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The Biggest Upsets in College Football History

Everyone loves a good underdog story, and there is nothing more exciting than a major upset. That is, assuming it’s not your team getting upset by an inferior opponent. Here are four of the biggest upsets in college football history.

James Madison vs. Virginia Tech (September 11, 2010)

Going into the 2010 college football season, Tyrod Taylor's Virginia Tech Hokies were ranked number 10 in the country and were expected to win the ACC. Unfortunately, the Hokies lost their season opener to number-three-ranked Boise State and were looking forward to what they expected to be an easy FCS rebound game against James Madison University. In their previous two meetings, the Hokies outscored JMU 90:0 and were expecting to shut them out yet again.

The game started as expected, with Tyrod Taylor throwing for a touchdown and Virginia Tech’s defense keeping JMU off the board. Unfortunately for the Hokies, that would be their last touchdown of the game. After the first quarter, the James Madison defense held the Hokies to only three field goals and JMU quarterback Drew Duzik sealed the game with a passing touchdown and two rushing TDs to upset Virginia Tech 21:16.

Although this was a major upset, it didn’t completely derail the Hokies’ season. The team used this big loss as a wake-up call and won 11 straight games, finishing the season ranked 15th in the country. They even beat Tennessee 37:14 in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

Carnegie Tech vs. Notre Dame (November 27, 1926)

For our next big upset, we have to travel all the way back to a snowy day in Pittsburgh in 1926. On November 27, 1926, the powerhouse Notre Dame Fighting Irish traveled to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh to take on Carnegie Tech. Going into this game, the Fighting Irish had shut out eight straight opponents and had beaten Carnegie Tech by a margin of 119:19 over the previous four seasons. Notre Dame’s head coach Knute Rockne was so confident that Notre Dame would win, he didn’t bother showing up to the game. Unfortunately for Rockne, his assistant coaches were ill prepared.

After a scoreless first quarter, Carnegie Tech scored two rushing TDs and was leading Notre Dame 13:0 going into the half. Thanks to a fourth quarter goal line stand, Carnegie Tech shut out the Fighting Irish 19:0.

This is arguably the biggest win in Carnegie Tech’s (now known as Carnegie Mellon) football history. They not only beat their rivals Notre Dame, but the now DIII program once put up 19 points against a scoreless defense.

Howard vs. UNLV (September 2, 2017)

On September 2, 2017, the Howard University Bison, led by Cam Newton’s younger brother Caylin, shocked the world in their 43:40 upset over University of Nevada Las Vegas. To put into perspective just how much of an underdog Howard was in this game, Las Vegas didn’t even bother setting a point spread.

UNLV paid Howard University, a FCS team, $600,000 to come to UNLV and play a “guarantee game.” A guarantee game is when a larger program pays a much smaller program a large sum of money to come to their stadium and essentially lose to a far superior opponent. It’s basically a way for a team to pad their stats and build in an additional “bye week.”

Unfortunately for UNLV, this “guarantee game” turned into a trap game quickly. Although Vegas didn’t set a point spread, outside booking agencies had UNLV listed as a 45-point favorite over Howard. What no one saw coming was Caylin Newton passing for three TDs and the Bison putting up 330 offensive yards in a 43:40 victory.

Appalachian State vs. Michigan (September 1, 2007)

The Wolverines entered the 2007 season a powerhouse, winning two consecutive FCS National Championships. Michigan paid Appalachian State $400,000 to come to Ann Arbor for their season opener for what was supposed to be a simple tune-up game. Instead, Michigan lost in what is still considered the biggest upset in college football history.

The first drive of the game started out as expected, with the Wolverines driving down the field and scoring a touchdown. However, the Mountaineers’ speedy receivers took a few slants to the house, and by the end of the first half, Appalachian State was up 28:17. The Wolverines clawed their way back in the fourth quarter and took a one point lead, 31:32. The Mountaineers drove down the field and, with 26 seconds left on the clock, bombed a field goal to take the lead, 33:32. Chad Henne and the Wolverines drove down the field and, with six seconds left on the clock, were set up to kick a 37-yard field goal. All appeared to be lost, until an unblocked Cory Lynch blocked the kick, winning the game for Appalacian State.

If you have time over the holidays, we highly recommend watching at least the last five minutes of the game on Youtube. This is one of the best real-life underdog stories that has a true storybook ending.

If you want to celebrate your team's next major upset, do it in a pair of Game Bibs!