Friday, December 28, 2007

Dog Days of 2007

To classify 2007 as a season of upsets is like calling Operation Barbarossa a border skirmish. The year that began with Appalachian State's victory at the Big House turned out to be the gift that kept on giving, with nary a weekend without a mind-blowing victory by an underdog.

In the final analysis (so far), because of the abundance of unexpected outcomes, some games in retrospect hardly seemed to surprise any more. For instance, Syracuse's 38-35 win over Louisville was considered a huge upset. At the time. After the Cardinals finished 6-6 and missed out on a bowl game? Not so much.

With the regular season complete and few bowls featuring mismatched teams (what, Notre Dame isn't playing?), it seems safe to call out our 10 biggest upsets of the season, each with significant consequences:

1. Stanford 24, USC 23: Ultimately, the Trojans' inability to stop Stanford on two fourth-down plays late in the game cost them a shot at another national championship. Never mind that USC was playing with an injured quarterback -- it was playing at home as a 41-point favorite. Although the Trojans rallied to win their sixth straight Pac-10 title and a record sixth BCS bowl berth, now they must wonder what it might've been.

2. Pittsburgh 13, West Virginia 9: Needing only a victory at home over a 28-point underdog, the Mountaineers absolutely laid an egg against a ferocious Pitt defense. Like USC, an injured starting quarterback hurt the cause. But the ripple effect was more damaging -- within two weeks, WVU's program would be in complete turmoil after Rich Rodriguez bolted to Michigan.

3. Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32: When this took place, it was upset of the century, or all-time, so thought the Guru. Oops, shoulda waited for the season to get finished. Still, this shocker set the tone for the season. While Appalachian State went on to claim its third consecutive I-AA title, the winningest program in all of football went on to make its first coaching hire in 40 years.

4. Oklahoma 27, Colorado 24: Like USC and West Virginia, this shocking loss cost the Sooners a likely berth in the BCS title game. While OU's loss to Texas Tech late in the season served as the coup de grace, its national championship hopes never regained traction after a late collapse against a mediocre Colorado team.

5. Wisconsin-White Water 31, Mount Union 21: Say what, you ask? OK, it might be Division III, but Mount Union is the absolute juggernaut in this league. The Purple Raiders had won 37 consecutive games prior to the D-III championship game, having beaten White Water in each of the previous two title games. But Mount Union, which averaged more than 54 points in the playoffs, lost three fumbles and blew their shot at a three-peat.

6. Louisiana-Monroe 21, Alabama 14: Nick Saban was fortunate that by the time this happened, most fans were so dizzy with upsets that it flew under the radar. But we cannot overlook the fact that Saban, at $4 million a year, is the highest paid coach in college football. And Charlie Weatherbie, the former Navy coach now at Monroe, is among the lowest paid at $130,000. No poetic justice though -- 6-6 'Bama went to a bowl while 6-6 Monroe stayed home.

7. Navy 46, Notre Dame 44 (3 OT): OK, the Mids finished 8-5 and played in a bowl, the Irish were a terrible 3-9, but this was still a monumental upset. Navy snapped a 43-year losing streak to Notre Dame, dating back when Roger Staubach was its quarterback. We know this is all Ty Willingham's fault, but it's really just Charlie Weis scheming to avoid another bowl loss and haul in a top recruiting class.

8. Illinois 28, Ohio State 21: Clearly looking ahead to its rivalry game against Michigan the following week, Ohio State forgot to take care of business at home against a two-touchdown underdog. The way this game ended was the most shocking: clinging to a 7-point lead, Illinois got a first down on fourth-and-1 in its own territory and ran out the final eight minutes of the game.

9. Western Michigan 28, Iowa 19: Needing just a home win against a 3-7 team to assure a bowl berth, the Hawkeyes fell behind 19-0 and never recovered. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten and once coveted by both pro and college teams, saw his star dim further as his 6-6 team failed to land a bowl bid.

10. Arkansas 50, LSU 48 (3 OT): This upset would've meant more had LSU not miraculously land in the BCS title game just a week later. Ranked No. 1 and playing at home, the Tigers' normally stout defense was gashed by Darren McFadden for 206 yards that nearly earned him the Heisman Trophy. And the loss nearly landed LSU's Les Miles a new job at his alma mater Michigan.

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