College Football’s Greatest Upsets by Point Spread

min read
Sam Herder Jul 24, 2021, 10.34 AM
Members of the Howard Bison celebrate as time expires in their 43-40 win over the UNLV Rebels on Sept. 2, 2017. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

There is nothing quite like being engaged with a blowout football game purely because of the spread. Only those who have an interest in the college football lines or made a bet online are yelling at a team down 38-10 to get a stop. 

For the games below, the fourth quarters were intense for a different reason. The underdogs already covered the spreads, but now fans witnessed some of the biggest upsets of all time.

The college football betting odds said these teams didn’t have a chance to win. As Lee Corso says, “Not so fast, my friend.”

10. James Madison over Virginia Tech

Year: 2010
Spread: 32.5
Score: JMU 21-16

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txsiQYZF0RY

JMU, ranked No. 12 in the FCS, took down No. 13 Virginia Tech for an in-state win. The Hokies held a 17-6 lead in the third quarter before JMU scored the final two touchdowns and held on late defensively to earn the win.

Despite the schools being within 140 miles of each other, Virginia Tech hasn’t scheduled a game against the Dukes since this loss.

9. North Texas over Texas Tech

Year: 1997
Spread: 33
Score: North Texas 30-27

North Texas was a Division I-AA program (now known as the FCS) in 1997 and had no business beating a Big 12 team. But that’s exactly what the Mean Green did. Quarterback Jason Mills completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to Bo Harrison with 1:04 to play for the game-winning score.

8. Oregon State over Washington

Year: 1985
Spread: 35
Score: Oregon State 21-20

Outscored 97-0 in the two games leading up to this one, Oregon State was massive underdogs to a Washington team on a four-game winning streak. In a shocking finish, Oregon State blocked a punt and recovered it in the endzone with 1:29 remaining to take a one-point lead after the extra point.

7. Central Michigan over Western Michigan

Year: 2000
Spread: 35.5
Score: Central Michigan 21-17

This game was played in November and deemed an easy win for Western Michigan. The Broncos were 8-1 going against a 1-8 Central Michigan team. CMU didn’t care, though, as Derrick Vickers threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns in the win.

6. Temple over Virginia Tech

Year: 1998
Spread: 36
Score: Temple 28-24

Devin Scott was a freshman quarterback for the winless Temple Owls going against No. 14 Virginia Tech and the fourth-best defense in the country. The 36-point spread was understandable.

Trailing by 17, Temple scored three second-half TDs to come back and win. Scott threw for 155 yards and two touchdowns and had the game-winning score on a one-yard run.

5. UTEP over BYU

Year: 1985
Spread: 36
Score: UTEP 23-16

UTEP won just one game in 1985, but the Miners made it count. BYU was the defending national champion and ranked No. 7 at the time of this game.  

BYU QB Robbie Bosco threw for more than 4,200 yards in 1985. Against UTEP, he threw for 151 yards and four interceptions.

4. Texas State over Houston

Year: 2012
Spread: 36.5
Score: Texas State 30-13

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVZONAJbCkc

Texas State was in its second year transitioning from the FCS to the FBS, so Houston likely thought an easy win was coming. A 36.5-point underdog, the Bobcats beat Houston by 17 points thanks to a 13-point second quarter.

3. Syracuse over Louisville

Year: 2007
Spread: 36.5
Score: Syracuse 38-35

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkVZ0PLlbHQ&t=1s

Syracuse snapped No. 18 Louisville's 20-game home winning streak in a thrilling game. Andrew Robinson threw for 423 yards and four touchdowns for Syracuse. Louisville’s Brian Brohm attempted 65 passes, completing 44 of them for 555 yards, four TDs, and two interceptions. 

2. Stanford over USC

Year: 2007
Spread: 38.5
Score: Stanford 24-23

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gmj_YmL9a4A

No. 1 USC entered this matchup with a 35-game home winning streak. Stanford went 1-11 in 2006, and its first-year head coach in 2007 was some guy named Jim Harbaugh. No one expected an entertaining game.

Instead, it goes down as one of the more shocking upsets in college football history considering USC was a top program in the 2000s. 

1. Howard over UNLV

Year: 2017
Spread: 45
Score: Howard 43-40

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2n5LD7svfw

It’s just perfect that this one happened in Las Vegas. 

Not only did bettors backing Howard +45 cash in, but Howard received a $600,000 guaranteed payout for playing the Rebels. The country was introduced to quarterback Caylin Newton, the younger brother of Cam Newton, who threw for 140 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 190 yards and another two scores.

Howard is an FCS program, but it’s far from a powerhouse to make UNLV feel better about the loss. The Bison were 3-19 in the two seasons leading up to 2017. They did finish 7-4 in 2017 but then went 4-6 in 2018 and 2-9 in 2019. 

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About the Author

Sam Herder

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Sam Herder is a writer for BetMGM and HERO Sports. A North Dakota State journalism grad, he spent several years in the print media industry before writing for online outlets. Sam has covered sports at all levels — high school, college, and professional — since 2011.

Sam Herder is a writer for BetMGM and HERO Sports. A North Dakota State journalism grad, he spent several years in the print media industry before writing for online outlets. Sam has covered sports at all levels — high school, college, and professional — since 2011.