celebration.
One thing is certain: the new Tennessee coach is trying to turn the tide for his Volunteers. What better way to do it than by beating Florida?
He knows that the Gators struggle in September conference games. They fell to Ole Miss last year in September and to the Auburn Tigers the year before. If this trend continues, it will be like USC dropping one game every year that it shouldn't or Joe Paterno defying the laws of...being so freaking old but still coaching.
Also, Urban Meyer and his Gators have to be careful not to be sucked into the giant hyperbole/tornado/extravaganza that is Lane Kiffin. When Florida played Miami last year, there was similar gamesmanship aimed toward the Gators. You could see all that energy transferred to the field and it clearly impacted the game. Florida offensive linemen were missing blocks and Tim Tebow was consistently harassed by Miami defenders.
The game was much closer than it should have been because Florida was playing with all the pre-game hype stuck in their heads. The emotion slowed them down, made them play out of place, and the Hurricanes gave Florida all they could handle. If they let the hype get to them as easily when they play the Volunteers, Urban Meyer might have another September loss on his hands.