Upsetting in a Really Good Kind of Way
THE YEAR was just a newborn, less than a day old, when Boise State gave college football fans a first glimpse at the wonders that 2007 would hold. On New Year's night the underdog Broncos, armed with a creative playbook, a daring coach and a talented tailback who was also quite the romantic, stunned Oklahoma and captivated the nation with a 43--42 overtime victory in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Broncos just kept topping themselves. They tied the game on a fourth-and-18 hook-and-lateral play called Circus with seven seconds left in regulation. Then, after his team had scored a touchdown in overtime on a fourth-down halfback pass, coach Chris Petersen bypassed the tying extra point and bamboozled the Sooners with Statue, a sleight-of-hand gambit on which tailback Ian Johnson sprinted untouched into the end zone for the winning two-point conversion. When it was over, Johnson had still one last surprise, dropping to a knee and proposing to his girlfriend, cheerleader Chrissy Popadics, during a nationally televised postgame interview. "She had no idea it was coming," Johnson said.
The rest of America had a similar feeling for the remainder of the delightfully unpredictable year, never knowing where the next surprise was, right up to the first day in December, when the top two teams in the BCS rankings, Missouri and West Virginia, lost. The season turned into an extended version of basketball's March Madness. The question wasn't whether another upset was on the horizon, only "Who?" and "How?"
Who, for instance, was Appalachian State? Before Sept. 1 the Mountaineers were a little-known program in Boone, N.C., and the division formerly known as I-AA. Now they will be remembered as the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision team that went to Ann Arbor and, using the increasingly popular spread offense to pick apart the Michigan defense with surprising ease, humbled the fifth-ranked Wolverines 34--32, on the season's first Saturday. And how could visiting Stanford, a 40-point underdog with a quarterback, Tavita Pritchard, making his first college start, march 45 yards on its final drive for the touchdown that beat top-ranked USC 24--23 on Oct. 6? How, too, could Louisiana-Monroe's 21--14 upset of Alabama pass with such relatively little notice? Maybe it's because by that time—Nov. 17—there were no jaws left undropped.
This is how wild a year it was: Teams ranked in the top five lost to unranked opponents 13 times. The No. 1 team was beaten four times, the most in one season since 1990. For the first time since '96, the No. 1 (LSU) and No. 2 (Cal) teams lost on the same regular-season weekend—then it happened twice more. No favorite was safe, no underdog was without hope, and no fan could have asked for more entertaining, season-altering twists. It was almost enough to make everyone forget that because of the absence of a playoff, there would be no satisfying resolution to the madness.
The spread offense, with its four- and five-receiver sets, was the great equalizer. Teams that didn't have the size and depth to slug it out with perennial powers needed only a few speedy wideouts and an accurate quarterback to move the ball. So the upsets proliferated, with each underdog emboldened by the success of the ones before it.
It was a joyride of a year, one that left us feeling even more like Popadics, the cheerleader who is now Johnson's wife, did on that first night of 2007—a little stunned, but undeniably thrilled.
Erin Go Blah: Notre Dame Hits Bottom
THE SIGHT must have caused any Notre Dame fan to turn away: Brady Quinn, one year removed from being the golden boy quarterback of the Fighting Irish, was wearing the cardinal-and-gold jersey of hated USC. Or maybe Irish-lovers merely shrugged off another indignity in a year that was full of them. When you're already on your way down to the canvas, what's one more shot to the gut?