The Top 5 NCAAF National Championship Game Upsets

The TCU Horned Frogs are hoping to make history on Monday night as they try to pull off one of the biggest upsets in NCAAF National Championship Game history. Here are five other teams that beat the odds in college football's title game.

Last Updated: Jan 7, 2023 7:30 AM ET Read Time: 4 min
Texas quarterback Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl NCAAF
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

When Texas Christian runs out onto the field against Georgia on Monday night to compete for college football’s national championship, the Horned Frogs will be heavy underdogs. The Bulldogs were initially favored by nearly two touchdowns, and even though the line has come down a bit to a 12.5-point spread it’s one of the largest betting gaps between teams in the title game in ages.

But that doesn’t mean TCU can’t pull off a monumental upset. In fact, they wouldn’t even be the first team in the 21st century to win college football’s ultimate prize despite being a double-digit underdog.

Curious who else has done it? Find out as we bring you the five biggest NCAAF national championship game upsets since 2000.

5. Texas (+7) upsets USC (2005)

Many college football fans still consider this the greatest game ever played. The 2006 Rose Bowl saw the Trojans playing for their third-straight AP National Championship, after splitting with LSU in 2003. Meanwhile, the Longhorns were seeking their first crown in 35 years and came in with a 19-game winning streak.

USC were favored by a touchdown on the back of Heisman winner Reggie Bush, with the previous year’s Heisman winner Matt Leinart at quarterback. But the Longhorns had Vince Young, who led them to a 73-0 win over Colorado in the Big 12 title game.

Both teams posted more than 550 yards of total offense, and the game went back and forth all night long. But after Young’s touchdown run with four minutes remaining cut USC’s lead to 38-33, USC decided to go for it on 4th and two just past midfield and failed.

With two minutes remaining, Young led the Longhorns down the field. On fourth and five from the USC nine-yard line with just 26 ticks left, his iconic scramble into the corner of the endzone for his third rushing touchdown capped off the upset.

4. LSU (+7) shocks Oklahoma (2003)

It’s hard to forget the three-way controversy leading into this game. Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in the BCS rankings, but just third in the AP Poll behind LSU and USC. As such, the top-ranked Trojans would watch with the rest of us as the Tigers and Sooners did battle.

The Tigers were a touchdown underdog to the Sooners and their high-powered offense, led by Heisman winner Jason White at quarterback. Oklahoma averaged more than 45 points and 460 yards of offense per game. But Oklahoma quickly learned what a Nick Saban defense can do to shut down a potent offense.

White was blitzed from every angle, with his line unable to protect him. The Tigers held White to just 102 yards passing, and sacked him seven times. They also came away with a pair of interceptions, including a pick-six by Marcus Spears. The defensive end dropped off the line and was in perfect position to intercept a slant, and he rumbled in just 45 seconds after halftime to put LSU ahead 21-7.

Oklahoma would later cut the lead to seven, but it didn't mattered. LSU’s defensive dominance carried it to the upset win and a national title.

3. Florida (+7) annihilates Ohio State (2006)

It’s one thing to pull off an upset. It’s another to utterly annihilate the favorite and make people wonder how they got their predictions so wrong. In the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, the Gators did just that to the Buckeyes. Ohio State was favored by a touchdown, after an unbeaten run through the regular season and a wire-to-wire top ranking in the AP Poll.

Florida controversially got into the game after jumping Michigan in the final poll and narrowly edging them out for the second spot in the BCS rankings. But as the result showed, they deserved their chance to win the title.

Heisman winning quarterback Troy Smith (starting to see a trend?) and speedy receiver Ted Ginn Jr. led an offense that saw the Buckeyes win every game that season by at least 21 points. Ginn put an immediate impact on the game with a 93-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff. However, he suffered an ankle injury during the celebration, and it spelled doom for Ohio State’s chances.

The Gators defense swarmed the Buckeyes, holding Troy Smith to just 35 yards on 4/14 passing and limiting their rushing attack to just 47 yards on 23 carries. Smith also committed two turnovers, and the Buckeyes turned it over on downs at their own 29 yard line in the second quarter. The 34-point margin of cover is tied for the biggest since the start of the BCS era, matched by Clemson in 2018.

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2. Oklahoma (+10) stuns Florida State (2000)

Many football fans who don’t have allegiances to the Sooners have tried to erase the 2001 Orange Bowl from their memories. Oklahoma came into the game as 10-point underdogs, despite having been unbeaten all season and being ranked number one in the AP Poll. The Seminoles were defending national champions, playing in their third straight BCS Championship game.

Florida State was led by Chris Weinke who – you guessed it – won the Heisman Trophy that season. The Seminoles averaged nearly 550 yards of offense per game and more than 42 points per contest, and people expected them to win so easily that Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops had to remind reporters that "we have some athletes too" leading up to the game.

Oklahoma took that disrespect to heart. They played dime defense all game and confused Weinke and his receivers, and when the Seminoles tried to run they were held to less than two yards per attempt. They needed every bit of that play, because their offense managed just one touchdown and a pair of field goals in an utterly defensive rock fight.

Weinke would finish with 274 yards but committed three crucial turnovers–two of which led to 10 Oklahoma points. Florida State’s only points would come on a safety with under a minute remaining as the Sooners pulled off the huge upset.

1. Ohio State (+11) overwhelms Miami (2002)

Looking back at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, it’s ridiculous how much talent was on the field that night. Of the 100 players who participated in the game, 58 of them would go on to play in the NFL. 18 players were taken in the first round, and all but six of the 43 starters would later be drafted. Miami’s defense was loaded with a bevy of riches including Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma, and Vince Wilfork.

When you look over Miami’s roster, it’s no surprise that the Buckeyes, talented as they were, were 11-point underdogs. And if you look at the yardage numbers, you’d think Miami won easily. But Miami repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with bad penalties and costly turnovers. Ohio State got to QB Ken Dorsey repeatedly, and he committed three first-half turnovers. Two of those led directly to short fields and touchdowns for the Buckeyes.

Despite losing star running back Willis McGahee to a gruesome knee injury in the fourth quarter, the Hurricanes were able to battle, and kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime. Miami would score a touchdown in the first overtime and thought they’d won the title after an incomplete pass from Ohio State on fourth down, but in came one of the most controversial flags in college football history.

The Buckeyes would capitalize on their new life with a Craig Krenzel touchdown run from a yard out, before Maurice Clarette’s diving score from five yards out put them up by a touchdown. Ohio State would then make a goal-line stand on Miami’s ensuing possession, sealing the win and securing the biggest title game upset of the century.

Now it’s up to TCU to try to join this list on Monday night.

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