The 30 Biggest College Football Point Spread Upsets Since 1980

The 30 Biggest College Football Point Spread Upsets Since 1980 article feature image
Credit:

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jim Harbaugh

  • College football teams can be prone for huge upsets when the stars align, and we saw another on Saturday.
  • Wisconsin's loss to Illinois just cracks the top 30.

Illinois knocked off Wisconsin on Saturday in one of the biggest point spread upsets in college football history — the Badgers were a 28.5-point favorite.

No. 6 Wisconsin entered the game unbeaten and hadn’t trailed all season until James McCourt hit a field goal as time expired to win 24-23.

This game just cracks the top 30 biggest upsets of the last 40 years.

Using our BetLabs database and KillerSports.com, we’ve compiled the 30 biggest upsets in college football since 1980 — each one that the underdog won outright at +28.5 or higher.

1. Howard (+45.5) at UNLV

  • Howard 43, UNLV 40
  • Sept. 2, 2017

UNLV hosted Howard in what was supposed to be a cakewalk to start the 2017 season. The Bison finished 2016 at 2-9.

But Cam Newton’s younger brother Caylin Newton, a true freshman, ran for 190 yards, threw for 140 and had three total touchdowns to lead the HBCU to victory.

2. Stanford (+40.5) at USC

  • Stanford 24, USC 23
  • Oct. 6, 2007

It seems inconceivable that Stanford would be a 40-point dog against anyone, given the success the Cardinal’s had in the last decade. But this was Jim Harbaugh’s breakthrough in his first season — Stanford was 1-11 in 2006.

Powerhouse USC had five turnovers and Stanford scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to win 24-23.

3. Syracuse (+37) at Louisville

  • Syracuse 38, Louisville 35
  • Sept. 22, 2007

This game was just two weeks before Stanford-USC — 2007 was a wild year for college football.

A strong Louisville team led by Brian Brohm had won 20 straight at home entering this content. And even with Brohm’s 555 passing yards, Syracuse led by 17 entering the fourth and hung on to win 38-35.

4. Temple (+35.5) at Virginia Tech

  • Temple 28, Virginia Tech 24
  • Oct. 17, 1998

Temple has made big strides as a program in the last decade, but it was 0-6 entering this meeting with No. 14 Virginia Tech in 1998.

The Owls trailed 17-0, but stormed back in the second half to win 28-24. Temple won just a single game the rest of the season — a 34-33 win over Pitt. The Hokies lost just twice more and rolled Alabama in the Music City Bowl.

“I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life,” Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore said after the game.

5. Texas State (+35) at Houston

  • Texas State 30, Houston 13
  • Sept. 1, 2012

How about that for your first game at the FBS level? Texas State out-gained Houston by more than 100 yards and held the ball for 43 of the 60 minutes.

The Cougars had lost quarterback Case Keenum to graduation and coach Kevin Sumlin to Texas A&M.

Mike Nesbitt, Houston’s offensive coordinator, resigned after the game.

6. Oregon State (+35) at Washington

  • Oregon State 21, Washington 20
  • Oct. 19, 1985

Washington was on a four-game winning streak, with three of those on the road, and lost as a 35-point favorite in the ultimate hangover spot.

Oregon State only won three games that season, and wasn’t a favorite in any games where spreads were listed.

7. Idaho State (+34.5) at Nevada

  • Idaho State 30, Nevada 28
  • Sept. 16, 2017

Idaho State almost let this one get away. It led 30-7 halfway through the third quarter before the Wolfpack stormed back to make it a game.

Ultimately, Nevada’s three turnovers did them in during this FBS-FCS upset.

8. Central Michigan (+34.5) at Western Michigan

  • Central Michigan 21, Western Michigan 17
  • Nov. 11, 2000

Western Michigan had won eight straight games, but had three turnovers to CMU’s zero and the Chippewas escaped with a 21-17 win.

8. Liberty (+34) at Baylor

  • Liberty 48, Baylor 45
  • Sept. 2, 2017

These upsets tend to come in bunches, apparently. Liberty beat Baylor hours before Howard upset UNLV in the biggest point spread victory ever.

Baylor went 1-11 in 2017, so perhaps this line never should have been this high. Liberty’s Stephen Calvert threw for 447 yards and the Flames went 17-of-26 on third and fourth downs.

9. James Madison (+33.5) at Virginia Tech

  • JMU 21, Virginia Tech 16
  • Sept. 11, 2010

The Hokies had a five-day turnaround after losing to Boise State, and JMU caught them at the perfect time.

The Dukes became the second FCS program to beat a ranked FBS team. That win predates JMU’s ascension to an FCS power, which culminated with a national title in 2016.

10. Appalachian State (+33) at No. 5 Michigan

  • App State 34, Michigan 32
  • Sept. 1, 2007

Perhaps the most memorable on this list, App State beat the Wolverines 34-32 to open the season. The Mountaineers were the No. 1-ranked FCS team in the country and wound up winning their third straight FCS national title

This game was significant for many reasons — it forced the AP to include FCS teams in the Top 25 poll. It was the first time a team fell from the AP Top 5 to out of the poll entirely from one game. It put App State on the map, despite their previous FCS success, and the Mountaineers made the jump to FBS in 2014.

This was the first game on the brand new Big Ten Network, a showcase of national title contender Michigan. The Wolverines made the Rose Bowl in 2006 — they were minutes from beating No. 1 Ohio State to reach the national title game.