Between the Lines...
This is weekly column found in the Nelly's Sportsline newsletter.
The Big Ten grabbed most of the headlines in the opening weekend but not for the best reasons. In what certainly was a huge upset, #5 ranked Michigan fell to I-AA Appalachian State. The Mountaineers have a very good team with back-to-back national championships at their level so in reality it was not as big of an upset as it sounds. Still a very big upset and a huge story, but probably not the greatest ever as many have stated. The Sagarin difference heading into the game was 25.04, which is substantial, but eight match-ups last weekend featured larger gaps. Had there been a line on the game it certainly would have been less than the numbers that USC, Texas, Oklahoma, or even Penn State faced last week.
Looking at some of the big upsets in our database (since 1980) there were many match-ups that had S/U underdog winners with spreads greater than 30. The two largest upsets by pointspread came in 1985 with Oregon State beating Washington and UTEP beating BYU, both as 36 –point underdogs. More recently the Iowa State win over Nebraska is 1992 stands out as monumental upset and that line was +30. Rutgers and Central Michigan also both pulled off 30+ point upsets in the last ten years. A more shocking recent result might have been the 45-14 blowout win that South Florida delivered on Louisville in 2005 as a 21-point underdog but that game came at home.
Nevertheless, a tremendous performance by Appalachian State and it is good to see the program get some recognition as that win will bring far more attention than the back-to-back national titles at that level ever would. The loss is absolutely crushing for Michigan, who many projected as strong national title contender and certainly the Big Ten favorite. The conference definitely loses some credibility and if Michigan ends up still winning the Big Ten it won’t look good at all, which is still a very real possibility. That said, Big Ten teams went 5-2 ATS last week, SEC teams went 1-5 outside the conference, so it depends on what context you define overrated in.
Rice also lost to an I-AA team last week but for some reason that didn’t grab as much attention. There usually is a few I-AA upsets each season, last year both Colorado and New Mexico did, and the Lobos still made a bowl game. What must be understood is that it is the biggest game of the season for these small schools and it is clearly a warm-up exercise and money-making venture for the big schools. Not to take anything away from Appalachian State or to give credit to Michigan for being unprepared but if the teams met in a different context the result would be different as well. Good Luck.