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Welcome back to another year of prognostication! Yes, it’s our annual upsets article! Our crack staff has spent hours debating who gets caught napping, and who plays the role of spoiler. As a rule, we always aim for a 45-50% accuracy rate, (which isn’t bad when you’re always picking the underdog). We’ve picked some doozies over the years, including last year’s East Carolina victory over Russell Wilson and NC State, Texas A&M’s win over Oklahoma, and a pair of MAC over Big 10 upsets with NIU over Minnesota and Toledo over Purdue. In 30 games, we came in at whopping 47%. How will we fare this year? Let the debate begin!
UCLA at Houston-It was this same game last season in L.A. that would spell the beginning of the end for Houston’s BCS hopes. Not only did the Cougars lose 31-13, but they lost QB Case Keenum for the season. Luckily for UH fans, Keenum was granted another year of eligibility and will take full advantage of having one more crack at the Bruins. Did we mention UCLA’s issues throwing the ball? That will make it impossible to keep up with the high powered Cougar attack at a packed Robertson Stadium.
BYU at Ole Miss-The Cougars move to independence has grabbed a majority of BYU football headlines this past season, but the Cougars quietly bring back a very strong team. 10 starters return for BYU on offense, including sophomore QB Jake Heaps and a talented core of receivers and backs. Couple this with the fact that Ole Miss only returns four starters on defense, and you’ve got yourself the makings of an upset. Ole Miss has a lot of talent at QB, but breaking in a new starter will leave a lot of bumps and bruises. If this game is in week 13, take the Rebels. Unfortunately for Houston Nutt and company, it’s not.
Ole Miss 27
Northern Iowa at Iowa State-There are always 2-3 FCS spoilers in week one, and the Panthers will play that role this season. The Cyclones are really vulnerable in this game after saying goodbye to QB Austen Arnaud, their top two RB’s and top two WR’s. UNI brings back a lot of offense in QB Terrell Rinnie, and while it won’t be pretty, UNI will score their 2nd win over the Cyclones since 2007.
Iowa State 10
Boise State at Georgia-I’m trying to figure out why football pundits and fans aren’t more concerned over Boise’s player departures. The loss of WR’s Titus Young, Austin Pettis, and defensive studs Winston Venable, Ryan Winterswyk, and Brandyn Thompson are not as easily solved as their fans may think. Georgia brings back QB Aaron Murray, who was sensational as a frosh, an effective and experienced secondary, and says goodbye to some player distractions from a year ago. Bronco fans are going to get all bent out of shape over this one, but Kellen Moore’s big play ability will be severely crippled, as Georgia uses their size, speed and strength to grind out a close win.
Boise State 20
Purdue at Rice-This was a hard one to pick, but every year Purdue has that one special “choke” game. Last year it was against Toledo, the year before that was Northern Illinois. This year, the choke will happen on the road at Rice. Rice is no pushover this season. The Owls return eight starters on defense, and nine on offense including “Mr. Everything”-Michigan transfer RB Sam McGuffie. The Rice offense was firing on all cylinders by the end of last season and the secondary returns four solid starters. The Boilermakers will also be improved, but coming off of a week #1 blowout win over Middle Tennessee, we think the Owls will catch Danny Hope and company trying to sleepwalk their way through this one. Go with the Owls!
Northern Illinois at Kansas-It’s only been one year, but let’s face it, the Turner Gill experiment has not turned out well in Lawrence. Long gone are the days of Kerri Meier, Todd Reesing, and Aqib Talib. This is the new Kansas who has had two straight losing seasons, are mediocre on both sides of the ball, and will probably run a true freshman (Brock Berglund) out at QB. This is also the new NIU, led by former Wisconsin DC Dave Dorean. The Huskies will have a strong running game despite the loss of Chad Spann, and have a dual-threat leader at QB in senior Chandler Harnish. NIU has proven it can hang with the bottom feeders of the Big 10 (see Minnesota in 2010, and Purdue in 2009-we picked the Huskies in both!) and this year Kansas gets a taste of a still-strong NIU team.
TCU at Air Force-Maybe we’re a little crazy picking against TCU, but Air Force is really good this year. All of the offensive firepower returns, eight starters are back on defense, and this game is in Colorado Springs. The Frogs bring back their own superstars, but Andy Dalton’s leadership will be missed sorely, and three new starters on the defensive line for TCU could give them some issues controlling the triple option. In the long haul, TCU will be a BCS mainstay in the Big East, but we think Air Force scores early, controls the clock, and plays bend-but-don’t-break defense to win this one.
Air Force 19
Cincinnati at Tennessee-It’s unusual to mention how good Cincinnati might be in 2011, and actually talk about defense?!? The Bearcats bring back 10 starters from a season ago, which should help bring that ppg average (26.7) down in Butch Jones 2nd year. Add a healthy Zach Collaros in at QB to go along with the dangerous duo of RB Isaiah Pead and WR DJ Woods, and the Bearcats are in business. Tennessee will also be better in Derek Dooley’s second season, but the Vols’ have recently struggled with at least one home, non-conference game: in 2010 it was UAB, in ’09 it was UCLA and Ohio, ’08 was NIU/Wyoming, ’07 Cal, and ’06 Air Force. There could be early troubles with both the pass rush, and the receiving core. Go with the Bearcats in an upset.
Boston College at UCF-Here’s why UCF wins-QB play. If you haven’t seen UCF QB Jeff Godfrey play, you’re in for a treat; he’s fast, keeps defenses off balance and is accurate when he needs to be. UCF will also pound the ball with their three headed monster at running back. BC can run the ball as well. RB Montell Harris is grossly underrated (1,243/8td’s) but BC has issues in the passing game. Bright House Stadium will be jam packed, and the UCF train will keep rolling.
Boston College 21
LSU at Mississippi State-Dan Mullen has done a fantastic job at Mississippi State, but he has yet to beat LSU in his two attempts. 2011 will be the year the Bulldogs get it done. The Bulldogs offense should be even better this year, and the fact is that a Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M to close out 2010 does not justify the pre-season hype the Tigers are getting. Until proven otherwise, LSU’s Jordan Jefferson is inconsistent at best, and there are question marks in the Tigers running game. If the Bulldogs enter this game 2-0, which they should, an electric atmosphere for a nationally televised home opener should put WR Chad Bumphis and Mississippi State over the top.
Mississippi State 19
Oklahoma State at Tulsa-Oh yeah, we’re going there! We feel this Tulsa team is even better than the strong team they fielded in 2008 (11-3), especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Golden Hurricane will be blown out in week one against the Sooners, which will give Mike Gundy and OSU a false sense of what this team is capable of. Offensively, Tulsa has the ability to set the pace instead of playing catch-up like they had to try and do in Stillwater last year. The Cowboys are still loaded on offense despite losing RB Kendall Hunter, but GJ Kinne really hit his stride in the 2nd half of 2010 and that momentum carries over as Tulsa pulls a huge upset in their home opener.
OK State 45
Washington State at San Diego State-SDSU fans were thrilled over last year’s team, and for good reason. Freshman RB Ronnie Hillman was sensational, as were WR’s DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown. This year, Brown and Sampson are gone, and defenses will be keying in on Hillman until QB Ryan Lindley becomes comfortable with a less experienced group of receivers. Wazzu showed a lot of improvement last season, and should be 2-0 for the first time in a long time as they head into Qualcomm. Wazzu dual-threat QB Jeff Tuel is too good not to steal a couple of wins in his career. This game will be one of them as SDSU fans come back to Earth and realize that they haven’t arrived just yet.
Washington St. 31
Toledo at Syracuse-A Toledo upset over Ohio State was one of the games we considered, but at the end of the day, it was too much too soon. Having said that, anything less than a MAC championship in 2011 should be considered a disappointment for Toledo fans. Tim Beckman has recruited better than some power conference schools in his short stint as head coach of the Rockets. Two years ago, we predicted a Toledo win over Colorado, and last year we called for the Rockets to up-end Purdue. We were right! This year, The Rockets will go on the road and beat a much improved Syracuse. The Orange lose a lot on defense, which will not fare well against a Toledo squad that returns nine on each side of the ball. The Rockets have their strongest secondary in years, and a pass rush on both ends of the line! Bottom line: Toledo has too much offense for Syracuse to keep up with.
Colorado at Ohio State-I know this is a tall order, and my colleagues and I hemmed and hawed over whether to go out on a limb. This seems like the perfect game for the ghost of the OSU scandal to come back and haunt the Buckeyes. This game was scheduled as a one-and-done with Colorado getting a big payday to be a sacrificial lamb at the horseshoe. OSU will not struggle with the likes of Akron and Toledo, and will actually have the Miami game circled, leaving this as a sleeper alert in the making. This will be a homecoming for Colorado standout LB Doug Rippey and RB Rodney Stewart. Colorado’s defense will be much improved in 2011, and without a Terrelle Pryor to worry about, CU will shock the world!
Western Michigan at Illinois-Another game we were divided on was this one. So why pick it? Well, Illinois is very vulnerable this year. They lose a lot of leadership on defense, including Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey. QB Nathan Scheelhaase is a one man wrecking crew, but we feel WMU is the kind of defense to stop him. The Bronco’s secondary is their best since the days of Biggers, Delmas and Fryer and should force Scheelhasse to scramble on their terms. The pass rush is 2nd in the MAC only to Toledo, and the offense that averaged 32 points per game will only be stronger with the return of Jordan White and the emergence of RB Tevin Drake. If last year’s NIU squad can nearly win in Champaign, there’s no reason to think this year’s well-rounded WMU team can’t git-er-done!
USC at Arizona State-This year’s ASU team is one to keep an eye on. The Sun Devils have lost their last two meetings with the Trojans by a combined six points. This year’s game is in Tempe, and QB Brock Osweiler is due for a breakout season. From a straight talent angle, USC is clearly the better team. But they are also a better team with nothing to play for (post-season ban until 2012). USC will probably still win the south, but ASU has not been bowling since 2007 and will be hungry to get over the hump in front of 71,000 fans at Sun Devil Stadium. This game will come down to heart!
Duke at FIU-Every few years a Sun Belt team comes along that makes you really respect SBC football. While Troy has been the torch bearer in the past, this year it has to be FIU. Led by gritty QB Wesley Carroll, and speedy WR T.Y. Hilton, FIU gave Maryland and Texas A&M all they could handle on the road last year, while nearly beating Rutgers at Home. With a year of growth, and new confidence, FIU will finally get a win over a BCS school. With tough games against Stanford and BC, Duke could roll into this one licking their wounds a bit. Take T.Y Hilton and the Golden Panthers!
Clemson at Maryland-If there is one thing the ACC has shown us over the past few years, it is that the conference is loaded with parity right now. Clemson will be very good this year, but the new ACC is loaded with teams that unexpectedly stub their toe in conference. Last year, Miami did it at Virginia and this year Clemson will do the same at Maryland. Over the years, HC Randy Edsall has mastered the art of the upset, and his first one in the ACC will come during the home-coming game against Clemson. While Dabo Swinney and the Tigers are not unbeatable by any means, they should roll into College Park with a low top 25 ranking, and provide just enough red meat to get the crowd at Paul Byrd fired up. Maryland is solid, but not spectacular, and Danny O’Brien will keep the defense honest with his gunslinging all day.
UCF at UAB-If you watched UAB at all last year, you got that feeling that a big upset was not a matter of if, but a matter of when. The Blazers nearly beat Tennessee in Knoxville, and just missed upsetting Mississippi State in Starkville. UAB has a dangerous backfield duo in QB Bryan Ellis (2,940 yds/25td’s) and RB Pat Shed (over 2,100 total yards 7tds). UAB brings back nine on defense, and UCF could have trouble containing Shed in this one. Play this game 10 times with these two squads, and UCF wins nine, but if UAB can hold onto the ball, they’ve got themselves an upset.
Penn State at Northwestern-Pat Fitzgerald is always good for an upset or two (See Iowa the last three seasons). In 2011, homecoming against Penn State will be a happy occasion. QB play is extremely important in the Big 10, and Northwestern QB Dan Persa is a man among boys. With a stronger offensive line, and more capable front four on defense, Northwestern will be able to hang with Penn State before pulling away in the fourth quarter.
Penn State 22
Michigan State at Nebraska-Moving to a new conference is a big transition, and it’s only natural to have a few missteps along the way. This will be one for the Huskers. Many people don’t realize how young the Huskers are on offense with seven projected sophomores/freshman in the starting lineup. Michigan State will be a much more mature team on the road in 2011. This game will be fought in the trenches. The Spartans will rely on experienced RB’s Edwin Baker, and Larry Caper while Nebraska will need an error free performance from QB Taylor Martinez and RB Rex Burkhead. This one will come down to who has the better passing game late in the game, and ultimately MSU’s experience will put them over the top-barely!
Hawaii at Idaho-Last year was a bit of a disappointment for Idaho. The Vandals, coming of a terrific 2009 which ended with a thrilling bowl victory, fell back a notch to a dreary 6-7 record. The good news for the Vandals is they have some talent returning on both sides of the ball. Idaho welcomes Arizona State transfer RB Ryan Bass, and will look to very underrated QB Brian Reader to take over the offense. A highly experienced LB core will give the Hawaii receivers fits all day on crossing routes. The Warriors will be coming off back-to-back wins over cupcakes SJSU, and New Mexico State and will be napping in this one. Look for a high scoring shootout stolen by the Vandals.
Hawaii 49 OT
Stanford at Oregon State-My job is to be somewhat objective, but I’m not good at my job sometimes. I love Oregon State! More precisely, I love Mike Riley. Riley is a motivator, especially late in the year. Stanford QB Andrew Luck is phenomenal, but OSU has a good, up-and-coming QB in Ryan Katz. Katz will play pitch and catch with WR Markus Wheaton all season long. And on this night, OSU’s #12 will go toe-to-toe with Stanford’s #12, and in the process give the Beavers something they missed out on year ago-bowl eligibility!
Oregon State 34
Miami at USF-What would a football season be without USF’s Skip Holtz leading his team to at least one upset? Holtz led the Bulls to a 23-20 win over the ‘Canes a year ago, this year he will do it at home. Nobody’s really sure which Miami will show up-the one with early season swagger, or the one that is prone to terrible QB play and ugly road performances. We are betting on the latter. By this point in the year, B.J. Daniels will have worked out the kinks, the running game led by Colorado transfer Darrell Scott and Auburn transfer Dontae Aycock will be a force to be reckoned with and Skip Holtz will officially be the most hated man in America by Miami fans (besides Jacory Harris).
FIU at ULM-The beautiful thing about the Sun Belt conference is that you can stub your toe once in awhile and still win the conference; this may be the case for the FIU Golden Panthers, as they’re taking a trip to upset city on November 19th when they travel to Louisiana Monroe. ULM QB Kolton Browning is the best kept secret in college football (kind of like Boulder Canyon potato chips are in the snack world, shh!!). Browning is very smart for a young QB, very mobile and very capable of pulling an upset or two. The MMA receiving core or Tavarese Maye, Anthony McCall, and Luther Ambrose is fast and able to cause havoc deep. Combined with the location, and the fact that they traditionally struggle with the Warhawks, FIU’ speed won’t be enough to win this battle, but they may still win the war!
USC at Oregon-Can Oregon go undefeated in the regular season two straight years? Yes, it just won’t be this year. USC may have been the whipping boy for Oregon the last two seasons, but not in 2011. USC QB Matt Barkley is poised for a big season, and the off season has given Lane Kiffin and company plenty of time to figure out how to slow down the Oregon offense. The Ducks lose a lot on defense, and the USC defense is fast and experienced. This will be USC’s bowl game of sorts.
Air Force at Colorado State-It’s not quite one of those epic Thursday night showdowns from the early 2000’s, but do yourself a favor and tune into this one. CSU QB Pete Thomas is the best passing QB the Rams have had since Moses Moreno back in the 1990’s. Thomas is bound to pull an upset this year, as he has a knack of surviving hard hits, and making pinpoint passes when needed. The Rams are more experienced, should have an improved offense all around, and will beat a really good Air Force team. Weather will be a big factor in this one, I gar-un-tee!
Colorado State 27
Air Force 22
Fresno State at San Diego State-This one is gonna’ get ugly. If you visit any of the numerous football message boards in cyberspace, you know the fans of these two soon-to-be conference mates have been puffing out their chests like they’ve actually won something of importance in the past. The fact is that both teams are likeable, and talented, but for as much as Fresno fans dislike Pat Hill right now, he’s a big reason to pick the Bulldogs. Hill is great against higher competition, and San Diego State is just that. The Aztecs lose a lot in the passing game, giving Fresno a chance to key a bit more on stud RB Ronnie Hillman. SDSU’s secondary will enter the season with a lot to prove, and in this one, Derek Carr and Fresno will get the best of it.
Fresno St. 31
Others that were considered, but missed the cut…
SMU over TCU
Arkansas State over Illinois
Ohio over Rutgers
Rice over Baylor
Washington State over Washington
SDSU at Michigan
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