As hard as it is to believe today, prior to the mid-50’s, the college football season didn’t start until OCTOBER! The very first “September Shocker” came on September 7, 1955 when top-ranked UCLA lost to #5 Maryland, 7-0. That game ball is now on display in the Hall of Fame.
Once the start of the season moved earlier on the calendar, the opportunity for those early September upsets increased. Defending National Champion, Southern Cal lost early to #3 Oklahoma in 1963 and two top ranked Notre Dame teams lost early to Purdue in 1965 and 1967. When Purdue beat the top ranked Irish in 1968 for the third time in 4 years, they earned the title of Spoilermakers.
In 1972, Nebraska entered the season as the two-time defending national champion and hadn’t suffered a loss in 32 consecutive games. You know what comes next. In the season opener, UCLA led by quarterback Mark Harmon upset the Cornhuskers 20-17 and a future television NCIS agent was born! Two other pre-season #1 teams lost their openers when Mississippi lost to Kentucky in 1964 and Auburn was upset by Miami (FL) in 1984.
The 1981 season saw back-to-back weeks where the #1 team went down early. Top-ranked Michigan lost 21-14 to an unranked Wisconsin team which was the only real “Shocker” putting Notre Dame in the top spot the following week. Unfortunately ND had to play a Michigan team looking to rebound and lost the #1 ranking as quickly as they achieved it. Week three of that year had no shortage of drama with new #1 USC taking on #2 Oklahoma, but the upset train ended there with USC holding on for the win.
The good news is a September lost isn’t fatal. Just this past season, #8 Ohio State lost on September 7th to Virginia Tech and fell to #22 in the poll that week and #23 the next. From there, they won their next 13 games in succession defeating top-ranked Alabama and Oregon to claim the 2014 National Championship.
In closing, we would be remiss if we failed to mention the ultimate “September Shocker” when Appalachian State upset #5 Michigan in 2007. Appalachian State Coach and Hall of Famer, Jerry Moore said after the win, “We’re still sort of shocked.” This game will be the topic of next week’s blog.