7 college football teams that will earn a big payday — and could pull off an epic upset


Guaranteed games have been a part of the college football landscape for a long time. For the most part, such contests are mutually beneficial. The host school fills out its non-conference schedule, while the visiting team, usually from a less prestigious league, cashes a big check that helps the overall performance of its athletic department.

But while the vast majority of these games result in comfortable and expected wins for the hosts, often the visitors prove to be anything but pushovers. And sometimes they even win. Just last year, UCLA dropped a home game against Fresno State, eventual ACC champion Pittsburgh was tripped by Western Michigan and Washington’s inglorious season was foreshadowed by an opening loss to Montana in the Football Championship Subdivision.

FCS upsets are less common, of course, but most years there is at least one Group of Five school that pulls off a road win against a power conference team. There are many contenders this year, but for this exercise we’ll limit ourselves to games with guarantees over a million dollars. In chronological order, here are the games in which the visiting school could earn a big win in addition to a seven-figure giveaway.

Cincinnati, Arkansas

Date: September 3. Payment: 1.5 million dollars.

That wouldn’t be a huge shock, as the Bearcats have already clinched a spot at the big table with last year’s playoff appearance and future arrival in the Big 12. But Cincinnati has several parts of its 2021 team that need replacing, so a win in SEC territory would go a long way toward bolstering the program’s long-term viability as a power player. But the game is just as important for the Razorbacks, who need all the quality wins they can get with SEC West challenges still ahead.

Appalachian State at Texas A&M

Date: September 10. Payment: 1.5 million dollars.

The Mountaineers became the ultimate giant killer in the 2007 season opener when, still in the FCS, they entered the Big House and took down a top-five Michigan team. The Mountaineers have continued their winning ways even since moving up to the Bowl Subdivision, recording at least nine wins each of the past five years while becoming an immediate perennial contender in the Sun Belt. Their last three games against Power Five schools were losses to North Carolina and South Carolina in 2019 and a narrow loss to Miami (FL) on the road last year. The Aggies will be well aware of Appalachian State’s history, of course, but any school that agrees to host the Mountaineers is taking a risk regardless of its ranking.

Appalachian State wide receiver Thomas Hennigan (5) makes a tackle on North Carolina defensive back Greg Ross (10) during halftime at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Brigham Young in Oregon

Date: September 17. Payment: 1.1 million dollars.

The Week 3 lineup is guaranteed to feature plenty of games, as the conference schedules won’t be in full swing yet. This has the potential to be another Top 25 race at kickoff. BYU, of course, is not a typical underdog school, also committed to the Big 12 has a national championship etched into its history. Much of their lineup returns after 10 wins last season. This contest continues an ambitious non-conference schedule for the Ducks, who will have faced Georgia just two weeks earlier.

SMU in Maryland

Date: September 17. Payment: 1.2 million dollars.

The Mustangs have a new coaching staff, but should bring a high-octane offense to College Park, led by quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who threw for 39 touchdowns last season. Bigger challenges lie ahead for the Terrapins as they try to make progress in the tough Big Ten East, but they will almost certainly be tested here as well, especially if they get past this American Athletic rival.

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Texas-San Antonio in Texas

Date: September 17. Payment: $1.52 million.

We’ll learn a lot more about the Roadrunners in just a few days as they open at home against American Athletic Conference contender and 25th-ranked Houston. But UTSA’s recent success — including an 11-2 season last year — in Conference USA suggests it could make things difficult for the Longhorns. Texas will also have a date with Alabama, which could leave them with a less than full tank against an in-state team that will certainly be playing with a chip on their shoulder.

Louisiana-Lafayette at Florida State

Date: November 19. Payment: 1.4 million dollars.

The Ragin’ Cajuns were unable to capitalize on last year’s guarantee game opportunity in Texas, and the program is now under new management after Billy Naiper left for the Florida job. But ULL will catch the Seminoles at a good time on the eve of the annual rivalry matchup with Florida. FSU’s interest level could also be questioned if the team struggles again through ACC play. We’ve seen the Seminoles beat Group of Five opponents regularly at home in recent years. That wouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

Western Kentucky at Auburn

Date: November 19. Payment: 1.9 million dollars.

It’s true that the Tigers came within two points of Alabama last season. It’s just as true that the same outfit had struggled for four quarters against Georgia State earlier in the campaign. In short, you never know exactly what you’re going to get with Auburn, which incidentally will also have the date with the Crimson Tide on the horizon when WKU comes to town. The Hilltoppers likely won’t be racking up touchdown passes like they did last season with record-setting QB Bailey Zappe at the controls, but the wide-open system is still in place and some early success on the Plains will have the crowd going. nervous.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: These big-ticket college football guarantee games are primed for upsets

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