10 Biggest Potential Upsets for the 2012 College Football Season

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2012

10 Biggest Potential Upsets for the 2012 College Football Season

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    What is the 2012 version of the 2011 Iowa State over Oklahoma State headline?

    Yes, what is next season’s answer to USC over Oregon, South Florida over Notre Dame, Wake Forest over Florida State, Northwestern over Nebraska, Clemson over Virginia Tech, TCU over Boise State, Texas Tech over Oklahoma and Oregon over Stanford?

    What are the 2012 games that will result in surreal upsets that will quite literally alter the championship landscape of an entire season of college football?

    The following slideshow boldly selects the 10 biggest potential upsets for the 2012 season, and in doing so reminds us that anything and I mean anything can happen in college football.

    Indeed friend, why these might not ultimately be the shockers that shock us next season, history tells us that someone will upset someone else.

    Then the loftily ranked will be knocked out of their sure spot in the title game, and we’ll rubber-neck on Sunday morning like the drivers in the opposite lane of an interstate accident.

Washington over USC

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    The Trojans are a sure-fire preseason top three which means that even a singular loss could be considered catastrophic.

    And this in turn makes USC ripe for upset offers from left, right and center.

    The Trojans will travel to Seattle to take on Washington in Week 7, which is just past the halfway point in the season.

    What makes the Huskies dangerous for USC is the fact that they return seven offensive starters, including QB Keith Price, to a passing attack that ranked No. 35 in the nation.

    This doesn’t seem all that spellbinding until you remember that USC ranked a dismal No. 102 in pass defense last season.

    Yes, lots can change and improve over a year, but as of right now it’s a passing attack that averaged 255.5 yards per game squaring off with a pass defense that gave up over 263 yards per game.

    Given the current forecast for both squads, the Huskies upending the Trojans would be quite the upset, but keep in mind that Washington has beaten USC two of the last three times they’ve met.

Texas A&M over LSU

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    The fact that the Aggies haven’t beaten a current SEC member since they bested LSU 33-17 in College Station in 1995 hardly makes A&M look like a threat as they enter their new conference home.

    This is a sense that is exasperated by the Ags 7-6 campaign in 2011, which included a sickening number of comeback fueled losses and blown opportunities.

    Still, LSU’s Oct. 20 scheduled showdown with the Texas A&M at Kyle Field creates an intriguing case for a potential upset.

    First, the Tigers will be coming off a two-game run versus South Carolina and at Florida, and if they’re still undefeated, they will be among the pollsters top three.

    To add to the timing angle, the A&M game will come just before an off-week that precedes the national championship rematch with…you guessed it, Alabama.

    Beyond this you’ve got an LSU offense that has been run-centric (and still should be unless Zach Mettenberger is setting the world on fire) facing an Aggie defense that, if nothing else, has been effective against the run.

    LSU’s offensive imbalance (No. 22 nationally in rushing and No. 106 in passing in 2011) was totally exposed in the BCS title game, and with an A&M rushing defense that returns six starters to a unit that ranked No. 12 nationally against the run, things get interesting.

    If the Aggies force LSU to win through the air, and manage to score some points of their own, Texas A&M could have its first win over the Tigers in 17 years.

    And alternatively, LSU could have its signature loss.

West Virginia over Oklahoma

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    Though the Mountaineers over the Sooners may not seem like a huge “upset” on the surface, Oklahoma may well roll into Morgantown on Nov. 17 with zero losses and a BCS national title shot in the balance.

    This means they’ll be favored and this means if they lose, it will be an upset with huge national implications.

    The first clash between the two as conference chums will be exciting as it marks the first time the Sooners and Mountaineers have met in the regular season since 1982 and the first time they’ve ever played in Morgantown.

    What looms dangerous for the Sooners in this historic meeting is their No. 79-ranked pass defense containing the Mountaineers explosive passing attack that captured No. 6 honors in 2011.

    Yes, Big 12 teams are used to getting assaulted through the air, but last season Oklahoma was notably poor at getting it done, and they paid the price with losses to pass happy Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State.

    With eight starters including QB Geno Smith back on campus for West Virginia in 2012, the Mountaineer air attack should be even scarier meaning all struggling pass defenses should be leery of a looming, wind-whipped, beatdown.

Illinois over Michigan

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    By the time the Wolverines welcome Illinois to Ann Arbor on Oct. 13, we ought to have a pretty good idea if they really do belong in the top tier of 2012 teams.

    Yes, by this time Michigan will have been tested on the road against Alabama and Notre Dame, and after Illinois, the Wolverines will still have Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio State to deal with.

    What makes Illinois covertly hazardous for the Wolverines is the fact that it's got a rush defense that could force Denard Robinson to throw the ball.

    And when Robison took to the air in 2011, he only completed 55 percent of his passes and threw 15 picks to his 20 TDs.

    The Illini return seven defensive starters to a unit that ranked No. 26 nationally in rush defense (second in the Big Ten only to Michigan State), No. 5 in scoring and No. 17 in pass defense.

    If incoming coach Tim Beckman (who had Toledo ranked No. 8 nationally in scoring offense in 2011) can find a way for Illinois to score some points, then more than just Michigan needs to be on the lookout.

Miami (Fla.) over Florida State

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    The Hurricanes beating the Seminoles hardly seems like huge upset material, but the idea needs to be placed in the proper perspective before judgment is cast.

    Florida State is likely to be ranked in the preseason Top 10, and by the time they travel to Miami to face the Hurricanes, the Seminoles could very well be 7-0 and sitting pretty.

    Yes, they’ll have to beat Clemson (in Tallahassee), USF, NC State and Boston College, but perfection is certainly realistic by the time they go southwards.

    And what makes the Hurricane warning risky for Chief Osceola is the fact that Miami returns six starters to the No. 29 nationally ranked pass defense from 2011.

    Yes, if Miami can shut down Florida State’s formidable pass attack, then this will force the ‘Noles to run the ball, which to put things mildly, wasn’t a strength last season.

    The Seminoles Achilles heel was, and still could be, a rushing attack that ranked No. 109 nationally last season, and if you can force them to the grind it out on the ground, they can be beat (and upset).

BYU over Notre Dame

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    First things first, Notre Dame has one heck of a slate of games in 2012, and though the Irish may start the season ranked, they will have every opportunity to drop a game or two to some formidable opponents.

    From an upset standpoint, there are several interesting angles for the Irish, but the waters are somewhat murkier because at this early date they aren’t considered a front-runner.

    That said, beating Notre Dame is always headline worthy stuff, especially if you’re not a big name program from a BCS conference.

    What makes BYU an interesting candidate is first they look like a “respite” game nestled after the Miami (Fla.) and Stanford run and just before the historic trip down to Norman to face Oklahoma.

    Yes, the Cougars look like the “win” amongst these four games.

    Beyond schedule placement, BYU may be a “cougar in sheep’s clothing.”

    BYU’s independent status (i.e. no conference championships, etc.) in 2011 made it easy to lose track of the fact that it went 10-3 and now return 17 starters in 2012.

    What’s even more intriguing statistically is the fact that the Cougars scored 25 take-aways last season (tied for No. 39 nationally) which matches up scarily with Notre Dame’s 29 give-aways (No. 110 in the country).

    Though surely the Irish will attempt to mend their careless ways, this is a clash between an opportunistic team and a sloppy one.

Missouri over Alabama

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    Given the inherent strength of the SEC, incoming programs Texas A&M and Missouri may not seem like much of a threat to the old guard front-runners.

    That said both squads have the element of the unknown working for them, which certainly can’t hurt from a potential upset perspective.

    Despite the attrition, Alabama will be a force to be reckoned with once again in 2012, and every single team on the Tide’s schedule will have to earn wins the hard way.

    Missouri is an interesting candidate not because the Tigers will be flying under the radar (Nick Saban doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to overlook opponents), but because their strengths from 2011 somewhat match those of Alabama.

    First, you’ve got the Tide’s No. 16 rushing “O” (minus some key players) squaring off with the Tiger’s No. 30-ranked rush defense (six starters are returning).

    Next, you’ve got what was last year the No. 9-ranked Missouri rushing attack squaring off what was the No. 1-ranked Alabama rushing defense.

    Given the complexities of who will and won’t be back on both sides of the ball for both teams, this is a fairly weak argument, but still it’s interesting enough to give the idea further thought.

    Yes, what if Missouri and Alabama (played in Columbia) match up as well as say Alabama and Auburn or Alabama and Michigan?

Washington State over Oregon

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    By the time Oregon reaches Week 6 of the 2012 season, the Ducks should be undefeated.

    Games against Arkansas State, Fresno State, FCS Tennessee Tech and Arizona (in Eugene) are certainly doable for the Ducks, meaning Oregon should be highly ranked (and thought of) coming into their Sept. 29 clash with Washington State.

    The Ducks will face the Cougars at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, and what is interesting about this game is the matchup between Oregon’s pass defense and Washington State’s pass offense.

    Yes, air raid designer extraordinaire Mike Leach is the new head coach at Wazzou, and though the timing of an offensive explosion may be unknown, it’s important to remember that the Cougars ranked No. 9 nationally in passing yards last year.

    On the minus side, gone are the starting QB and all but five offensive starters, but at the end of the day, this is a team that is already pass-oriented, so throwing Leach into the mix is just like tossing lighter fluid on an already blazing fire.

    The danger for the Ducks here lies with the fact that they return six defensive starters to a unit that ranked No. 88 nationally in pass defense last season.

    Losing to Washington State is no joke, even with Leach at the helm, but if Oregon can’t contain the spread and conquer scheme, it may suffer their first loss to the Cougars since 2006.

UCF over Ohio State

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    This pick sounds like a bit of a pipe dream, but that’s precisely what upsets are all about.

    Even having Urban Meyer on the sidelines doesn’t change the harsh reality that Ohio State QB Braxton Miller struggled to throw the ball effectively during his freshman campaign.

    Miller was only 54.1 percent accurate in 2011, and though he ought to mature this season, the Buckeyes will have to make huge strides to level set an imbalanced offense that was ranked No. 27 nationally in rushing yards and No. 115 in passing yards.

    You’ve got to believe that catching the Buckeyes unawares early in the season rather than late would be better from an upset standpoint, and so Week 2’s foe UCF comes into the picture.

    First you’ve got the inherent attitude of, “UCF, who are they?” Yes, the cover of just another acronym team from Florida (USF, FIA, FAU, UCF…) makes it seem like the “real” season is further down on the horizon.

    Next, you’ve got a team a UCF squad that was young last season (but straight off an 11-win, C-USA title run in 2010) but still managed to earn a No. 16 ranking nationally in rushing defense.

    If the Knights can manage to shut down the Ohio State rushing attack, force Miller to throw the pill to win and get a few lucky breaks…it's lights out in Columbus in a devastating scenario.

    Another potential option for a similar development would be the Week 3 meeting with Cal in the Horsehoe.

Southern Miss over Nebraska

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    Nebraska dropping the season opener to Southern Miss may well be the least likely upset on our list.

    Sure, Southern Miss shocked Houston in the C-USA championship game last season, but this is a squad that returns only 12 starters (No. 96 nationally) and will hit the field in 2012 without their coach Larry Fedora who took the North Carolina job.

    Despite all this, the Golden Eagles match up nicely with the Huskers, and if Nebraska’s not prepared, the Huskers may struggle to knock off a squad that has had eight months to think about building on a 12-win campaign.

    Southern Miss’s No. 24 nationally ranked rush defense from last season makes an interesting dance partner for Nebraska’s run-centric offense (try No. 15 in rushing vs. No. 104 in passing) as does the Golden Eagles No. 20 ranked rush offense versus the Huskers No. 51 ranked run “D.” 

    Forcing QB Taylor Martinez (as is the case with Braxton Miller and Denard Robinson) to win through the air and then score like crazy is an all too obvious game plan, but it can be accomplished.

    The bottom line is, Nebraska is a better football team and that all comes down to superior recruiting opportunities and therefore the talent pool…but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t or wouldn’t happen.

    Don’t think so?

    Well, the last time the two teams squared off, a 2004 meeting in Lincoln, Southern Miss won 21-17.


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