Before this past week, 16 seeds in the men’s NCAA Tournament had been 0-135 against number one seeds since the tournament moved to 64 teams in 1985. Many experts predicted that we would never see a 16 defeat a 1 for the foreseeable future, and one analyst, only hours before Virginia was set to face UMBC, stated that we would never see a 16 win “in our lifetimes.” By the end of that night, the University of Maryland Baltimore-County had upset the number one overall seed in Virginia, defeating the Hoos by 20 points.
Aside from having the best mascot ever and a fantastic social media account, the Retrievers (or as I like to call them, the Goodest Boys) now hold the distinction of pulling arguably the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. The historic win got us at Student Union thinking (which admittedly doesn’t happen often): what are some of the other greatest upsets in collegiate sports history? That led to me taking the liberty to make a list, and because I’m sure I missed one that features your favorite team, please get #madonline and let me know which upset I should’ve put on the list.
Appalachian State 34, #5 Michigan 32 (2007)
Arguably one of the biggest upsets in sports history, the Mountaineers triumph over Michigan at the Big House remains one of the most famous games in college sports. Ranked fifth in the country in preseason polls the Wolverines featured an uber-talented roster that included Jake Long, Mario Manningham, Chad Henne and Mike Hart. It was because of this that Appalachian State was considered a tuneup game for Michigan, despite the ‘Neers coming off two FCS National Championships. Led by future several future NFL players that included Armanti Edwards and Corey Lynch, App State led throughout, and a late field goal put them up 34-32 with only 26 seconds left in the game. A spark of hope for the Wolverines occurred when Henne hit Manningham for a long pass that set up kicker Jason Gingell for a potential 37 yard, game-winning field goal.
I’ll let Thom Brennaman take it from here.
Stanford 24, #2 USC 23 (2007)
Another major upset from the crazy 2007 season, while Stanford defeating USC wasn’t the same as a small program defeating a major one, it was still an upset of epic proportions. The Cardinal had gone 1-11 the previous year, while the Trojans were ranked second in the country and riding a 35-game home winning streak, dating back to 2001. Led by Heisman contender John David ‘He Likes The’ Booty, Pete Carroll still had USC as one of the nation’s top programs, while Stanford was the Pac-10 doormat. Jim Harbaugh had already begun to turn things around in Palo Alto during his first year, but a 1-3 for Stanford made them 41-point underdogs against Southern Cal. Despite playing with their backup quarterback and being severely outmatched, a late touchdown pass (that had been set up by Richard Sherman on the previous play) put the Cardinal up by one with one minute left. An interception on the next USC drive would end the game and effectively end the Trojan dynasty.
Temple 28, #14 Virginia Tech 24 (1998)
While a Hokie loss to James Madison in 2010 was also a contender for this list, their loss to Temple all the way back in 1998 is much, much worse. Coming into the game undefeated and ranked 14th, the Hokies were massive favorites over Temple, who:
- Starting their 3rd string quarterback
- Starting 10 players with zero experience
- Hadn’t won a Big East road game since joining the conference in 1998, and hadn’t defeated a ranked team since 1987
Despite all of that, as well as having one of the least-talented rosters in the entire country, the Owls beat Virginia Tech 28-24 in what at the time was possibly one of the biggest upsets in college football history. While the Hokies would go on to finish 9-3, the defeat ended chances of winning the Big East (back when they used to play football).
(15) Middle Tennessee State 90, (2) Michigan State 81 (2016)
Upsets in March happen all the time, and although this season might be one of the craziest ever, the first round in 2016 was certainly shaping up to be on a similar path. Ten double-digit seeds achieved upsets in the first round, and none were more shocking than Middle Tennessee State’s win over Michigan State. Many thought the Spartans deserved to be a number-one seed, and after a Big Ten Tournament win, Denzel Valentine and Sparty were popular Final Four picks. All of that came tumbling down as the Blue Raiders dominated Michigan State, toppling the Spartans 90-81. The number of brackets busted after just one game puts this upset on our list.
Chaminade 77, #1 Virginia 72 (1982)
Although it wasn’t a tournament game, there’s a reason that ESPN called it “the greatest upset in collegiate sports history”, The Cavilers came into the game undefeated and ranked #1 in the country, led by reigning Naismith Player of the Year winner Ralph Sampson, and looked to make easy work of Chaminade. The Silverswords were an NAIA program, which at the time was comparable to the bottom of NCAA Division Three (although that is no longer true), and while they did end up winning 28 games that year, their talent was no comparison to that of Virginia’s. The Hoos were NCAA Tournament favorites, and aside from North Carolina, they looked like the most unbeatable team in college hoops. Although severely outmatched, Chaminade hung around with the Cavs throughout the game due to an array of jump shots that stayed away from Sampson and ended up pulling off the massive upset. Because the game wasn’t on television, the news of the shocking upset reached mainland America the next day, mostly from Michael Wilbon (yes, that one) who was the only non-local media member present. Although it didn’t knock anyone out of a tournament, the sheer talent advantage Virginia had over Chaminade is enough for inclusion on this list.
(15) Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet 16 Run (2013)
There are a LOT of college basketball upsets I could’ve gone with, but I cheated went with technically two games. Florida Gulf Coast came into the NCAA Tournament in 2014 after winning the Atlantic Sun in only their second year of eligibility. Not much was expected of the Eagles, who were never close to being ranked during the season and already had ten losses going into their conference tournament. Despite that, their smothering defense and athletic style of play overmatched the heavily-favored 2 seed Georgetown Hoyas, beating them 78-68. The number of dunks and alley-oops during the game led FGCU to be dubbed ‘Dunk City’ and the Eagles rode the momentum to a win in the second round over 7 seed San Diego State. Although they would end up losing to Florida, FGCU remains the only 15-seed to ever reach the Sweet 16, and for that reason, they make this list.
Women’s Basketball: (16) Harvard 71, Connecticut 67 (1998)
Although the University of Maryland-Baltimore County might have been the first men’s 16 seed to beat a 1 seed, the first time that happened in either the men’s or the women’s tournament happened in 1998. That’s when the 16 seed Harvard Crimson shocked 1 seed Stanford, who had one two women’s basketball titles over the past eight years and were riding a 59-game home winning streak. Although the Cardinal were without their two top players and Harvard’s lineup featured the nation’s leading scorer with Allison Feaster, Stanford was considered the “Team of the Decade” in women’s basketball, while Harvard was supposed to be the sacrificial lambs from the Ivy League. The Crimson walked into Palo Alto and proceded to shock Stanford 71-67, and while they lost in the next round, it stands as one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history.
Fresno State winning CWS over Georgia
Time to give college baseball some love, and it’s time to revisit one of the biggest upsets in collegiate sports history. Going into the 2008 NCAA Tournament, Fresno State was named a 4 seed in the Long Beach regional after winning the WAC, and went on to only drop one game throughout the regionals and beat the ranked hosts in Long Beach State. The Bulldogs then moved on to the Super Regional in Tempe, where they upset the 3 seed Arizona State Sun Devils, which was a massive upset in and of itself, advancing to the College World Series. Fresno cruised to the Championship round against 8-seed Georgia, who were massive favorites. Despite the overwhelming odds, especially after dropping the first game, the Bulldogs won the last two games to win the CWS, becoming the first 4 seed in tournament history to win the College World Series.