Homecollege football

Biggest college football upsets of the last decade

Profile Picture: Ashley Anderson

October 25th, 2019

On Saturday undefeated Wisconsin traveled to Illinois for what should have been a walkover for the No. 6 Badgers. Wisconsin entered the matchup as 28.5-point favorites over a two-win Illini squad, but a James McCourt field goal as time expired handed Illinois a stunning one-point upset.

In light of Wisconsin’s staggering loss, we scoured the history books for similar earth-shattering underdog victories. Below are the biggest upsets in college football history from each season of the last decade.

2018: No. 13 Virginia Tech (-28.5) at Old Dominion

No. 13 Virginia Tech entered 2018 ranked in the top 25 and kicked off the season with a win over No. 19 Florida State, 24-3, before a lopsided victory over William & Mary. In the Hokies’ third game, they made a first-time trip to Conference USA opponent Old Dominion as a 28.5-point road favorite.

ODU hadn’t won a game that season and was at the mercy of backup quarterback Blake LaRussa, but none of that deterred the Monarchs. Old Dominion handed out a 49-35 loss to Virginia Tech for the Monarchs’ first victory against a Power Five opponent in school history.

2017: Howard at UNLV (-45.5)

In the largest point-spread upset in the history of college football, FCS school Howard came into its road contest at UNLV as a 45.5-point underdog. In what was supposed to be a guaranteed victory for the Rebels, Bison quarterback Caylin Newton (Cam Newton’s younger brother) went off for 190 rushing yards on 21 carries and another 140 through the air, plus three scores.

The Bison led the entire first half but allowed UNLV to come back in the third quarter. With Howard down four points with nearly seven minutes remaining, Newton ran the ball into the end zone to give the Bison a 43-40 lead and a win for the ages.

2016: North Dakota State at No. 13 Iowa (-19)

Another FCS program, North Dakota State, had the challenge of visiting No. 13 Iowa in September 2016. The Bison featured quarterback Easton Stick and another NFL player’s relative, Connor Wentz (Carson Wentz’s cousin).

NDSU ended the first period with an interception return to go up 7-0, but Iowa stayed close throughout the contest and eventually led 21-14 before the fourth quarter. The Bison came storming back, and Stick completed a 7-yard touchdown pass with 3:41 remaining. Then Cam Pedersen nailed a 37-yard field goal to give the Bison their biggest win in school history.

2015: The Citadel at South Carolina (-22)

The Citadel, an FCS school known for scheduling powerhouses like Alabama and Clemson, had a date with SEC squad South Carolina in November 2015. The Gamecocks were a mess, as head coach Steve Spurrier resigned midseason after a 2-4 start, but oddsmakers still made South Carolina a 22-point favorite over the Bulldogs.

The Citadel took advantage of a deflated Gamecocks team and ran all over South Carolina, for 350 rushing yards and three scores. Tyler Renew tallied two of those touchdowns, including a 56-yard run to give the Citadel the 23-22 victory.

2014: Indiana at No. 18 Missouri (-16)

In Week 4 the No. 18 Missouri Tigers hosted an inferior Indiana team coming off a 5-7 season in 2013. The Hoosiers posted an even worse record in 2014, at 4-8, but they still managed to overwhelm a ranked SEC foe in the process.

Future NFL backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld threw for 252 yards and one touchdown for the Hoosiers, while current 49ers running back Tevin Coleman racked up 132 yards and a score on 19 carries. The game was neck-and-neck, but Indiana ran the ball into the end zone to go up 31-27 with 22 seconds left. Indiana would go on to lose seven of its next eight games, but at least the Hoosiers had one crowning moment as a huge underdog.

2013: Central Florida at No. 8 Louisville (-14)

The Louisville Cardinals tied their best record in school history when they went 12-1 in 2013, Charlie Strong’s final season. The Cardinals, behind Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater, reached eighth in the AP poll and headed in as 14-point home favorites over a one-loss UCF team led by Blake Bortles.

The Cardinals led by as much as 28-7 in the third quarter, until Storm Johnson scored twice and William Stanback ran the ball in for another touchdown to tie it at 28-28. Louisville regained a four-point lead with three minutes left, but Bortles completed a two-yard touchdown pass to give UCF the 38-35 win and helped earn the Knights a berth in a BCS Bowl.

2012: Louisiana-Monroe at No. 8 Arkansas (-30)

The Arkansas Razorbacks came into their Week 2 matchup with Louisiana-Monroe as the No. 8 team in the nation and 30-point home favorites. The Warhawks hadn’t accomplished a winning season since they joined the FBS in 2001 and were fresh off a 4-8 season.

Arkansas led 28-7 in the third quarter, until the Warhawks chipped away and tied the game at 28-28 on a Kolton Browning touchdown pass. In overtime Arkansas kicked a field goal to go up by three points, but Browning rushed 16 yards to the end zone to complete the upset, 34-31. From there Arkansas unraveled and ended the year 4-8. The Warhawks, meanwhile, finished 8-5 for their only winning season in the FBS.

2011: Oklahoma State (-28) at Iowa State

Undefeated Oklahoma State had its eye on the BCS National Championship Game and faced an easy road trip to Iowa State, before dates with No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 4 Stanford. The day before the matchup, a plane crash killed Oklahoma State’s women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna, which left the Cowboys football program in a state of mourning.

The Cowboys mustered a 24-7 lead in the second half, before momentum shifted in Iowa State’s favor. The Cyclones tied the game at 24 and sent it to double overtime, where running back Jeff Woody scored the winning touchdown on a 4-yard run. The loss cost the Cowboys a spot in the BCS title game, despite just one loss during the regular season. Iowa State lost its next three and ended the year 6-7.

2010: James Madison at Virginia Tech (-33.5)

Virginia Tech clearly didn’t learn from the 2010 season, seeing as the Hokies made this list earlier with their upset to Old Dominion in 2018. Eight years prior the Hokies started 2010 in the top 10 of the AP Poll and eventually made the Orange Bowl with an 11-2 record. The Hokies’ first loss came to No. 3 Boise State in their season opener, but the second occurred unexpectedly to FCS school James Madison a week later.

As a 33.5-point underdog, the Dukes fought back from a nine-point deficit in the third quarter to score the final 14 points of the game for a 21-16 stunner. At the time James Madison joined Appalachian State as the only two FCS teams to beat a ranked FBS opponent. The Mountaineers defeated Michigan in one of the greatest upsets of all time in the Big House in 2007.