Now that we are finishing out the regular season, it seemed worthwhile to take a look back at all of the instances of Group of Five teams defeating Power Five teams, and re-assessing how surprising the upsets would be now based on how each team’s season has played out since.
SURPRISE LEVEL: VERY LOW
Temple 20, Maryland 17
Temple 20, Georgia Tech 2
The Citadel 27, Georgia Tech 24
Georgia Tech and Maryland are 3-8, Temple is 7-4, and Citadel is 6-6. You could easily argue that Georgia Tech beating Miami on the road or Maryland blowing out Syracuse are much bigger upsets than the Rambling Wreck losing to either the Owls or the Bulldogs.
Coastal Carolina 12, Kansas 7
Yes, CCU is only three seasons into FBS football with a 12-21 record, but Kansas is 5-10 against G5 programs and 8-3 against FCS teams in the last 10 seasons, so this isn’t really a particularly surprising outcome. It’s much more surprising that the Jayhawks beat Boston College on the road by three touchdowns the following week.
SURPRISE LEVEL: LOW
Western Kentucky 45, Arkansas 19
San Jose State 31, Arkansas 24
Arkansas finished 2-10 and looking for a new head coach now. While it was surprising to see SJSU connect the dots for an SEC road win, and that would still be true no matter how good they were or how bad the SEC team was, even WKU’s win is only on here because of how lopsided it was.
Boise State 36, Florida State 31
The Seminoles blew an 18-point halftime lead in this game. This was a shock at the time. They blew a 21-point lead to Louisiana-Monroe the very next week and might have another loss on their record if ULM hadn’t missed their extra point in the first OT. If Hank Bachmeier were healthy, I’d fully expect Boise to win this game today, as well.
Memphis 15, Ole Miss 10
This one is tricky to peg. We now know that in Ole Miss, the Tigers beat a team that’s really good at being almost good enough. Southeast Louisiana is a 7-4 FCS team and is also comfortably the best team the Baby Sharks have beaten. On the other hand, the Memphis game is one of five they lost by a touchdown or less.
Memphis has just kept gaining steam as the year has gone on, and Ole Miss is now the only team besides Temple that has held the Tigers to less than 34 points. If this game were to go all over again, I would still pick Memphis to win… but I might be a bit more conflicted about it?
UCF 45, Stanford 27
The shine has come off this one a bit since Stanford lost again the week after and has lost a couple more since then, but UCF has been decidedly underwhelming on the road outside of this performance. If it were played again today, I would probably favor UCF, since all their struggles have been on the road, not at home, who knows.
SURPRISE LEVEL: MODERATE
San Diego State 24, UCLA 14
Cincinnati 23, UCLA 14
Cincinnati is a top 20 team and San Diego State has been not-quite-ranked all season. I wasn’t terribly surprised to see UCLA lose either of these back-to-back games at the time, and I’m pretty sure they’d still lose if they ran it back next weekend. The Bruins have gone 4-5 since then and have clearly improved, but it’s often said that it’s not just who you play, it’s when you play them.
Wyoming 37, Missouri 31
This game wasn’t even this close. Wyoming kicked three field goals of less than 25 yards, which means that in a sense, they were 11 yards of offense away from a much more convincing 49-31 win. Wyoming’s penchant for close calls (three-point losses to Boise and *gulp* Tulsa, a five-point win against Idaho) and explosive plays makes this a logical outcome, but still a rather surprising result.
Hawai’i 45, Arizona 38
Hawai’i 31, Oregon State 28
The Rainbow Warriors have always lived on the edge, even more so with Nick Rolovich’s Run and Shoot offense which regularly says “sure, let’s go for it on fourth down.” They’ve continued to do the expected since then, which has been to beat the bad teams and lose to the best ones – plus that one time against Fresno. Maybe they’ve tweaked that script with a division title and win over SDSU, but they are who they are.
Meanwhile, the statement “mediocre Pac 12 team” is a bit redundant these days, but Oregon State has managed to beat UCLA, Arizona, and Cal on the road. Arizona didn’t lose for a month after getting taken down by Hawai’i including a win over Texas Tech, though their last loss to said Beavers squad means they’re staying home for bowl season.
I’m putting these here because I’m pretty sure I’d favor Hawai’i in either game if they played again, but I’d more confidently root for them to repeat their performances.
SURPRISE LEVEL: STILL PRETTY HIGH
UNLV 34. Vanderbilt 10
So here’s the thing. Yes, Vanderbilt is 3-8, with their seven losses coming by a combined 321-105, and their two FBS wins by a total of 13 points. But UNLV is also 3-8, and their only other FBS win was by three points against SJSU this past Saturday. Hell, the Rebels are only 5-16 against FBS opponents since the start of last season, and UTEP is the only other team they’ve beaten by more than one score. Both of these teams are worse than anticipated, but I still wouldn’t predict the Rebs to win even today.
Air Force 30, Colorado 23 (OT)
This one goes pretty far up the list, but not for the reasons you might think. Air Force was only a slight underdog at the time, and they pulled this one out in overtime after blowing a two-touchdown lead in the last seven minutes – and only got to overtime because of a failed Buffs extra point.
Since this game, the Falcons are 7-2 and Colorado is 3-5, so I put this one high because what we know now suggests there was no reason for this game to ever be close, let alone go to overtime.
Appalachian State 34, North Carolina 31
Appalachian State 20, South Carolina 15
The Mountaineers, now the Kings of the Carolinas, are a good team. I predicted that they would beat South Carolina before a single snap occurred. They let the Gamecocks back in but still won on the road against the only team that’s beaten Georgia.
North Carolina may be 5-6, but if they’d scored one more touchdown in every game they played, they’d be either 9-0 or 8-1. They lost by two to Virginia Tech in six overtimes. They lost to Clemson because they decided to go for two instead of overtime. This is a quality team, and App State beat them on the road as well.
App State has been as good as advertised, and I’d hoped they’d be competitive in these games if not win them, but the actual outcome was a surprise that would be no less so now than it was at the time.
Eastern Michigan 34, Illinois 31
The Eagles somehow found a way to take down the Illini on the road, and after a follow-up win over FCS Central Connecticut State, EMU was 3-1. They only won two games after that, but as per protocol, they’re also 4-3 in one-possession games.
Illinois came into this game with a pair of wins over Akron and UConn that looked more meaningless by the week. The EMU loss set off a four-game losing streak that looks a little better in hindsight since half of it came against Minnesota and Michigan, but I’ll be damned if I have any clue how they ended that streak by beating Wisconsin.
EMU is still going bowling, and a road win over a sneaky-good-yet-still-kind-of-average Illinois team wound up a big part of that.
Georgia State 38, Tennessee 30
This was a shocker when it happened, and is even more true since then.
After following up this game with an equally odd performance against BYU, the Volunteers are a win over Vanderbilt away from going 6-3 since – and all three losses have been to SEC teams currently ranked #4, #5, and #11 in the CFP.
Georgia State, meanwhile, followed that performance by squeaking past FCS Furman, going on the road to get blasted by Western Michigan and falling to Texas State. That’s a Bobcat team that just got their only other FBS win of the season at the same time the Panthers were busy losing by two touchdowns to ULM.
This was a shock at the time, one even more surprising given how the two teams have played since.