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The First FCS (I-AA) Team to Defeat a AP Ranked FBS (I-A) Opponent; 1983 Cincinnati over Penn State

Posted by Andrew McKillop on August 6, 2011

Penn State went into the 1983 season with a lot of excitement.  After all they were defending their school’s first national championship.  However that excitement quickly faded after Penn State started the season 0-3.  Two of those losses came against ranked opponents (#1 Nebraska & #13 Iowa).  But one of the losses came against Cincinnati, a 14 to 3 loss.  It was a huge upset for Cincinnati, a team that was temporarily classified as a I-AA (FCS) team in 1983.  It’s been widely reported that Appalachian State’s upset of #5 Michigan in 2007 was the first occurrence of a FCS (I-AA) team defeating a ranked FBS (I-A) team.  However Cincinnati’s victory over #20 Penn State was technically the first occurrence of such an upset.

In 1982 the NCAA reclassified a handful of teams to the I-AA level.  Cincinnati was included in that group, but they protested the move and due to a court order they remained classified as a I-A team in 1982.  In 1983 the NCAA reversed their decision and reclassified Cincinnati as a I-A team.  But despite playing a schedule against ten I-A opponents, the NCAA stated that Cincinnati would temporarily be classified as a I-AA team for the 1983 season, since they didn’t participate as one in 1982.

Cincinnati opened their season against Penn State and I’m sure victory seemed improbable.  However after Penn State was shellacked by a powerful Nebraska team 44 to 6 in front a national TV audience in the Kickoff Classic, victory for Cincinnati seemed a little more probable.

Cincinnati was breaking in a new head coach; Watson Brown, who was previously the offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.  Cincinnati may have hired Brown for his offensive genius, but it was defense that won the day for Cincinnati.  Despite only returning four starters on defense, Cincinnati held Penn State to only a field goal.  It was the first time a Penn State team directed by Joe Paterno failed to score a touchdown at Beaver Stadium. ¹

Penn State’s 39-yard field goal in the 3rd quarter culminated a 6-yard scoring drive, setup by a 7-yard punt by Cincinnati.  The field goal marked the last points scored in the game.  Cincinnati’s two touchdown drives occurred in the 2nd quarter.

Cincinnati won the turnover battle.  Penn State turned the ball over five times, while Cincinnati only turned the ball over once.  Cincinnati QB Troy Bodine kept the ball away from Penn State defenders, completing 25 of 36 passes and no interceptions.  Penn State played three different QB’s that combined for 7 completions on 25 passes and three interceptions.  Cincinnati head coach Watson Brown stated “in college football, the team that makes the least mistakes wins the game.  We made the least and won.”¹

Their victory against Penn State was the highlight of Cincinnati’s season.  The Bearcats finished the year 4-6-1.  Although they also gave the eventual national champions a scare, losing to Miami (FL) by only 10 points.  Penn State finished the year 8-4-1, including victories over then #3 Alabama, #4 West Virginia, and Washington in the Aloha Bowl.  On a side note did Joe Paterno lose his luggage on his way to the Aloha Bowl?  Check out his pants in this video clip.

There status as an I-AA team might have been temporary, but it’s important to note that Cincinnati was the first FCS (I-AA) team to defeat a ranked FBS (I-A) opponent.


References: Youngstown Vindicator (1/15/1983), Reading Eagle (9/9/1983), ¹Pittsburgh Press (9/11/1983), College Football at Sports-Reference.com: Cincinnati | Penn State

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