College Football Week 1 Upsets that Could Actually Happen
Upsets happen all the time in college football, which is one of the main reasons why we love it so much.
There isn't as much parity in the sport as there is in college basketball, but you can pretty much count on saying a couple times a week, "I certainly didn't expect THAT to happen."
We've already experienced a shocker in Week 1 when Northwestern went across the pond to Ireland to upset Nebraska and send Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost's tenure in Lincoln into another downward spiral.
Could it happen in Week 1? Sure. You should look for it too, and while this is a list of games to watch, these are NOT predictions that they WILL happen. But several strong possibilities are out there to watch, including a few marquee games with double-digit spreads.
In order to make this list, a team had to be at least three-point underdogs (according to Draft Kings), so even though it wouldn't be a shock for, say, Florida to hold serve in the Swamp against Utah, the Utes are just 2.5-point favorites, so the Gators didn't make the list.
Let's take a look at the potential Week 1 stunners that did (all times Eastern). Odds were correct at time of writing.
West Virginia (+7.5) at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. Thursday
The subplots in the first Backyard Brawl since 2011 are bountiful.
It's impossible to talk about this game without mentioning all the USC Trojans storylines, even if that program probably makes Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi bristle. Yes, the Panthers lost Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Jordan Addison to the Trojans, but they do have Kedon Slovis as the starting quarterback.
For West Virginia, another former USC signal-caller, J.T. Daniels, who left for Georgia after Slovis seized the job following an injury and has endured a whirlwind career after, has resurfaced in Morgantown to finish his career.
Then there's the tiny fact these two teams hate each other.
It doesn't matter that most of the players on the team don't remember a time when Pitt-West Virginia played, this is an old rivalry that has plenty of history.
The Panthers should still be strong this year, despite losing Addison and NFL quarterback Kenny Pickett, but are there enough weapons around Slovis to allow him to be successful in the passing game? Will the backfield, led by Israel Abanikanda help ease the transition? Defensively, Pitt is the better team, but will that show up early?
Pitt is favored in this game and should be. But Neal Brown is a good coach, and with Daniels under center running plays from Graham Harrell (another USC connection, at offensive coordinator), nobody knows how the new-look Mountaineers are going to look, either.
Four points or less decided four of the past five games in this series, so West Virginia absolutely could pull this off.
Illinois (+2.5) at Indiana, 8 P.m. Friday
The Indiana Hoosiers endured a forgettable season last year, going 2-10 and failing to be competitive too much for coach Tom Allen's taste.
This is a program he'd built into an 8-5 and 6-2 team in 2019 and '20, respectively, so to take a colossal step back like that a season ago was a gut-punch. This year, the Hoosiers have plenty of hope with Mizzou transfer quarterback Connor Bazelak leading the way, but can they make a huge turnaround?
Beating Bret Bielema's Illinois team at home is a massive first step.
But they'd better not take the two-point-five underdogs lightly. The Fighting Illini is one of the biggest enigmas in college football, and they could wind up being sneaky-good and competing for a bowl game. Bielema's three-yards-and-a-clump-of-turf game plan has done nothing but work in the Big Ten.
Now, the Illini have the advantage of playing a team with a lot of question marks after already having a game in the bag. A week ago, they dominated a hapless Wyoming team that failed to move the ball. New quarterback Tommy DeVito and star running back Chase Brown led the way to a nice win.
Now, this one is a toss-up in Bloomington that really should be a pick-em. The Illini easily could march away from this 2-0.
Houston vs. UT-San Antonio (+4), 3:30 p.m. Saturday
When Houston meets UT-San Antonio on Saturday in San Antonio's Alamodome, there are a lot of people who believe they may be watching the Group of Five's best hope to repeat Cincinnati's Cinderella's performance.
With weapons like quarterback Clayton Tune, running back Alton McCaskill IV and a bunch of capable receivers, coach Dana Holgorsen has the type of exciting offense that has helped him thrive in the past. Defensively, coordinator Doug Belk is one of the best up-and-comers in coaching.
But while the Cougars are deserving favorites in the season opener, they've got a major test in front of them.
UTSA returns playmaking quarterback Frank Harris from last year's Conference USA champion team, and though the Roadrunners lost to San Diego State in the Miami Beach Bowl, it was a banner season for the program. Somehow, they were able to keep coach Jeff Traylor after the successful run, too.
Now, the Roadrunners have Harris and a slew of pass-catchers who make them an extremely dangerous opponent for Holgorsen to have to face right off the bat. UTSA is good enough on defense to slow Tune and make this a four-quarter game.
Don't be surprised if this game goes deep into the final quarter with Traylor's team having a chance to pull a nice upset to start the year.
Oregon (+17) vs. Georgia, 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Defending national champion Georgia opens its follow-up to a historic season in the friendly confines of Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium where the Bulldogs are heavy favorites against Oregon.
If you think that's a lot of disrespect for the Ducks, join the club.
Should Georgia win this game? Absolutely. But there are a lot of reasons for Bulldogs fans to have concerns heading into the showdown.
First off, Oregon's coach is Dan Lanning, who was the maestro for the Dawgs defense a season ago before landing a huge gig on the heels of winning the title. Despite being hired before the College Football Playoff, Lanning stayed on and coordinated a brilliant defense that was the catalyst to the title run.
From that defense, Georgia lost a record five first-rounders, including Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, Lewis Cine, Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt. That doesn't even include Butkus Award winner Nakobe Dean.
Then there's the strong possibility that (even though Lanning hasn't announced it yet) Bo Nix will start at quarterback for the Ducks. Nix is used to the Dawgs, having played the first part of his career with Auburn. So while Nix is not exactly consistent, he knows SEC athletes well.
The way former coach Mario Cristobal and Lanning after him recruited, the cupboard is far from bare with the Ducks. There are a lot of uncertainties, but to pretend UGA doesn't have them, too, is ludicrous.
This should be a closer game than many think.
Arizona (+6) at San Diego State, 3:30 p.m. Saturday
If Jedd Fisch's rebuild of the Arizona program is going to escalate quickly and follow along the path of excitement he built in the recruiting cycle, getting off to a great start is a big deal.
The Wildcats have a big opportunity ahead of them.
They are 6-point underdogs to a San Diego State team that traveled to Tucson last year and dismantled them in Fisch's home debut, 38-14. It was never pretty.
But this year, when Arizona heads to San Diego to take on the Aztecs in their new Snapdragon Stadium, they are going to be far from the team that took the field a year ago. The same can be said for SDSU, and it's going to be interesting to see if coach Brady Hoke's team is better or worse.
Hoke led a huge season a year ago, but was he the beneficiary of a loaded roster left behind by Rocky Long? Can he continue the trend of success having to replace so much talent from a year ago? Former Oregon and Virginia Tech quarterback Braxton Burmeister will try to help the Aztecs not miss a beat.
You should expect a much better season for the Wildcats, though, with difference-makers in the fold like transfer quarterback Jayden de Laura (Washington State) and Jacob Cowing (UTEP). Star freshmen receiver Tetairoa “T-Mac” McMillan and running back Rayshon Luke give Fisch some young playmakers, too.
This may be the upset on the list most likely to happen.
Notre Dame (+17) at Ohio State, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
It would take a herculean effort Saturday for Notre Dame to head into Columbus and upset a loaded Ohio State Buckeyes team.
Truly, it's probably the longest shot on this list, despite many forgetting the Fighting Irish are also a top-five program. You'd never know it by the 17-point spread.
But that's what first-year coach Marcus Freeman is facing this weekend in his first regular-season game as a head coach of the prestigious program. All that being said, Notre Dame is Notre Dame. This is a program worthy of your praise and recognition.
Don't think that's lost on Ohio State coach Ryan Day.
"Not only is it the 100-year anniversary of (Ohio Stadium), but it’s a special matchup having Notre Dame, such a prestigious program, getting together with Ohio State for a home and home," Day told reporters, according to On3's Tyler Horka. "We saw this on the schedule a couple years back, and here we are.”
C.J. Stroud and Co. have a lot of weapons, and with Notre Dame breaking in a new quarterback in Tyler Buchner, there are a lot of unknowns for the Irish. But they've got a lot of talent, a strong defense and plenty of incentive along with national championship aspirations.
Don't undersell this team. While the Buckeyes are heavy favorites for good reason, Oregon traveled across country in the early season and upset Ohio State in the Shoe a year ago. Notre Dame could do the same.
Memphis (+16) at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Last year, Calvin Austin III's wild and crazy (and illegal) punt return touchdown led to Memphis' shocking upset of Mississippi State at the Liberty Bowl.
Brian Smith @fbscout_florida
Best and wildest play of the 2021 college football season? <a href="https://twitter.com/CalvinAustinIII?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CalvinAustinIII</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MEMPHIS?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MEMPHIS</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MemphisFootball?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MemphisFootball</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MemphisTigers?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MemphisTigers</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MemphisatUCF?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MemphisatUCF</a><br><br>Memphis WILD Punt Return TD vs Mississippi State | 2021 College Football <a href="https://t.co/fG9ChhTCdy">https://t.co/fG9ChhTCdy</a> via <a href="https://twitter.com/YouTube?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@YouTube</a>
Now, the Bulldogs are going to try to exact a little revenge in Starkville to open the season and avenge one of the most embarrassing losses of the Mike Leach era. They are expected to do so without much issue, entering the game against the Tigers as a 16-point favorite.
Sure, MSU is an SEC program that is expected to have a strong season, led by returning quarterback Will Rogers and what should be one of the best and most underrated defenses in the SEC.
But this is a lot of points to be giving a Memphis team that has a lot of weapons on an explosive offense and a returning quarterback in Seth Henigan who can cause a lot of damage.
Much like a lot of games on this list, the Bulldogs should take care of business as the favorites. But there is a lot of pride on the line with the AAC's Tigers, and they've been a dangerous program in recent years. Given the proximity to both SEC programs in Mississippi, this means something to upset a team of MSU's ilk.
So, Leach and Co. should be expecting the Tigers' best.
It would be another big-time upset for Memphis to go into Davis Wade Stadium and exit winners of the season-opener, but as last year's referee mistake-riddled punt return touchdown shows, weird things sometimes happen in games.
This is one to watch for upset purposes.
Louisville at Syracuse (+4), 8 p.m. Saturday
Few teams have come out of nowhere this offseason to be as impressive on the recruiting trail as Louisville. It's between the Cardinals and Texas Tech as to who is going to be this year's surprise like Arizona was last year.
But Scott Satterfield has got to start producing wins on the field to be the man who leads the way for the program over the next few years. The former Appalachian State coach was phenomenal in the Group of Five, but it's been a slow rebuild after the Bobby Petrino fiasco.
Now, Louisville has a grueling trip in front of them to start the season, playing Syracuse in The Dome in a night game. That's a tough place to play, even when the Orange aren't very good.
They may surprise some folks this year.
Running back Sean Tucker is the best college football player you haven't heard about, and dual-threat quarterback Garrett Shrader is good enough for that tandem to keep punching when electrifying Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham and their stable of running backs start lighting up the scoreboard.
There are going to be a lot of points scored in this game, and while Louisville should have enough talent to win in the end, it's certainly not a guarantee in a hostile environment against a team expecting to be much-improved. It won't be anywhere near last year's 41-3 onslaught.
Look for this to be a one-score game that could just as easily go Syracuse's way.
Florida State (+3) vs. LSU, 7:30 p.m. Sunday
There wasn't much of a Week Zero tune-up for Florida State, which dispatched Duquesne 47-7 a week ago. Raise your hand if you even knew Duquesne had a football team.
Give yourself bonus points if you know where Duquesne is. That's what I thought.
Still, the Seminoles had about as spotless of an opener as possible, running all over the Dukes to the tune of 406 rush yards, 33 first downs and 76 total plays. It was an impressive display, regardless of who they were playing.
Now, they travel to the Superdome to take on LSU in what is essentially a home game for the Bayou Bengals in New Orleans.
There's perhaps no bigger question mark in the country than first-year coach Brian Kelly's first patchwork squad in Baton Rouge. Following the tumultuous Ed Orgeron era, Kelly had to cobble together a roster through exceptional work in recruiting and the transfer portal. What LSU has is an intriguing, Frankenstein-like team of new faces.
They're led by Arizona State's talented transfer quarterback Jayden Daniels. Though it's no guarantee he will start over Garrett Nussmeier, the dual-threat signal-caller who was once thought to be a top-tier NFL prospect for the Sun Devils could lead the Tigers to big things if he can rekindle his once-lost potential.
There are a lot of things to like about the talent Kelly has plucked from all over the place on the roster, but how will they play together? What is their identity on either side of the ball? While Mike Norvell's program is still trying to find firm footing, the 'Noles at least know the scheme and what they're supposed to do.
This feels like a game that could go either way on Sunday night.