As chosen by our panel of experts in time for the fall season, here are the 10 greatest upsets in the history of major college football.
The little-known Fighting Irish, lightly regarded by the Eastern football establishment, made innovative use of the still-rare forward pass to flummox the Cadets. Among the receivers of Gus Dorais’s throws was the left end, Knute Rockne, who would coach Notre Dame from 1918 to 1930.
Before the game, the coach for Illinois, Bob Zuppke, told his team, “I am Louis XIV and you are my court. After us the deluge.” Perhaps no coach in any sport, other than Phil Jackson, has so bewildered his players. Yet the lllini, rated seven-touchdown underdogs by Ring Lardner, caught his drift well enough to shock the overconfident Gophers.
Middlebury usually served as a ritual sacrifice victim for Eastern powerhouses like Harvard, so when the tiny Vermont school’s president, Paul Dwight Moody, called his athletic director to find out the score and was told, “Six to six,” he replied, “Sixty-six to what?” Two years later, Harvard beat Middlebury 68-0, and the schools stopped playing each other.
Far from being the East’s best team, so-so Columbia had been chosen to give Stanford an easy opponent while maintaining a veneer of credibility. The Lions spoiled this plan by scoring the game’s only points on a naked reverse in the third quarter. One of Columbia’s assistant coaches was Herb Kopf, who had played on the Washington and Jefferson squad that had held mighty California to a scoreless tie in the 1922 Rose Bowl.
The 6-0 Longhorns had outscored their opponents by a cumulative 230–27, while the 3–4 Bears had lost four straight. Baylor pulled out the tie with a last-second touchdown and heroics from Bubo Barnett, Kit Kitrell, and Wee WiINe Coleman.
When the supposedly outclassed Crusaders won in a rout, BC canceled its victory party at a nightclub called the Cocoanut Grove, where that evening a flash fire took 491 lives.
In 1946 Army had barely staved off the Midshipmen in a classic 21-17 victory. In 1948 winless Navy had held undefeated Army to a 21-21 tie. Now Army was undefeated again and had allowed just 26 points all year, while Navy was 2-6-0, but as usual in this most intense of rivalries, statistics took second place to pride.
When Brigham Young won the 1984 national championship, one detractor groused that it had compiled its record against inferior squads like “Bo Diddley Tech.” Most prominent among these was the University of Texas-El Paso, which had won 14 games over the last 11 seasons. This time, though, Bo Diddley beat the Cougars—a major step in UTEP’s inspiring rise to mediocrity.
After the winless and perennially wretched Owls spoiled the undefeated and nationally ranked Hokies’ homecoming with a last-minute goal-line stand, a dejected Tech player said, “This is the most embarrassed I have ever been in my life.”
10 To avoid getting swamped with nasty letters, we will allow readers to round out the top 10 with their own favorite upset.