College Football 2011: Predicting the 50 Biggest Upsets This Season
Upsets are fun—well, except when they happen to your team. There’s nothing quite like watching the underdog whip the pants off the big established power. Think Michigan vs. Appalachian State in 2007 or Stanford vs. USC, also in 2007.
Upsets shake up the landscape of college football and cause movement in the top 25.
Upsets can happen at any time. We all may have ruled out Auburn as a repeat for the national championship, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play spoiler to Alabama.
Oregon is largely expected to storm through the Pac-12 on its way to a BCS bowl, but what if Cal or USC or Oregon State pulls off an upset?
Let’s take a look at what could be the biggest upsets of the 2011 college football season, starting with two very amusing situations.
Boise State over Georgia, or Georgia over Boise State
Let me clarify:
East of the Mississippi and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, people seem to think Boise State over Georgia is the upset.
Everywhere else, it is Georgia over Boise State for the upset.
Have the SEC fans been paying attention over the last four-plus years? Boise State is a team to be reckoned with. UGA? Not so much. Mark Richt’s Bulldogs have consistently underperformed for years now.
Georgia upsetting the boys from the Smurf Turf would be the upset here, not the other way around.
Oregon over LSU, or LSU over Oregon
This one is also amusing. Go ahead, open another tab in your browser, and google LSU vs. Oregon, I’ll wait.
OK, so you noticed that these teams are ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, right?
Once again, SEC fans, get your heads out from under those kegs. There is good football outside of the SEC. Is LSU a tough team that will be contending for a spot in the national title game all season? Absolutely. So is Oregon—that’s why they were in the game last season and are ranked No. 3 heading into this season. Whatever the outcome is here, it is not an upset.
Let's Get Serious Now
OK football fans, now let’s get down to some matchups that would be true upsets, some more stunning than others, of course.
These are not in straight chronological order. Why? I want to keep you guessing, of course!
I would love to hear your thoughts on these games and any games I may have missed.
Minnesota over USC
The Golden Gophers travel to sunny Southern California for the second game in the home-and-home series between these two schools.
ESPN’s Pat Forde picked Minnesota with the upset. Clearly the man is smoking crack. Even in the midst of those pesky NCAA sanctions, USC is about 27 times the team that the Golden Gophers are.
Hold on, I haven’t stopped laughing yet. That’s almost as good as Kirk Herbstreit picking UCLA to win the Pac-12. Wait. Can’t. Catch. My. Breath. When did these ESPN dudes become comedians?
This is not Stanford-USC 2007. I predicted, over on my site, that Minnesota would pull a (2008) Wazzou move and go winless.
So there you have it.
UC Davis over Arizona State
ASU had a bit of dark horse national title buzz about them this summer. A chronic underperformer, I have to see it before I believe it. But this would be a stunner if Davis pulled it off. And it would serve ASU right for scheduling a cupcake so far beneath them.
Colorado over Hawaii
The Buffs have their issues. And they have bigger fish to fry (and prepare for) than Hawaii. This is unlikely, though it would be an upset that would cause people to gasp.
UNLV over Wisconsin
Wait. Deep breath. Have to stop laughing. Look, my HIGH SCHOOL could beat UNLV, so for them to dominate the Badgers, well, it would be a bit like UCLA winning the Pac-12. Or Vandy winning the SEC. Or Minnesota winning the Big Ten(12). You get my drift.
It would be shocking.
Montana State over Utah
Another unlikely upset…except, Utah, prepping to take on USC in Los Angeles, could possibly fall into the trap of looking ahead. Money is on the fact that that is the exact scenario Montana State is preparing for. After all, they have nothing to lose and Utah has everything to lose.
Akron over Ohio State
Well, in truth, while unlikely, it is somewhat less so than it was prior to the departures of Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor—am withholding judgment on this depleted Buckeye squad until they play some real competition.
Florida State over Oklahoma
This is another one that is not all that dissimilar from Oregon-LSU and Boise State-Georgia. Would it be the most shocking thing ever if the Seminoles beat the Sooners? No. Would it be an upset? Absolutely. Am I rooting for it? Yes, kind sirs, I am.
Appalachian State over Virginia Tech
Well, this would be an interesting scenario, wouldn’t it? The ACC has no great chops this year, with the exception of Florida State and Virginia Tech. To take out the Hokies as they did the Wolverines, wouldn’t the NCAA have to reclassify them as FBS immediately? (To those who don’t get sarcasm, there it is.)
South Florida over Notre Dame
Again, not a BIG deal. But consider that the Fighting Irish are enjoying a resurgence of confidence from the press. People seem to think they will be decent this year. Overblown confidence yet again? Perhaps. But a win by the Bulls would be a boon to their season.
Arizona over Stanford
Warning: I feature a few Stanford upsets here as I persist in thinking the Cardinal (really with the singular?) will have a drop off this year. Arizona has been on the cusp of breaking through into the top third of the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) for a few years. A win over Stanford would signal to the rest of the conference that the Wildcats have arrived.
Arkansas over Alabama
As the B/R commenters are so fond of pointing out, the Hogs have been known to pull off a stunning upset/play spoiler with some frequency. A loss (or two) in the SEC would seal ‘Bama’s fate in 2011 as an also-ran.
Oklahoma State over Oklahoma
I don’t know folks, call me a believer in this year’s Cowboys squad, but I actually think Mike Grundy’s boys will topple Landry Jones and the mighty Sooners.
California over Oregon
Everyone seems to think the Ducks will plow through the Pac-12. The Golden Bears (not to mention Stanford and Oregon State—and believe me, with 50 games to pick, I WILL mention them) are a stumbling block for the Ducks.
After all, the Golden Bears ALMOST pulled it off last year.
Troy over Clemson
The Trojans of Troy meet the Clemson Tigers in one of those typically early season games pairing a major program against a mid-major (or minor). Clemson has been a middling program for years, so a loss here isn’t out of the question, but it would be surprising.
San Diego State over Michigan
There would be a sort of symmetry to this, wouldn’t there. Brady Hoke leaves his assistant coach gig at Michigan to land as head coach for the Aztecs, brings that program up to contend in a way that they frankly always have, then heads back to fix the mess in Ann Arbor only to then get beat by the team that he built.
Put that way, everyone outside of Wolverine Nation has to almost hope it happens.
ECU over Virginia Tech
Don’t you remember the Pirates squad of a few years ago who made some waves? Coaching changes and natural attrition aside, what’s to say they can’t do that again? The Hokies, in my opinion, have a tenuous grasp on their position as leader of the ACC Atlantic. They can be upset. Why not by ECU?
Oklahoma State over Texas A&M
I told you I believe in this team this year, but I'm not so sure about A&M. All this seceding from the Big XII (X) talk and press is a distraction. They can be upset. The question is, who will do it?
USC over Stanford
Hey! It could happen. USC is going to be better than they were last year. The offense is gelling under the Lane Kiffin system. The defense is gelling in the Tampa-2 under Monte Kiffin. The Cardinal has had the Trojans’ number as of late, but there always comes a point when the pendulum swings back to its natural center.
Tennessee over LSU
Derek Dooley’s squad is going to be much improved from last year. The Tigers should be on the lookout for them, because there is nothing more they’d like to do than kick some SEC butt for a change.
Auburn over Alabama
The Iron Bowl is always a big draw for fans of the Tigers and Crimson Tide. While Auburn may not be in contention for the national title this year, they are capable of upsetting Alabama who, for all intents and purposes, does look capable of bringing home a sixth-straight title for the SEC.
Miami (Ohio) over Missouri
Mizzou has some buzz behind them. Perhaps it’s the depleted Big 12 (X), perhaps it’s real. I have to say that I am not well versed enough in them at this moment in time to tell. But by any and all estimates, they should absolutely bury Miami of Ohio.
If Miami pulls off the upset, well, it would be one to talk about.
SMU over Texas A&M
Look, I just think A&M is overhyped in this preseason. And I think it is a direct ploy by the press to make the Aggies look desirable to the SEC. I swear I am not normally a conspiracy theorist, but something about this Aggies team SCREAMS imminent stumble to me.
So why not June Jones’ Mustangs? Hasn’t their time come back around yet?
Middle Tennessee over Purdue
Yeah yeah commenters, I can hear you already. But that is exactly my point. It would be unexpected. And therefore, relevant to this piece.
UCLA over USC
Oh, you have NO IDEA how it pains me to even type that out. It is unthinkable. But, let’s face it, it has happened and to better teams than the 2011 Trojans look to be. Assuming the Bruins limp along in their usual fashion, they may be playing for bowl eligibility here. And we all know that USC, at this point in the season, won’t have anything to play for, being ineligible for the postseason (For the LAST year, I might add. Look out 2012!).
Baylor over TCU
Oh sure, go ahead, tell me I’m wrong. Tell me it wasn’t all that long ago that the two schools had some parity. But the Horned Frogs are coming off a BCS-busting Rose Bowl win and this is an in-state rivalry. And you know what they say about rivalries—anything can happen.
USC over Oregon
You should know, as a Trojan alumna with family who went to Oregon, this is my most-cherished, fervent football wish. I know it is not likely—which is what would make it such a big upset if it did happen.
Texas over Oklahoma
The Longhorns are coming off a season that hasn’t been seen in Austin in a long time. The Sooners are the preseason faves to win the MNC. The Red River Rivalry is fraught with last-minute upsets and improbable, come-from-behind wins.
I’d like to see Bevo and the boys do it this year.
Penn State over Alabama
Another improbable one, but again, isn’t that what an upset is? This would be a fantastic win for the Nittany Lions to punctuate the 61-year career of Joe Paterno at Penn State.
Nevada over Oregon
If this were 2010 and the Wolf Pack still had Kaepernick, I might even say Nevada had a 35-40 percent shot at out-running and out-gunning the team from Nike. This year, not so much.
Duke over Stanford
Well, if Duke pulled this one off, it would be somewhat akin to Stanford beating USC in 2007. The Duke fans just might implode from shock and happiness.
Fresno State over Nebraska
Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten (12) makes the most sense of any of the conference realignments, in my opinion. Fresno State, despite all efforts, has failed to attain the kind of ascension and respect that Utah, Boise State and TCU have.
New Mexico over Arkansas
The entire Hog Nation might have a collective stroke if this happens. Can you imagine? The Lobos won one game in 2010 and one game in 2009. This might actually be the true upset of the season if it happens. (Which it won’t.)
UAB over Florida
Florida is not the Florida of a few years ago, that’s for sure; but they should still be a many touchdown favorite over UAB. If the Blazers went into The Swamp and pulled off a win? Holy Moly, the axis of the college football world might crack.
Northwestern State over LSU
Hold on a moment while I go and google Northwestern State…Ah, I see, one of those smaller Louisiana schools that the Tigers schedule each season. I can see why they schedule them from many perspectives—an easy win, in-state alums of both schools being jazzed about the matchup, etc.
I wonder if they’d keep scheduling them if the Demons (whose nickname is the ‘Mons—which I won’t touch with a 10-foot pole) upset them?
Charleston Southern over Florida State
The Seminoles will be facing the Sooners the following weekend. Could they fall victim to the “looking ahead” principle and be upset by the Buccaneers?
Maine over Pittsburgh
The Panthers should win this one easily. However, should Maine pull off the upset, it would reverberate through both the Big East and the Northeast.
Western Kentucky over Navy
The Midshipmen have been making a climb back to respectability over the past few seasons, starting with ending their over 40-year losing streak to Notre Dame. Western Kentucky isn’t a true cupcake, but in no way would the general perception be that they have a chance here.
Mississippi State over LSU
This SEC matchup would not be the biggest upset on this list, but it would be surprising for the Bulldogs to upset the Tigers.
Clemson over Auburn
This one could happen. Clemson has pulled off upsets before, giving their fans just enough hope to keep them going. Auburn is not the team it was last year, but it’s no slouch either and its SEC schedule is just tough enough that they could fall into the trap of looking past this game, making them ripe for upsetting.
Temple over Penn State
The Nittany Lions may say they prep equally for every game, but trust me, Temple and Alabama (not to mention PSU’s Big Ten (12) schedule) are different beasts.
A loss here would be shocking.
Louisiana-Monroe over TCU
The Warhawks take on the Horned Frogs in a gimme game for TCU. If Louisiana-Monroe pulled off the upset, it would be a big surprise.
Arkansas State over Virginia Tech
I think the Hokies are beatable. I don’t think this will be the team to do it. If they did, it would be shocking.
Illinois over ASU
Alright now, here we have two decent programs. Without question (and with West Coast bias) the Sun Devils are the better team. However, they’ve been known to stumble, sometimes spectacularly. This would be a good win for Ron Zook and the Fighting Illini.
Syracuse over USC
It could happen. It won’t, but it could. The Orangemen could come into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and find that the Trojans have underrated them. It would shock (and dismay) USC fans, who would then immediately start to call for Lane Kiffin’s head.
We can be a fickle bunch, the Trojan fans. Win and we love you. Lose and we will try and run you out of town. Losing to Stanford and Oregon and Washington is bad enough. We cannot lose to Syracuse.
Tulsa over Oklahoma State
I’ve told you, I believe in this Cowboy team and expect them to have, at the most, two losses this season. I don’t see Tulsa being one of them, making this an upset if it happens.
Northern Illinois over Wisconsin
The Badgers are on a mission to win the Big Ten (12) and go to a BCS Bowl, if not the BCS Bowl to beat all BCS Bowls: the MNC game. They can’t afford to drop an easy game like this one at all.
Presbyterian over California
You know, if Cal lost this game it would serve them right. Cal has no business playing this team—it’s not like it is an actual challenge.
It is an argument for reinstating strength of schedule in the BCS equation—at least for out-of-conference games.
After all, teams can’t do much about their conference being in a down year (or decade), but they do have control over their out-of-conference games. East Cupcake State should not be an option for major programs.
Missouri over Oklahoma
It’s a conference matchup, Mizzou is a decent to good team and it could happen. Is it likely to? No. Would it shake things up considerably if it did? Absolutely, assuming Oklahoma beats Florida State, Texas and Oklahoma State and remains unbeaten.