Sometimes there are outcomes in college football that baffle the experts, defying all expectations and predictions, which make them all the more memorable. They are those unforgettable David versus Goliath moments, the games when an underdog sank their teeth into a fearsome rival and refused to let go.
In an age when statistics and big data often define predictions, the leading sportsbooks provide their pre-game odds and point-spreads, backed by all manner of algorithms and numerical calculations. However, rarely if ever do they see huge upsets coming with any level of accuracy, which is what makes those unpredicted shock results all the more exciting.
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It’s hard not to begin with one of the most recent surprise results, so considering the Alabama Crimson Tide were unbeaten since November 2019, losing in October 2021 against Texas A&M Aggies must surely count as one of the great upsets in recent years. All the predictive models had this game going just one way, although they were all wrong.
One computer projection highlighted by CBS Sports had Alabama set as clear favorites, tipping -1100 moneyline odds for them to win and with a -18.5 spread. Imagine the surprise when the top-ranked team were stunned by the Aggies, 17-7 down after the first quarter and 24-10 after the second. The Crimson Tide fought back, yet still ended up losing 41-38 for one of the most surprising results of the current season.
Typically speaking, the FCS division of college football is often undervalued compared to the FBS, although sometimes there are fascinating matchups that produce remarkable outcomes. Youngstown State were ranked at 24 and had 63 athletes on their football scholarship program, when they took on lowly Butler in the season opener, who had absolutely none.
Youngstown was comfortably 21-7 ahead in the fourth quarter, yet somehow Butler pulled the score back to 21-20 with 1:20 left on the clock. Despite missing one field goal attempt, Butler got another opportunity with four seconds left. Drew Bevelhimer sent it flying between the posts from 44 yards, earning his team an amazing 23-21 victory that nobody saw coming.
Such was the consensus that UNLV would crush Howard with ease, many Las Vegas bookies didn’t even bother offer point spreads for the game. However, there were some who decided to play along and were so confident, oddsmakers listed UNLV as almighty 45-point favorites to utterly demolish visiting Howard.
While the ESPN College Football Power Index is usually as reliable as predictive data comes, in September 2017 they gave Howard just a 1.2 percent chance of beating UNLV, which indicates just how uneven this matchup was. Nevertheless, regardless of trailing 33-21 with less than seven minutes left, Howard ended the game spectacularly to grab an astonishing 43-40 win.
During the opening week of the 2007 college football season, arguably the greatest upset of all-time occurred, broadcast to an utterly stunned nation as the first game ever shown on the Big Ten Network. Just as shocked was the huge Ann Arbor crowd, who never could have imagined it would be Appalachian State celebrating victory on their home pitch.
Michigan was already struggling and 28-17 down at halftime, unable to contain the spread offence Appalachian State deployed with such efficiency. Although the Wolverines clawed their way back and almost seemed likely to avoid upset, the Mountaineers kept going to claim the 34-32 final score, for one of the biggest ever shocks in college football history.