College Football Awards: Top 10 Upsets of 2013

Rose-Bowl-bound David Shaw and Stanford will always be left to ponder what if. (USATSI)

There was no definitive Appalachian-State-moment this past year, but 2013 provided its fair share of noteworthy upsets. Unfortunately for Rose-Bowl-bound Stanford, the Cardinal is featured a couple times on this dubious list, underscoring the expectations everyone had for David Shaw’s exceptional squad.

I tried to give equal coverage across all leagues (re. no SEC-homer here), but let's face it, the bigger the implications, the bigger the upset. Let's get to it.  

No. 10 - West Virginia 30 Oklahoma State 21, Sept. 28 

Coming off of its first shutout loss in 11 years – a 37-0 beatdown to Maryland – West Virginia was expected to crumble against the Pokes’ high-octane offense. But in his first start at QB – the team’s third different starter of the year – Clint Trickett endured a shoulder injury but guided the Mountaineers to an improbable 30-21 win over the No. 11 Cowboys on Sept. 28. Trickett threw for over 300 yards in his debut while the Mountaineers’ defense forced three turnovers, including two interceptions from J.W. Walsh. It was easily the highlight of WVU’s eight-loss season, which saw defeat in six of the final seven games of the season. 

No. 9 - Eastern Washington 49 Oregon State 46, Aug. 31

It was just a blip on the early-season radar, but No. 25 Oregon State’s season got off to an ominous start after losing its opener to Eastern Washington, 49-46. That’d be FCS Eastern Washington, which will play in the FCS semifinal next Saturday against Towson. Eastern Washington’s QB Vernon Adams did his best Vince Young impression, throwing for 411 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for 107 yards and two more scores. It was just the third FCS victory over a ranked team in history. The others were James Madison over Virginia Tech and the aforementioned Appalachian State win over Michigan.  The Beavers, led by prolific QB Sean Mannion (4,400 yards, 36 touchdowns) reeled off wins in their next six contests before losing the final five games of the season.  

No. 8 - Bowling Green 47 Northern Illinois 27, Dec. 6 

Northern Illinois was primed to crash the BCS party – that MAC school that no corporate sponsor would want in their big-money bowl, especially after the Huskies’ 31-10 loss to FSU in last year’s Orange Bowl. But rolling into the MAC championship was unranked Bowling Green, which had lost just three games all season. Undaunted by the aura surrounding Heisman-finalist Jordan Lynch’s senior campaign, Falcons QB Matt Johnson outplayed Lynch, setting a MAC championship  record with five touchdown passes in the Falcons’ 47-27 upset. “There was a lot of talk about Jordan Lynch being up for the Heisman,” Johnson said after the game. “It’s well-deserved, but I did take it a little personal.” The Huskies will settle for the Poinsettia Bowl against Utah State, and if you listen closely, you can make out the cheers of BCS execs around the country. 

Ain't no party like a MAC party!

No. 7 - Texas 36 Oklahoma 20, Oct. 12

Check that score again. That wasn’t how this year’s Red River Rivalry was supposed to play out. After all, the Sooners had beaten Texas by a combined 80(!) points in their two most recent wins over the Longhorns. Texas had already suffered stunning losses at BYU and at home vs. Mississippi prior to this year’s installment, and Oklahoma was undefeated and ranked No. 12 heading into the game. So the fact that Texas entered the game as two touchdown underdogs is understandable. Despite the odds, the Longhorns were paced by two 100+ yard rushers – Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown – and Case McCoy passed for 190 yards and two touchdowns to help pull the upset. It kept Texas’ Big 12 title hopes alive, for the time being, and also eased some of the mounting pressure on Mack Brown. Ultimately, the prolonged stretch of mediocrity contributed to this week’s news, but stunning OU for the first time in the last four tries certainly helps to maintain some of the luster surrounding Brown’s tenure in Austin. 


Soak it in, Mack Brown. (USATSI)

No. 6 - Mississippi 27 LSU 24, Oct. 19

Despite a close loss to Georgia early in the season, the Tigers were 6-1, ranked No. 6 in the country, and had already earned what would become one of the best wins of the entire season (35-21 over Auburn). So taking down an injury-plagued Ole Miss team, which had been battered by three-straight losses to ‘Bama, Auburn, and Texas A&M shouldn’t have been much of an obstacle. But Bo Wallace tossed for 346 yards, Jaylen Walton had his best game of the year with over 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Andrew Ritter (barely) nailed the 41-yard game-winning kick to stun the SEC heavy-weight. The Rebels built a 17-0 lead on the strength of three first-half interceptions from Zach Mettenberger. But Ole Miss had choked that lead away by the time Wallace got the ball back with the score tied at 24 with just over 3:00 remaining. That’s when Ritter came through. The loss ended any chance LSU had of making a title run and significantly deflated the stakes for the Tigers’ matchup against Alabama three weeks later. 

No. 5 - Michigan State 34 Ohio State 24, Dec. 7

We almost included Sparty’s loss to Notre Dame, but given that the Irish were ranked and the game took place in South Bend, that sort of disqualifies it from an “upset.” Given what transpired throughout the rest of the year though, it’s fair to look back and qualify it as a massive turning point in the season, if nothing else. Which brings us to Indianapolis and Urban Meyer’s 24-game winning streak. And the Buckeyes’ third-ranked rushing attack (317.5 yards per game). And the fact that they hadn’t scored less than 31 points in a game all season. And the redemption Ohio State would’ve felt after sanctions kept the team from postseason play last year. So while the national championship narrative was already drying on newspapers across the country, Mark Dantonio’s stifling defense was chomping at the bit. The Spartans flipped the narrative, scoring the game’s first 17 points before giving up 24 straight to Braxton Miller and company. Sparty battled back with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, which helped secure their first 12-win season in school history. The upset vaulted Michigan State back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1987. 

No. 4 - Tennessee 23 South Carolina 21, Oct. 19

The Volunteers trudged through a brutal, brutal schedule this year, managing just a 2-6 conference record. But their first SEC win – a 23-21 win over No. 11 South Carolina on Oct. 19 – more than made up for their miserable record. Michael Palardy’s 19-yard field goal as time expired, halted Tennessee’s 19-game losing streak to ranked opponents and effectively ended the Gamecocks’ chances at the BCS championship game. South Carolina had lost the second week of the season at Georgia, but would’ve had enough time to recover had it won out. An incredible one-handed, 39-yard catch from freshman Marquez North (see below) helped set up the game-winning kick to ensure that such a scenario would be impossible. It didn’t much matter that Tennessee lost their next four games by an average of 25 points per contest. Butch Jones had his signature win. 

No. 3 - Utah 27 Stanford 21, Oct. 12

The 5-7 Utes – which for some reason always reminds me of My Cousin Vinny – stunned previously-undefeated No. 5 Stanford with a goal line stand in the final minute for their first top-five home win in school history. The 27-21 win – behind 186 total yards from RB Bubba Poole – snapped Stanford’s 13-game winning streak that dated back almost a year to the day of Utah’s upset. The Utes didn’t win another game for a month and a half, but the victory showed the potential of a program, which had sought a signature Pac-12 victory for three years. “I feel like we just won the national championship,” Utah receiver Dres Anderson said, whose incredible 51-yard touchdown grab gave Utah the early momentum. Stanford, on the other hand, was left to ponder how it lost to one of the worst teams in the conference. 

No. 2 - Arizona 42 Oregon 16, Nov. 23

The Wildcats didn’t seem to care that they had just suffered back-to-back losses by a combined 12 points. They weren’t intimidated by Oregon’s lofty No. 5 ranking, either when they smoked the Ducks 42-16 on Nov. 23. It was the Ducks’ biggest loss since early 2008. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey barreled his way to 206 yards and four touchdowns on a season-high 48 carries, while Oregon’s Marcus Mariota had his 12-game streak without throwing a pick, snapped -- in impressive fashion, I might add. Heading into the game, Oregon was poised to return to Pasadena, but perhaps they became a bit complacent due to their run of BCS appearances.  

Who wants to go to Pasadena when you could go to San Antonio to play in the Alamo Bowl??

Perhaps it was the Cats' teamwork that made the difference on this day:  

No. 1 - USC 20 Stanford 17, Nov. 16

Tied at 17 late in the fourth quarter in front of more than 93,500 boisterous fans at the Coliseum, interim coach Ed Orgeron faced a fourth-and-two decision from Stanford’s 48-yard line. Get the yards, and potentially set up a game-winning kick for your notoriously shaky kicker, Andre Heidari. Miss it, and Stanford, then No. 4, could win and maintain an outside shot at the BCS title game. Orgeron opted for a slant to Marqise Lee, which the injured receiver hauled in for 13 yards. A few plays later, Heidari drilled a 47-yard field goal – his longest since the first game of the season, and the Trojans had snapped their four-game losing streak to Stanford, shaking up the BCS in the process. The stunning win was undoubtedly the highlight of a tumultuous year at SC. 

Oh, baby!

Honorable mention: 

Duke 13 Virginia Tech 10, Oct. 26

Late in October, sporting a three-game winning streak, then-unranked Duke sprung an impressive 13-10 upset over No. 14 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The Blue Devils picked off Logan Thomas four times en route to their first road win against a ranked team in 42 years.

San Jose State 62 Fresno State 52, Nov. 29

The criminally underappreciated Fresno State Bulldogs were 10-0, ranked No. 16 in the country, and on the verge of running their Mountain West schedule. But then the Bulldogs met San Jose State on Nov. 29 and Spartan QB David Fales tossed for a school-record 547 yards and six touchdowns, outdoing Derek Carr, his NFL-bound counterpart. SJSU’s 62-52 victory marked their first win over a ranked opponent since 2000. 

Penn State 31 Wisconsin 24, Nov. 30

Despite a botched call against Arizona State early in the season and a justifiable seven-point loss to Ohio State in Columbus, Wisconsin, for the most part, had taken care of business. That is until the last game of the Big Ten schedule, when Bill O’Brien’s upstart Penn State team shocked the Badgers 31-24 at Camp Randall, ending any chance the Badgers had of making a BCS game. For the Nittany Lions, it’s as close to a bowl victory as they’re going to taste thanks to the (evidently not-so) crippling sanctions levied on the program last season.

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