Here at Crystal Ball Run we try to take a look at the schedule and find some juicy upset potential games to keep a close eye on. To continue our tribute to the Sweet 16 I have come up with a list of 16 games we are ready to slap an Upset Alert label on, with the 2013 season still months away from kicking off.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind. For the most part, I tried to stick to non-conference games. There are rarely conference rivals clashing in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Sweet 16, so I wanted to stick with that theme for this list. We know that Iowa State will take down some Big 12 team on a Thursday night in November and maybe Washington takes it to Stanford or Oregon this year. Here, with one notable exception, we stick to the non-conference tilts, which means we have a lot of early season upset alert potential. Feel free to suggest your own upset alert games, either non-conference or in-conference match-ups, in the comment section at the bottom.
Florida vs. Toledo, August 31 – Toledo has been known to play some offense. Florida has not. The Gators have also been prone to slow starts, which could make for a rough start to the 2013 season. While we expect Will Muschamp to make sure Florida avoids any sluggish performances after the way the Sugar Bowl played out, Toledo still could be a team capable of giving the Gators some trouble in week one. Remember, Bowling Green gave the Gators a good run last season, and Toledo was close to grabbing a spot in he BCS last season before falling to Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game.
Virginia Tech vs. Alabama, August 31 (Atlanta) – Alabama is your clear favorite to win it all this season, with a roster ready to reload and take charge with Nick Saban at the helm. The Crimson Tide have a light non-conference schedule but they open up in Atlanta against Virginia Tech. The Hokies may not be the program they once were, but they still seem like a team worth considering capable of scoring a week one upset against Alabama. Alabama has a clear advantage across the board, and Saban will have all summer to prepare his team. It may be far-fetched, but if the Hokies can find a way to get physical, maybe they can hang with the defending BCS champs long enough to hang in there for a shot.
LSU vs. TCU, August 31 (Arlington, Texas) – Could the first week of the season offer us three huge upsets of SEC powers? Maybe not, but our third upset alert game to keep in mind will take place in Cowboys Stadium in week one. A lot of people may be overlooking LSU right now considering their turnover but Les Miles and the Tigers figure to be a favorite more often than not. Their first test will be to turn back a stingy TCU squad led by Gary Patterson playing in front of what figures to be a decent TCU crowd. TCU will be gunning for LSU to make a statement not only to the Tigers, but the rest of the Big 12 and perhaps even the rest of the country. This would be a nice statement game for the Horned Frogs.
Iowa vs. Northern Illinois, August 31 – Based on last year alone, this may not fit your upset qualifications. The Hawkeyes were a bit of a mess in 2012 and the Huskies went on to represent the MAC in the BCS and the Orange Bowl. In week one we are considering Iowa the favorite for the time being but if the Huskies continue to play at the level they have recently they should be more than capable of picking up an upset win over a Big Ten program, avenging an 18-17 loss to Iowa in Chicago in last season's opening game.
Michigan State vs. South Florida, September 7 – The Michigan State Spartans host South Florida in week two. South Florida is a program that tends to start off well but tail off at the end of the year but this year the Bulls have a new head coach with Willie Taggart taking over. If Michigan State's offense sputters and this turns in to an ugly game (plausible), look for visiting South Florida to start getting some opportunities to take a lead late in the game. Michigan State is as prone to an ugly afternoon as any other program.
Pittsburgh vs. Florida State, September 2 – I am trying to avoid conference match-ups as much as possible, but this one is worth including. In Pittsburgh's first game as an ACC opponent, the Panthers will host the defending ACC champions on Labor Day. Given Pitt's struggles in big games in recent years suggests this will be a tough spot to pull through in, but Florida State is also prone to an upset loss in ACC play every year it seems. Perhaps the Seminoles take their hit early on this season?
Miami vs. Florida, September 7 – The Florida Gators on upset alert two weeks in a row to start the season? Absolutely. Al Golden and the Hurricanes should have played for the ACC title last season but the school voluntarily sat out due to the ongoing NCAA investigation. This season the Hurricanes should be hungry to make a statement, and a home game against the Gators in week two is the perfect opportunity to do just that. Now, if Florida happens to fall to Toledo in week one, the Gators could either be extremely vulnerable or it could be bad fortune for Miami as the Gators will be even more fired up (analysis!). Florida still has the edge in talent, but Miami has some playmakers that could expose some holes in the Gators.
Tennessee vs. Western Kentucky, September 7 – The Vols have been down in recent years but Butch Jones has done a solid job in starting to try and turn things around off the field. Whether or not Tennessee will bounce back in a big way remains to be seen but they may still be considered the favorite when Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky come in to Neyland in week two. The Hilltoppers have been taking steps forward as a program but despite the Vols being down they still may lack the depth needed to leave Knoxville with a win. But the Hilltoppers should be very scary for Tennessee, placing the Vols on upset alert. If you are Butch Jones, the last thing you need is a home loss to Petrino and his Sun Belt program.
Kansas State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, September 7 – Kansas State is coming off a Big 12 championship but the Wildcats lose quarterback Collin Klein as their leader on offense. In week two they host Louisiana-Lafayette, a Sun Belt threat that last year fell to Florida in Gainesville by a single touchdown, which came on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Don't sleep on the Ragin' Cajuns!
California vs. Ohio State, September 14 – The Buckeyes went undefeated last season, Urban Meyer's first season in charge of the program, but there were times they had to really fight for a win. For example, the Cal Bears gave the Buckeyes all they could handle when they visited Columbus last September before Ohio State managed to escape with a win. This year Ohio State makes a trip to the west coast in week three and with Sonny Dykes having a couple of games to get his offense up to speed, you have to wonder if Cal can finish the job this time around.
Kentucky vs. Louisville, September 14 – Louisville has had the upper hand against their in-state rivals and should be the clear favorite once gain this season with teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong ready to lead the Cardinals to one final Big East title and another BCS appearance. This is a classic scenario in which we see a head coach with some potential to turn thing around a bit circle an early season game against the top competition in the state and maybe something big happens. If Mark Stoops and his Wildcats can come up with a home win against Louisville, expect a lot of handwritten letters to Class of 2014 Louisville recruits the following week.
Penn State vs. Central Florida, September 14 – The Nittany Lions got off to a slow start in year one under Bill O'Brien. A slow start could be a possibility again this season as Penn State looks to any of three unproven quarterbacks to take over the offense and the loss of some key defensive players. Central Florida also picked up ten wins last season and could be considered a viable threat in the Big East this season.
Maryland vs. West Virginia, September 21 (Baltimore) – We can poke fun of Maryland's uniforms all we want, but let's see if they can show up and give West Virginia a tough time when they meet in Baltimore in September. The Mountaineers should be your favorite in this match-up but they will have some new players taking over some key positions after losing some quality playmakers to the NFL. West Virginia will have already played at Oklahoma but their games surrounding their Big 12 opener should be easy contests. Maryland will have hopefully established some e identity and perhaps some momentum with a light non-conference schedule against Florida International, Old Dominion and a road game at Connecticut. If Maryland can reach this game at 3-0, they could be a viable threat to West Virginia.
Arkansas vs. Rutgers, September 22 – The Razorbacks were an absolute (motor cycle) wreck last season, but that should take nothing away from what Rutgers was able to pull off in SEC territory last season. Even with the win in last year's meeting, Rutgers should be considered the home underdog this season when Arkansas makes a rare trip in to the northeast in late September. We're going to go ahead and keep the Razorbacks on upset alert for this game as well.
Notre Dame vs. Arizona State, October 5 (Arlington, Texas) – You can always pick a game or two or three off the Notre Dame schedule when compiling these kinds of lists. There are a few attractive looking upset alerts for the Fighting Irish this season, with games at Pittsburgh, Michigan and Stanford and at home against BYU and USC just to name a few. But we're going to single out the game against Arizona State, which will be played in Cowboys Stadium in early October. Todd Graham and his Sun Devil offense could be tough for Notre Dame to hold down regularly (second in the Pac 12 in scoring offense behind Oregon), and Arizona State's defense was ranked second in total defense in the Pac 12 last season.
Wisconsin vs. BYU, November 9 – The three-time Big Ten champions welcome one of the potential BCS busters of sorts in early November when BYU rolls in to town. By this time we could see Wisconsin either making a push for another Big Ten championship game berth or floating in mediocrity, but for now they should be a favorite for this match-up. But BYU can play defense against the Badgers and the Cougars will get a week off to prepare after hosting Boise State. Did we mention the possibility that BYU could be – COULD BE – undefeated at this point?