Greatest upset ever? Not hardly.

By now, everybody knows about Appalachian States shocking win over Michigan last Saturday. Most of the media is calling it perhaps the greatest upset in college football history. While it makes for great headlines, its far from it. I’ll try and explain.In 1978, the NCAA split up Division I football into two divisions: I-A and I-AA. I don’t know what the criteria was in deciding who went to what division, but it seems like the “major” conferences went to I-A. So when you hear the media say that no Division I-AA school has ever beaten a ranked I-A team, remember that its going back less than 30 years. Who knows what upsets took place in the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s.Michigan came into this season with a preseason ranking of #5. Why? Who knows. They lost most of their defense. Its amazing how quickly the media forgets about defense.Appalachian State won back to back National Championships in Division I-AA in 2005 and 2006. In 2006, there were 119 schools in Division I-A. There are about the same number of schools in Division I-AA. Should we assume that every Division I-A school is better than every Division I-AA school? Not hardly. Division I-AA schools win quite often against Division I-A opponents. It’s reasonable to assume that there is overlap between the two divisions if you were to rank them from top to bottom. In fact, my computer rankings do just that. And Michigan finished #6 in my 2006 rankings. So where was Appalachian State? If we use the philosophy that all Division I-A schools are better than all Division I-AA schools, then Appalachian State should have been ranked #120 since they were the best school in Division I-AA and there are 119 schools in Division I-A. But in my final computer rankings, Appalachian State was ranked #54. They finished ahead of the following Big 10 schools: #58 Purdue, #75 Indiana, #79 Michigan State, #88 Northwester and #106 Illinois. In fact, they were ranked ahead of 66 schools in Division I-A.So when the media claims Appalachian States victory of Michigan as the greatest upset ever in college football, they are really doing Appalachian State a disservice. It was a big upset, but it is far from the biggest of all time. It just sounds good that a I-AA school knocked off a “traditional” power like Michigan.So what IS the greatest upset in college football history? It’s a matter of personal opinion, but I can point to one game, particularly, in the last 30 years. On October 17, 1998, Temple visited Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech. Temple came into this game 0-6. Virginia Tech was 5-0. Oddsmakers made Virginia Tech a 36 point favorite. In my computer rankings, Virginia Tech was ranked #6 at this point in the season. Temple was ranked #143. Temple was worse than a lot of Division I-AA schools that year. Virginia Tech raced out to a 24-0 lead before Temple scored just before halftime to cut the lead to 24-7. Temple fought back in the second half and won the game 28-24. To this day, it remains the biggest upset according to oddsmakers. Virginia Tech fans have decided that this game never happened and refuse to acknowledge it today!So there you have it. Give Appalachian State its due. It was a great victory. But it was not the greatest upset in history. That happened in Blacksburg on an October day in 1998.


2 thoughts on “Greatest upset ever? Not hardly.

  1. I believe when you compare the size of the programs, pick of players, recruitment ability, number of scholarships, size of schools, size of players, history of programs – all of this adds up to why the ASU game deserves to be in the “greatest upset” column. Regardless of how they split the divisions, there’s a tremendous inequity in the programs between App State and Michigan, just as Temple was to VT at that time in ’98. Where was Temple at that time in relation to Va Tech based on your computer model?

  2. Patrick,
    In my article, I stated that at the time Temple beat Virginia Tech, Tech was ranked #6 in my computer rankings while Temple was ranked #143. From a historical perspective, I can understand how Appalachian States victory over Michigan could be considered the greatest upset ever. But if you look at it from an on the field perspective at this moment in time, it should not be considered that.

    Michigan getting blown out the next week didn’t hurt my arguments either!

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