To me, upsets and the magnitude of an upset, are defined by the following:
- The perceived status of the opponent you are playing
- Your perceived status
- The location of the game
- The stakes that exist at the time of the game
- The time of the year the game is played
- How the teams involved finish their season.
By that criteria then, one can make the case that a Boston College win over Florida State today may be—and, I would argue, would be—the greatest upset in Boston College football history.
Yes, BC had the early season win over #9 (at the time) USC, but look for a moment at the criteria above and how few of those match that win over the Trojans.
- Perceived status of your opponent: check that box. USC was #9 and climbing. There were those who thought if USC could stay healthy and depth didn't become an issue, that they were national title contenders.
- Perceived status of your team: check that box too. The Eagles certainly were not viewed as serious challengers to USC. They had just gotten flattened by Pittsburgh and most were saying that BC was a borderline bowl team at best. Vegas had them a 20 point underdog.
- After that, though, the checked boxes stop. Location of the game. BC was playing at home, so less of a surprise than winning on the road.
- The stakes that exist at game time...not so much. USC was in the top 10, but there was just so far to go in the season at that point and BC was playing for very little other than perception on the national stage.
- Time of year: also can't check this box. This was a mid September game and championships—although they can be lost in September—can't be won til the end of the season.
- How will the teams finish: well, BC can still win nine games, which makes them a pretty strong team. Even if they win just six, they are far from awful. USC meanwhile could conceivably wind up with five or six losses...the juice from that win has gotten a bit stale.
- Perceived status of the opponent: tough to get much higher. The Noles are winners of 26 in a row and are #3 in the country, in addition to being the reigning ACC and national champions and toting around the reigning Heisman Trophy winner as well.
- Perceived status of your own team: perhaps not as down as what people felt about BC prior to the USC game, but this is still a 6-4 team and comes in as a 20 point underdog to FSU. There was a time when the ESPN football power index had FSU over a 99% chance of beating BC, that's down now, but 92.3% as of today is still pretty strong.
- Location of the game: the Eagles go on the road to what has always been considered one of the more difficult environments in all of college football.
- The stakes that exist: what more do you want? FSU needs to win just three more games against teams they will be heavily favored against to reach the college football playoff. Any loss, though, based on their strength of schedule, would most likely eliminate even a one-loss Nole team from that discussion.
- Time of the year: big check box here. We are in November. Late November. This is the same week that BC pulled off what I still consider its biggest upset ever: beating #1 Notre Dame, who only needed to win that came to play for the national title, in 1993. This is winning time.
- How the teams will finish: well, from the notes about USC above, BC could be good or fair...FSU could be considered immortal.