When college football fans think of the biggest upsets in the sport, most recall App State’s 34-32 win over then-No. 5 Michigan in the 2007 season opener. The matchup kicked off with the Wolverines favored by 31 points. This ranks tied for the 13th largest underdog win in the modern era (1980 to present) if gauging by the betting odds.
People often forget the Mountaineers, although playing in the FCS at the time, were stronger than the majority of FBS teams that season. They entered on the heels of winning the 2005 and 2006 Division 1-AA national championships, and subsequently went on to claim the 2007 crown. App State, in fact, finished the season ranked 34th in the AP Poll, the first ever FCS program to receive votes. In hindsight, the betting market missed badly.
What are the biggest upsets in college football history? Here are the top six according to the point spreads:
T-5. BYU at UTEP (1985)
Odds: Cougars -36
Final Score: Miners 23-16
On Oct. 26, 1985, then-No. 7 BYU, the defending national champion, kicked off a 36-point favorite over UTEP. The Miners, former Western Athletic Conference rivals, had won 14 games total in the previous 11 seasons. The Cougars, meanwhile, carried a 25-game conference win streak into Texas.
The contest unfolded like something straight out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! UTEP stymied BYU with advanced game theory. In an effort to slow QB Robbie Bosco’s lethal passing attack, the Miners continually dropped nine into coverage, sending just two linemen in for a sack. It worked. Bosco ended up passing for a career-low 151 yards, 1 TD, and 4 INTs on 15-of-34 passes. It was UTEP’s lone victory on the year.
T-5. Temple at Virginia Tech (1998)
Odds: Hokies -36
Final Score: Owls 28-24
Temple, which entered Blacksburg 0-26 all-time in Big East conference road games, scored three second-half touchdowns behind freshman QB Devin Scott to stun then-No. 4 Virginia Tech 28-24 as 36-point underdogs. The Hokies have lost just one other matchup laying 30-plus points: a 21-16 defeat to I-81 neighbors James Madison.
T-3. Syracuse at Louisville (2007)
Odds: Cardinals -36.5
Final Score: Orange 38-35
Syracuse QB Andrew Robinson threw for a career-high 423 yards and 4 TDs as the Orange upset then-No. 18 Louisville 38-35 as 36.5-point underdogs in Week 4 of 2007.
Syracuse kicked off the contest ranked near the bottom of every major offensive category nationally, but exploded against a listless Cardinals defense.
Louisville, which entered the Big East matchup on a 20-game home win streak, rallied late to get within a field goals with 56 seconds left. The ensuing onside kick came up short, and the Orange kneeled out for its biggest upset win in school history.
T-3. Texas State at Houston (2012)
Odds: Cougars -36.5
Final Score: Bobcats 30-13
Texas State pulled off the improbable in its first FBS game after joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2012, shocking Houston in the season opener 30-13 while catching 36.5 points on the oddsboard. The Cougars entered unranked, but were receiving votes and expected to trounce the upstart Bobcats.
Texas State running back Marcus Curry rumbled for 131 yards on 14 carries, finding the end zone twice in the win. The star of the performance proved the defense, however, which yielded just one third-down conversion to Houston the entire second half.
2. Stanford at USC (2007)
Odds: Trojans -38.5
Final Score: Cardinal 24-23
Some betting outlets closed with a line as high as 41 points in favor of then-No. 2 USC when Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Mark Bradford on fourth-and-goal with 49 seconds remaining to give the Cardinal a miraculous 24-23 victory. The Trojans accrued 459 yards to Stanford’s 235, but proved undone by five turnovers and a blocked PAT attempt early in the contest. The victory snapped a 35-game win streak at the Coliseum for USC. It was head coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season in charge of Stanford, taking over a program that managed just one win the prior season.
1. Howard at UNLV (2017)
Odds: Rebels -45
Final Score: Bison 43-40
The biggest upset in college football history according to the point spread occurred just last year when FCS Howard nipped UNLV 43-40 as 45-point pups. Freshman QB Caylin Newton, the younger brother of Carolina Panthers star Cam Newton, who rushed for 190 yards and 3 TDs on 21 carries in his collegiate debut, commandeered the improbable victory. The Rebels struggled to stop the Bison all game, allowing 309 rushing yards altogether. It was Howard’s first win over a FBS opponent in program history.
As of publication, 50 college football games have gone off with a betting line of 40 points or more. The closest an underdog has come to a win is 12 points.