10 Biggest upsets this year

September, 29, 2008

It's been a fun and crazy first month of the season, with a lot of stunners. Here are the 10 biggest upsets thus far:

  1. Oregon State over USC, 27-21: Sure, the Trojans lost to the Beavers on their last trip up to Corvallis, but this was supposed to be a much better USC team than that bunch two years ago. And these Beavers appeared to be so much worse than the 2006 squad. Heck, they'd already lost to Stanford and got drilled by Penn State, so what could the mighty Trojans do to them? After all, USC had just destroyed Ohio State 35-3. Some were touting this as Pete Carroll's best team ever. The defense, loaded with projected future first-rounders, looked dominant. Vegas made OSU a 25-point underdog. Then 5-foot-6-inch Jacquizz Rodgers, a Texan playing in only his fourth college game, ran all over USC for 186 yards and two touchdowns, as State carved up that vaunted Trojans D, bewildering the USC defensive front. By halftime it was 21-0. It wasn't as shocking as Stanford's win at USC last year, but given how the Beavers just took it to the Trojans on both sides of the ball, it was more impressive. This really wasn't so much a case of USC beating itself; it was Oregon State executing a great scheme and playing its butt off.

  2. Ole Miss over Florida, 31-30: The Gators were poised to capitalize on USC's loss and move up the polls with a win over an Ole Miss team that had lost nine consecutive SEC games coming to the Swamp. There was a juicy little subplot of onetime Gator commit Jevan Snead finally making it to Gainesville, and Urban Meyer disputing the QB's account of how his recruitment had gone down. UF's offense, loaded with all its speedsters, hadn't committed a turnover all season. The Gators took a 17-7 lead, but the Ole Miss D-line gave the Gators fits, harassing Tim Tebow all day. UF coughed up the ball three times. Then Snead, on a third-and-long inside his own 15, threw a strike to a streaking Shay Hodge for an 86-yard TD, the longest in Rebel history. UF came back and looked ready to tie the game; however, Kentrell Lockett broke through the Gators' line and blocked the extra-point attempt. To Ole Miss fans, desperate for a turn-the-corner moment, the blocked PAT had to remind them of John Jerry's blocked PAT that seemed to thwart an LSU rally two years ago, though the Rebels lost that game in OT. The Gators had one more chance: a fourth-and-one, only this time Ole Miss finished the job as the Rebels stuffed Tebow's QB keeper and upset the Gators.

  3. Alabama over Clemson, 34-10: When a No. 24 team beats a No. 9, it probably shouldn't seem like such a stunner, especially when it's in the season's opening week. However, it was the way Bama dominated this game. The Tide defense held the Tigers' heralded "Thunder and Lightning" backfield of Heisman hopefuls James Davis and C.J. Spiller to 20 yards combined. Even more impressively, Alabama outrushed the Tigers 239 to 0, holding Clemson to its fewest yards on the ground since rushing for minus-1 yard against Boston College 61 years earlier.

  4. ECU over West Virginia, 24-3: The Pirates, who were coming off a good win over Va. Tech, still entered this series with a 2-17 mark against West Virginia and having lost seven straight. A year earlier, Pat White sliced up ECU, going 18-of-20 in a 48-7 romp in Morgantown. But ECU, an 8-point underdog, pounded WVU and kept the ball away from White and Noel Devine as Patrick Pinkney kept converting on third downs. The 24-3 demolition turned out to be the first time WVU was held without a TD in seven seasons. It was also ECU's first upset of a top-10 team since 1999.

  5. UCLA over Tennessee, 27-24 OT: Okay, so the Vols haven't exactly lived up to their preseason top-20 ranking. Few could've imagined that No. 18 Tennessee was going to fall to a Bruins team playing with its third-team QB (Kevin Craft) behind a patchwork O-line. Worse still, in the opening quarter, UCLA lost three more offensive starters to injury, including starting TB Khalil Bell. The hole seemed even deeper with Craft throwing four first-half interceptions. However, given all that, the Vols were only up 14-7 at halftime. Then in the second half, UCLA adjusted, as Craft settled into a rhythm working under the Vols' zone. The game went into OT, in which Tennessee missed a game-tying field goal, and Rick Neuheisel turned the dramatic rally into a big pep rally.

  6. Boise State over Oregon, 37-32: It's not like the Broncos haven't pulled some big upsets before, but expecting them to win in a hostile environment like Autzen Stadium starting a freshman QB (Kellen Moore) behind a line that had to replace four starters from a year ago seemed like asking too much. Ducks coach Mike Bellotti also came into the game with a 17-0 record against WAC teams. But Moore -- the slight 6-foot Washington native who had no Pac-10 scholarship offers and chose Boise over Eastern Washington -- was brilliant. He threw for 386 yards and three TDs in his first road start as the Broncos kept the Ducks off balance with a lot of misdirection and play-action, and won even though star running back Ian Johnson only gained 40 yards on 19 carries and didn't have a run longer than six yards on the day.

  7. UNLV over ASU, 23-20 OT: Coming in, the Rebels had lost 21 of their past 22 games and hadn't beaten a ranked team in five years. Everyone around ASU seemed to be more focused on the No. 15 Sun Devils' visit from Georgia the following week. That sure didn't help. UNLV's D held ASU to 2-of-9 on third downs and hung around long enough to pull the upset, capping an amazing four-game sweep of the Pac-10 by the Mountain West Conference with TCU beating Stanford 31-14, New Mexico knocking off Arizona 36-28 and Brigham Young hammering UCLA 59-0.

  8. Vandy over South Carolina, 24-17: The Commodores, who have had to rebuild both their O-line and D-line, only returned nine starters, the fewest in the SEC. Their history has been to pull an upset here or there on the road. However, at home Vandy had come up empty. Their previous last upset of a ranked team in Vanderbilt Stadium came on Sept. 19, 1992, a 31-9 win over then-No. 25 Mississippi. Carolina, which was No. 24, was still irked from losing last season to Vandy. But the Commodores forced three turnovers and then overtook the Gamecocks in the second half, outscoring Steve Spurrier's team 21-7 down the stretch to get the W.

  9. Maryland over Cal, 35-27: In retrospect this might not look like much of a shocker given that Maryland was home and the Terps just knocked off Clemson a few days ago. But keep in mind this was a Maryland team that had struggled with Football Championship Subdivision (formerly 1-AA) Delaware, and had looked awful losing by 10 to Middle Tennessee, while Cal's Jahvid Best was sparking Heisman talk. Sure, the 9 a.m. Bear time kickoff didn't help, but whatever the reason, Maryland just out-hit No. 23 Cal, jumping out to a 28-6 lead. They held Best to only 25 yards on 10 carries and knocked him out of the Heisman race. They also won back some much-needed respect for the ACC.

  10. Arkansas State over Texas A&M, 18-14: The Aggies just aren't supposed to lose to Sun Belt teams at Kyle Field. The Red Wolves, who had been 0-14 against Big 12 opponents, snapped A&M's 20-game winning streak in home openers as Reggie Arnold ran for 145 yards. Clearly not the performance Mike Sherman wanted for his A&M debut.


•There's a lot of speculation tying Lane Kiffin to the potential Syracuse opening. I have a hunch that if Kiffin is coaching a team in orange next year, it might be more likely to be Tennessee. The Volunteers could do a lot worse. Kiffin would bring some much-needed new energy and ideas to Knoxville.

•I watched an hour of Stanford's win over Washington, in which the Huskies lost their lone playmaker, Jake Locker, to injury. Ty Willingham is almost a lock to be fired. It'll be very interesting to see which direction the U-Dub brass goes in for his replacement. I know there's plenty of talk that they'll chase Gary Pinkel, the former Don James assistant, and he might be tempted, since his star QB Chase Daniel is a senior. Another option would be Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who spent a lot of time on the West Coast and might be intrigued by the potential of the Washington program.

•Impressive showing (again) by Alabama. Nick Saban's got his defense really cranked up. The Tide front dominated the line of scrimmage and exposed a flaw in Georgia's attack, writes Tyler Estep:

Dawgs O-line coach Stacy Searels rarely speaks with the media, but sophomore guard Clint Boling echoed Mark Richt's thoughts.

"They brought some blitzes that we've seen; we've just got to be able to pick them up. They blitzed a lot more than any other team we've seen," Boling said.

"That's just something that we've got to pick up. That falls on the O-line, that we've got to get more movement. That really shouldn't happen.

"After seeing a first half like that it's a big shock to everybody; it doesn't matter what position you play," he said.

My three cents: I think Oklahoma has been very sharp thus far, but in my ESPN.com top 25 ballot I ranked Bama as No. 1, given the strength of what the Tide has done in the first month of the season, with two dominant showings on the road against top-10 teams. I talked to an AP voter over the weekend who asked my opinion about where to rank Bama. My thought is if you didn't have any previous polls until now, you'd have to be most impressed with what this team has done, although I'm sure many voters still have a hard time moving them up from where they originally had them in August. Of course that's not to say Alabama is going to run the table, but just based on performance, I think it's hard not to label them No. 1 right now.

•I liked what I saw from Penn State the other night. Their offense was terrific, and they played really well in a fun home atmosphere. Still, I don't see them winning at both Wisconsin and Ohio State this year.

•Maybe Maryland's Chris Turner should be dubbed "The Big Game Hunter." He has made 12 career starts and is 3-0 as a starter against ranked teams. In four games versus the top 25 (he played the second half of last year's win over No. 10 Rutgers), Turner has completed 66 of 96 passes (68.8 percent) for 814 yards and six TDs and no INTs. In his games against unranked teams, Turner has thrown seven TDs and 12 INTs while completing 147 of 248 (59.2 percent).

The Terps' coaching staff also deserves a ton of credit for some adjustments they made at halftime this weekend, writes Eric Detweiler:

"The defense, which spent the entire first half chasing around Tiger running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller, made adjustments to eliminate cutback lanes for the Clemson ball carriers. Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said there wasn't a lot to fundamentally change in his team's approach. In fact, they became more traditional and played a more basic scheme in the second half, including more sets with four down linemen as opposed to the three-man sets the Terps often run."

•In a bit of shameless self-promotion, I just noticed the Amazon link for the paperback edition of "Meat Market" is up. The book hits stores in two weeks but can be bought for a reduced rate here.

•The anti-Rich Rod crowd obviously wasn't very happy with Michigan's rally against Wisconsin. Bill Simonson makes some interesting points off that in his blog:

"By the way, if any more MSU fans e-mail me and tell me Mark Dantonio is a better coach than Rodriguez, all I ask is for you to look up the number of ranked teams Dantonio has conquered in his 18 games as MSU's coach. It's zero. He never has led the Spartans to a win against a ranked team."

•Nice win for Mario Cristobal's young FIU team, 35-16 over Toledo. Cristobal has made some shrewd moves since taking over a dismal program. One was hiring former Rutgers assistant Phil Galiano to run his defense. The Golden Panthers limited Toledo to under 150 yards over the last three quarters of the game; not bad considering this was the same Toledo attack that scored 54 points a week earlier against Fresno State.



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