10 Realistic Upsets That Would Send the 2019 College Football Season into Chaos
When the regular season is finished and the proverbial dust settles on conference championship week, the best college football teams usually stand out well above the rest.
Typically, that's because of a few marquee wins, but it's also a reflection of avoided upsets.
Unexpected losses can become season-shaping results. And yes, for both fans and analysts, predicting those underdog celebrations weeks and months in advance is helpful for the ol' ego.
Though we're certain to underestimate a few teams―college football gets pretty weird sometimes, and we're only one week into the 2019 campaign―our focus was on results that would be realistic. (For example, suggesting an Arkansas victory over Alabama would be, shall we say, questionable. Sorry, Hogs.)
The list is organized chronologically.
Sept. 14: Clemson at Syracuse
The underdog: Syracuse
The stakes: Will anyone challenge Clemson in the ACC?
No set of conditions guarantees an upset, but several factors make one more likely. When looking at Clemson's conference schedule, the most likely moment is Week 3 because the No. 1 Tigers travel to a potential Top 25 Syracuse team for a prime-time clash.
The impact: Losing to Texas A&M in Week 2 would be troubling yet not a massive issue for Clemson. It could still bounce back and finish the remainder of the season without another loss. But if the Tigers fall to Syracuse, they'd need the Orange to drop two conference outings to even reach the ACC Championship Game.
Sept. 21: Notre Dame at Georgia
The underdog: Notre Dame
The stakes: College Football Playoff hopes for the Irish.
Notre Dame can't make its season at Georgia, but the trip to Athens could break it. If the Fighting Irish fail to secure a victory over their top competition, they better start hoping for a bunch of two-loss teams this year. Barring that or an ascent that leaves the selection committee no choice but to deem Notre Dame superior to other College Football Playoff hopefuls with conference titles on their resumes, a one-loss Irish team will fall short of the CFP.
The impact: Georgia will have chances to recover from a loss. Between its regular-season slate and a possible SEC crown, a 12-1 Bulldogs team would be a playoff qualifier. Still, eight games (or, including the SEC title tilt, nine) with a win-or-else ultimatum would be an exhausting way to play the rest of 2019.
Oct. 4: UCF at Cincinnati
The underdog: Cincinnati
The stakes: UCF's reign in the Group of Five.
After back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, UCF has become the top Group of Five program. This year, the Knights face Stanford and Pitt in September before opening conference play. Their second American Athletic game, though, is a Friday night tilt at Cincinnati. Nippert Stadium will be raucous, and the Bearcats boast an excellent defense. That's a tough combination for UCF to face.
The impact: If the Knights drop a game, it'll kick-start what should be a fascinating race for a New Year's Six bowl berth. Along with Cincinnati, Boise State and Memphis are among the early favorites to make a charge at UCF's deserved throne.
Oct. 5: Washington at Stanford
The underdog: Stanford
The stakes: Will the Pac-12 get shut out of the playoff again?
While the above question was asked throughout the offseason, it will be a prominent storyline in early October if Washington is already on the brink of CFP elimination. Oregon lost to Auburn. Stanford looks flawed. Washington State has a road-heavy gauntlet to run. Utah has much to prove. Washington is the Pac-12's greatest hope, but a loss at Stanford would set up a dicey second-half slate for the Huskies.
The impact: The league is already fighting a negative national perception. Missing the CFP for the third straight year and fourth time in six seasons won't help. And if the conference is running out of contenders by early October, it would be disastrous.
Oct. 12: Alabama at Texas A&M
The underdog: Texas A&M
The stakes: Alabama's margin for error entering November.
Tennessee and Arkansas also await Alabama before October is over. "One game at a time" is a good and proper mentality for Nick Saban's coaching staff and the Crimson Tide players. We, however, are fully expecting an 8-0 Alabama team if Texas A&M is unable to spring this stunner.
The impact: Two years ago, the 11-1 Crimson Tide made the CFP despite not playing in the SEC Championship Game. It's possible that could happen again if LSU or Auburn knocks off Alabama. But if the Tide lose to the Aggies, any slip-up in November could prevent them from securing a sixth straight CFP berth.
Oct. 12: Florida at LSU
The underdog: Florida
The stakes: Determining if Georgia has an SEC East challenger.
Despite holding preseason Top 10 rankings, LSU and Florida bear the burden of proof in 2019. Most analysts expect Georgia to win the East Division because the Gators won't successfully navigate a slate with Auburn, LSU and the Bulldogs. Similarly, LSU can hardly afford a loss early in SEC play since the competition is so strong every week.
The impact: If Florida defeats Auburn the week before it plays LSU and follows with an upset in Baton Rouge, it'd put immense pressure on Georgia to weather a challenging November against UF, Missouri, Auburn and Texas A&M. Otherwise, the Dawgs might effectively clinch the East with a Nov. 2 triumph over the Gators.
Oct. 12: Oklahoma vs. Texas
The underdog: Texas
The stakes: One critical step toward a CFP appearance for the Big 12.
Last season, the Red River Showdown ended with the best-case scenario for drama within the conference. Texas knocked off Oklahoma, which recovered to set up a rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game. Then OU vaulted into the CFP with a win.
The impact: The Sooners are unlikely to lose before this matchup. As long as they head to the Cotton Bowl at 5-0, history could repeat itself. Texas conversely has LSU and a potentially tricky Oklahoma State team on its slate before Oct. 12. The Longhorns could be 5-0 and looking to cement themselves as a national threat, or they could be clinging to contender status nationally and maybe also in the Big 12.
Oct. 19: Michigan at Penn State
The underdog: Penn State
The stakes: Each team's margin for error.
In the two weeks before this contest, Michigan and then Penn State will take on Iowa. Upsets could happen, but the programs are likely to enter the contest no worse than 5-1. Dropping a second game would be crushing for both Big Ten and CFP aspirations.
The impact: Unless the losing team falls to 6-1 instead of 5-2, it will effectively garner second-tier status. That's a disappointing thought for the Nittany Lions given the defense's strength, but it's at least understandable. Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines, on the other hand, would be subjected to another 12 months of loud criticism.
Oct. 26: Wisconsin at Ohio State
The underdog: Wisconsin
The stakes: Ohio State's place in the Big Ten hierarchy and Wisconsin's pursuit of a division title.
Considering how difficult Wisconsin's schedule is before Oct. 26, the Badgers might simply be trying to survive. They could fall to two of Michigan, Northwestern and Michigan State, with a third Big Ten loss severely damaging their West Division hopes. Ohio State, meanwhile, will be looking to solidify its place as the league's top team heading into November.
The impact: Wisconsin could put a serious dent in Ohio State's CFP chase. Though not particularly likely, the Buckeyes may already have a loss prior to this contest. Regardless, OSU would then be a fringe CFP contender for the third straight year―and that didn't end joyfully in 2017 or 2018.
Nov. 30: Alabama at Auburn
The underdog: Auburn
The stakes: Alabama's CFP status and a to-be-determined Auburn narrative.
With five straight CFP appearances, the Crimson Tide will always be critiqued by whether they reach the championship stage. That much is simple. On the other hand, Auburn has high expectations but a brutal schedule. Even after the Tigers defeated Oregon, forecasts for their season range from 7-5 to 10-2.
The impact: If the Tide start 11-0 but are poised to face an 11-1 or 12-0 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, a loss at Auburn wouldn't eliminate Bama from the CFP chase. If they're 10-1 heading into the Iron Bowl, though, it'll be a must-win game for Nick Saban's club. Either way, the Tigers are certain to embrace the spoiler role.