In honor of college football's 150th anniversary, here are the top 10 individual seasons in the history of the sport.
From 41-point underdogs, to record-breaking comebacks, to snapping longest-ever winning streaks, the most monumental upsets in college football are some of the most exciting and impactful games in the sport's history. In honor of college football's 150th anniversary, we ranked the top 10 biggest upsets of all time.
10. Butler vs. Youngstown State
Sept. 1, 2018
Final score: 23-21, Butler
The FCS division of college football goes largely under the radar, especially when compared to its FBS counterpart. That’s why most people have never heard of one of the greatest upsets in recent college football memory: Butler University over Youngstown State University in the opener of the 2018 season. Youngstown State came into the season with high expectations, entering the game ranked No. 24, while Butler was coming off a mediocre 6-5 season in 2017. Youngstown State wasn’t only a ranked team, but they had much more talent—on paper at least, with 63 athletes on a football scholarship. Butler had zero. Down 21-7 with just over nine minutes to play, the Bulldogs managed to score twice and Butler coach Jeff Voris elected to go for the two-point conversion to take the lead—but it missed. Butler trailed 21-20 with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter and after the missed conversion, the only option was an onside kick. Lo and behold, the Bulldogs recovered the kick, marched into field goal territory, and Drew Bevelhimer knocked in a 44-yard field goal with only four seconds remaining to complete the shocking upset win over Youngstown State.
9. Navy vs. Notre Dame,
Nov. 3, 2007
Final score: 46-44, Navy
On a Saturday in November 2007, one of college football’s longest losing streaks in NCAA history was finally broken after 43 years when Navy and Notre Dame met for their annual game in Notre Dame’s home stadium. Typically a historical powerhouse in college football, Notre Dame had lost its first five games and came into the game against the Midshipmen with a 1-7 record. While Navy, on the other hand, was off to a decent start at 4-4. The game itself was a great one. Navy collected a fumble at Notre Dame’s 16-yard line and ran it in for a touchdown to take a late 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter—but Notre Dame responded with a touchdown to tie the game. After three overtime periods, Navy finally came out on top, 46-44, marking the first time in 43 years that the Midshipmen owned the longest-running non-conference rivalry in college football.
8. Temple vs. Virginia Tech,
Oct. 18, 1998
Final score: 28-24, Temple
Heading into the Oct. 1998 game against undefeated and No. 14-ranked Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Temple was 0-26 in Big East road games and just 1-6 overall. Virginia Tech jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first and the Hokies basically thought the game was over, especially against a Temple team that had 10 players, including freshman quarterback Devin Scott, making their first career starts for the Owls. Against the Hokies fourth-best defense, Temple rallied behind Scott’s 155 yards and two touchdowns to secure a stunning come-from-behind road win over Virginia Tech. It was Temple’s first victory over a ranked team since Sept. 19, 1987, and coach Bobby Wallace said he had “never seen a more injured, beat up football team,” making the victory even more impressive.
7. James Madison vs. Virginia Tech,
Sept. 11, 2010
Final score: 21-16, James Madison
Virginia Tech entered the 2010 season ranked No. 10 in the country and was the favorite to win the ACC. The Hokies had already loss their opening game of the season against third-ranked Boise State, but the next game against FCS team James Madison seemed like a good way to rebound. JMU was a huge underdog against a powerhouse like Virginia Tech—in their previous two meetings, JMU was outscored by a combined score of 90-0—but the Dukes kept the game close and quarterback Drew Dudzik Dudzik’s 12-yard touchdown run sealed the 21-16 victory. Dudzik called it the “biggest win in school history,” but the loss didn’t destroy Virginia Tech’s season—they strung together 11 straight wins and ended the season ranked 15th in the nation.
6. Carnegie Tech vs. Notre Dame,
Nov. 27, 1926
Final score: 19-0, Carnegie Tech
Going into Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field to face Carnegie Tech on a cold and snowy November day in 1926, Notre Dame hadn’t allowed a single point in eight games. And head coach Knute Rockne was so confident that his Fighting Irish would win handily and easily that he didn’t bother showing up to the game—he trusted his assistant coaches to get the job done. After a scoreless first quarter, Carnegie Tech ran for two touchdowns for a 13-0 halftime lead, and ultimately sealed the deal with a fourth-quarter goal-line stand. Carnegie Tech had lost to Notre Dame each of the last four seasons by a combined score of 111-19, making 19-0 shutout victory all the sweeter for the Tartans.
5. Howard vs. UNLV,
Sept. 2, 2017
Final score: 43-40, Howard
UNLV was so favored in this 2017 matchup that Las Vegas didn’t even bother having a point spread for it. Some other betting agencies, however, listed UNLV as a 45-point favorite over Howard. Howard received $600,000 to play UNLV, a part of college football’s typical “guarantee games,” when a small school receives money from a big school to travel to its stadium and nearly guarantees a win for the home team. But Howard ended up spoiling the presumed beatdown, thanks to 330 total offensive yards and three touchdowns from Caylin Newton (Cam Newton’s younger brother) that helped the Bison hang on to a stunning 43-40 victory over their FBS opponent.
4. University of Washington vs. Oregon State,
Oct. 19, 1985
Final score: 21-20, Oregon State
The University of Washington ended the 1984 season ranked No. 2 in the nation and headed into its opening game of the ’85 season with confidence, as its opponent Oregon State had lost by a 97-0 margin in its last two games. The Beavers were 38-point underdogs against UW and their starting quarterback and leading receiver were both out of the game with injuries. But with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter, Oregon State intercepted the Huskies four times, and blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone to take the lead and eventually win the game.
3. Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma,
Nov. 16, 1957
Final score: 7-0, Notre Dame
Who owns the longest winning streak in the history college football? That would be the Oklahoma Sooners from 1953-1957, a team that held a 47-game winning streak and seemed unbeatable after back-to-back national titles—so much so that Sports Illustrated featured the Sooners’ halfback on the cover with the headline: "Why Oklahoma Is Unbeatable." When unranked Notre Dame arrived to Norman to face No. 2 Oklahoma, the Sooners were 19-point favorites. The game was a back-and-forth defensive battle—neither team scored unil the Fighting Irish completed a 20-play, 80-yard drive late in the fourth quarter to seal a 7-0 shutout and upset victory over Oklahoma, making the Sooners’ first shutout loss in 123 games.
2. Stanford vs. USC,
Oct. 6, 2007
Final score: 24-23, Stanford
Heading into the game, Stanford was a 41-point underdog against USC and redshirt sophomore Tavita Pritchard was set to make his first career start for the Cardinal. The second-ranked Trojans entered the matchup riding a 35-game home winning streak, while Stanford held a 1-3 record and hadn’t had a winning season in seven years. The table was set for USC to absolutely dominate, but 12 years later, we now remember the game as one of the biggest upsets in college football history. In Jim Harbaugh’s first season as head coach, Stanford’s five forced turnovers and a blocked extra point helped keep the game close, but it was Pritchard 10-yard touchdown on fourth down with 49 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter that sealed the deal for the Cardinal win.
1. Appalachian State vs. Michigan,
Sept. 1, 2007
Final score: 34-32, Appalachian State
Michigan paid Appalachian State $400,000 to come to Ann Arbor and play in the season opener against the Wolverines. The Appalachian State Mountaineers had won two straight FCS National Championships and were a powerhouse FCS program, but a matchup against a No. 5-ranked FBS program seemed like an easy win for the Wolverines. However, a 24-yard field goal by Appalachian State kicker Julian Rauch put the Mountaineers on top with 26 seconds remaining, completing one of the biggest upsets in the history of college football.