BCS Era's Top 10 Late-Season Upsets of Title Contenders

Samuel Chi@@ThePlayoffGuruCollege Football Playoff GuruNovember 22, 2013

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On paper, a matchup between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida State looks all but inevitable at this point. While the Tide still have the Iron Bowl to contend for and the Seminoles must beat rival Florida and win the ACC title game, the odds are that both teams will handle their business and then meet up in Pasadena.

But will they?

With three weeks remaining in the season, a lot of strange things could still happen (OK, maybe not this week with Alabama playing Chattanooga and FSU facing Idaho). In fact, in the BCS era, late November and December have been littered with upsets that shattered the hopes and dreams of teams on the verge of playing for the national title.

But not all upsets are created equal. Last year, both Nos. 1 and 2 Kansas State and Oregon lost on the same night to drop out of the national title race. But both teams still had games remaining and the Ducks would've still needed to win the Pac-12 Championship Game, so their meeting in the BCS title game was still a ways from being a sure thing.

And there were also several cases—LSU and Ohio State in 2007, Oklahoma in 2003 and Nebraska in 2001—when a team lost a late-season game, even in a blowout, but still managed to play for the BCS title.

With that in mind, these are our top 10 late-season upsets in the BCS era, considering only a team's penultimate or final regular-season games:

10. Alabama 32, Florida 13 (2009): Tim Tebow returned for his senior season with the aim of leading the Gators to become the first repeat BCS champion. Florida came to the SEC Championship Game having won its last 22 games and ranked No. 1 the entire season. But behind the bruising running of eventual Heisman winner Mark Ingram, the Tide controlled the clock and shut out Florida in the second half. Alabama would go on to win the first of its three BCS titles in four years.

9. Michigan 35, Ohio State 21 (2003): Despite being ranked fourth in both polls, Ohio State showed up at its regular-season finale against its archrival as the No. 2 team in the BCS standings, needing just a win to likely secure a trip to the Sugar Bowl to defend its BCS title. But the Wolverines dashed those dreams and then some, as the upset victory at the Big House earned them a Rose Bowl berth and a Big Ten title—still their last outright title to this day. 

8. Tennessee 34, Florida 32 (2001): Tennessee was able to climb to No. 2 before being upset by LSU the following week because it defeated second-ranked Florida at the Swamp for the SEC East title. The game was postponed from its usual September date because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the Vols used the added time to rebound from a shaky early season. It would turn out to be Steve Spurrier's final SEC game as the Gators coach, as he abruptly resigned after winning the Orange Bowl. 

7. LSU 31, Tennessee 20 (2001): The No. 2-ranked Vols were just an SEC Championship Game win away from playing for their second national title in four years. But LSU, playing without starting quarterback Rohan Davey and tailback LaBrandon Toefield for much of the second half, pulled off the upset under second-year coach Nick Saban, who started building his legend by delivering the Tigers' first outright SEC title since 1986.

6. Oklahoma 38, Missouri 17 (2007): After having defeated then-No. 2 Kansas in a big showdown at Arrowhead Stadium to win the Big 12 North the previous week, the Tigers arrived at the Alamodome ranked No. 1 and poised to clinch their first BCS title game berth. But OU's Sam Bradford outplayed Mizzou's Chase Daniel as the Sooners, who handed Missouri its only other loss of the season in Norman earlier in the year, pulled away in the second half to win their fifth Big 12 title in eight years. 

5. Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 31, 2OT (2011): The Cowboys, ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings, looked to be on a collision course with No. 1 LSU, needing just to win this game and Bedlam against Oklahoma to secure a place in the title game. Instead, a late missed field goal led to an overtime loss, paving the way for an all-SEC title game between LSU and Alabama. After this upset win, the Cyclones lost their next three games to finish 6-7.

4. Texas A&M 36, Kansas State 33, 2 OT (1998): With No. 2 UCLA having lost earlier in the day, the third-ranked Wildcats needed only a win in the Big 12 title game to clinch a spot in the inaugural BCS National Championship Game. But the Wildcats blew a 27-12 fourth-quarter lead to lose in double overtime, handing the title game slot to Florida State. K-State would then be snubbed of a BCS bowl berth and wound up in the Alamo Bowl (and lost).

3. Miami (Fla.) 49, UCLA 45 (1998): The No. 2-ranked Bruins were one win away from playing in the inaugural BCS title game when they arrived at the Orange Bowl on a 20-game winning streak and fresh off their eighth straight win over rival USC. But in the makeup after the original Sept. 26 game was postponed by Hurricane Georges, UCLA was gashed by Edgerrin James' 299 rushing yards and blew a late 17-point lead to lose its spot in the title game.

2. Pittsburgh 13, West Virginia 9 (2007): In somewhat of a groundhog day scenario, the same kind of upset happened by the same final score for a second consecutive year. No. 2 West Virginia also had the luxury of playing the 100th Backyard Brawl at home, needing just a win to play in the program's first BCS title game. Instead, the Mountaineers lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in what turned out to be Rich Rodriguez's final game at WVU. 

1. UCLA 13, USC 9 (2006): The Trojans, ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings, were only a win away from appearing in their third straight BCS title game. They were in the midst of a tremendous roll, having won 44 of their last 46 games. In easily the biggest upset in the Pete Carroll era, the 6-5 Bruins snapped their seven-game losing streak against their crosstown rivals, and USC has not been back in the BCS title game since.

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