Original and Historical Sports Research

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College Football Upsets: Small Colleges (FCS) Defeating Ranked Opponents

Posted by Andrew McKillop on August 5, 2011

When Appalachian State defeated #5 Michigan in 2007, the media reported it as the first time a FCS team defeated a ranked FBS team.  It wasn’t the first time though.  In 1983 Cincinnati was temporarily classified as a I-AA (FCS) team, and defeated the defending national champions and 20th ranked Penn State Nittany Lions.

It’s also important to note that the FCS (I-AA) classification only goes back to 1978.  Small colleges had upset ranked opponents before 1978.  Listed below is a list of games I found in which a non-major school defeated a ranked (AP Poll only) opponent.

Determining the classifications of schools is tricky; especially before 1973.  There is a lot of debate on who is a major school and who isn’t.  To determine classification I have used a number of sources: College Football Data Warehouse, James Howell Historical Scores, and Tex Noel from the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association.

If anybody has any additions to the list below please contact me.

I didn’t include games involving military bases during WWII due to the complexity in understanding their classification.

Date Won Rk Lost Score
09/18/1953 Southern Mississippi n 5 Alabama 25-19
09/17/1954 Southern Mississippi n 14 Alabama 7-2
11/15/1958 Quantico Marines at 19 Rutgers 13-12
11/20/1970 Long Beach State 14 San Diego State 27-11
10/27/1973 Louisiana-Monroe 20 Richmond 14-8
9/10/1983 Cincinnati ¹ at 20 Penn State 14-3
09/01/2007 Appalachian State at 5 Michigan 34-32
09/11/2010 James Madison at 13 Virginia Tech 21-16

¹ Cincinnati was technically an I-AA team in 1983.

Note: Miami Florida (1945) was classified as a non-major school by some sources when they defeated major opponent #13 Holy Cross in the 1946 Orange Bowl.

References: College Football at, James Howell Historical Scores, College Football Data Warehouse


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