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The Biggest Upsets in KU Football History

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Believe it or not, the Jayhawks have risen to the challenge of knocking off ranked opponents despite having a rough season overall. Any given Saturday, am I right? Let's take a look at the biggest upsets in KU football history.

Earl Richardson/Getty Images

The 2015 season is almost upon us, and the outlook is... well, Kansas fans, it's not promising. This season looks to be a rebuild of the tallest order. The Jayhawks currently have fewer scholarship players than Penn State had after being sanctioned following the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Kansas football hasn't had a winning season since 2008. Things are bleak in Lawrence.

But things have been bleak before. In its history, Kansas football has been quite the roller coaster. Here at RCT, we've taken a look at the worst of times and we've taken a look at the best of times. We've taken it a step farther and looked at the best non-conference opponents and the worst non-conference opponents. We've also taken a look at the worst conference teams that have ever taken the field against the Jayhawks.

I thought instead of looking at the best conference teams KU has ever played, I'd just look at the best teams that KU has ever defeated. That morphed into the biggest upsets of all time. But first, a few facts.

Per the 2015 KU Media Guide, the Jayhawks are 26-159-2 all-time versus the AP Top 25. (That's good for a 13.9% winning percentage, if my math is right.) That includes a 9-90-2 all-time mark versus the AP Top 10. Against teams ranked #1, Kansas is 1-12 all-time. (The one victory came in 1960 versus Missouruh, during the infamous Bert Coan season/game.) In addition, the Jayhawks have lost their last 19 in a row versus the AP Top 25.

What does that mean for this year? Well, most prognosticators are saying that the Jayhawks will be moderate to heavy underdogs in every game this season except for the opener. But what I'm telling you, dear reader, is that statistically, even in 2015 - there's a chance. Now, the Jayhawks have had their share of close calls, even recently - TCU in 2014, Oklahoma State and Texas in 2012, Baylor in 2011. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades (and global thermonuclear war).

So to figure out what games to consider in the "biggest upsets of all time," I once again used the SRS from sports-reference.com. For a detailed explanation of SRS, see the explanation provided in the Worst Seasons article, or click HERE and HERE. Basically, a score of 0.00 is an average team; a score above 10 is a pretty solid team, and a score below -10 is a pretty bad team.

For the purposes of this exercise, I excluded ranked KU teams that lost to other ranked teams. I'm looking for average to bad KU teams that managed to knock off a top 25 opponent. The AP poll started in 1934 and has been going continuously since 1936, so that's as far back as I looked. (However, the AP only listed 20 teams up through 1988; listing the Top 25 didn't start until 1989. Also, from 1962-1967, the poll only listed a Top 10. The more you know...)

With all that said, the way I sorted the list was the difference in SRS score between KU and the opponent. So, you won't see 2010 Georgia Tech on here, because even though KU was pretty bad that year (-8.61 SRS), Georgia Tech was just about as close to average as you can get (0.80 SRS).

Let's get started.

6. 1975 - Kansas 23, @ #2 Oklahoma 3

This game is often mentioned among the greatest upsets in college football history, but let's go ahead and bust that myth right now. Yes, the Sooners were ranked #2. They started off the year as the preseason #1. They would go on to win the national championship despite the loss to lowly Kansas. Wait... "lowly Kansas?" Not so fast, my friends. The Jayhawks, behind Nolan Cromwell, Laverne Smith, and Norris Banks, were actually quite salty in 1975. KU (8.48 SRS) entered the game vs Oklahoma (24.15 SRS) with only a 5-3 record (don't believe Wikipedia on this one), but had played #4 Nebraska close and was coming off a shutout of Kansas State.

As for the game, the Jayhawks took a 7-3 lead into halftime, and in the third quarter, OU melted down. The Sooners turned the ball over on their first 8 possessions of the second half (4 INTs, 4 fumbles). KU did not attempt a single pass over the course of the entire game.

KU would follow the surprising victory over OU with a close loss to #10 Colorado before smoking #18 Missouruh, earning them the school's fifth-ever bowl berth (and third in a seven year span, back when there were only 11 bowl games).

It was a big win for KU and for the program, and if you listen to Sooner fans, many still can't believe to this day that they lost that game. But greatest upset of all time? Hardly.

5. 1983 - Kansas 37, vs #19 Missouri 27

Frank Seurer and Kerwin Bell led the Jayhawks (-0.16 SRS) into the season finale versus #19 Missouruh (10.59 SRS). After a solid start to the season, KU had lost four in a row and five of their last six games, including a 67-13 pummeling by top-ranked Nebraska the week before. The Tiggers were trending the other way, having won four in a row and five of their last six, including a 10-0 shutout victory over then-#11 Oklahoma two weeks prior. In yet another example of how you can throw away the records in a rivalry game, the Jayhawks pulled away from Missouruh by a 37-27 final score.

4. 1974 - Kansas 28, vs #5 Texas A&M 10

In early October of 1974, the Aggies of Texas A&M (14.58 SRS) traveled up to Kansas (3.79 SRS) for the fourth and final non-conference matchup for both sides. The Aggies came in riding high with their #5 ranking, which fell to #16 after the game. A&M would finish the season 8-3 with a #16 final ranking. The victory catapulted the Jayhawks into the polls at #19, but they would only win one more game the rest of the year, losing the final six games of the campaign to finish 4-7. (I couldn't find a box score of this game, but I did find a black-and-white video of some of the action.)

3. 1946 - Kansas 16, vs #16 Oklahoma 13

The Jayhawks had a solid record in 1946, but the SRS gives them no love. KU (1.05 SRS) would finish the season 7-2-1 and share the conference title with OU (13.26 SRS).

As for the game itself, I'll let the Chicago Tribune recap this one for you:

Kansas scored its second upset in a row today by defeating Oklahoma, 16 to 13, on Paul Turner's field goal in the last minutes of play. Turner entered the game with one minute and thirty seconds of play remaining and with Kansas in possession on the Oklahoma 30. While a crowd of 15,000 rain-soaked fans looked on in amazement, Turner made an almost impossible kick from placement. It dealt the Oklahomans their first Big Six conference loss of the season.

Dave Schmidt, end, and Tackle Don Ellinger were the spark plugs in a Kansas line that battled the heavier Oklahomans every second of the game. Oklahoma led in first downs, 7 to 6, and outrushed the Kansans 193 yards to 75. Kansas completed its only two passes attempted for 35 yards, Oklahoma one of eight for 2 yards.

2. 1984 - Kansas 28, vs #2 Oklahoma 11

The final two games on our countdown feature some bad Kansas teams with negative SRS ratings. Kansas (-1.25 SRS) came into the Oklahoma (13.27 SRS) game with a 2-5 record while OU rolled into Lawrence unbeaten (5-0-1, the tie against top-ranked Texas). After starting quarterback Troy Aikman led OU to a first quarter field goal, KU struck back with a 1-yard TD run by Lynn Williams and would not trail again. Kansas would stretch the lead all the way to 28-3 before OU scored a meaningless touchdown with three seconds left in the game. Kansas had not beaten Oklahoma since 1975 (see above) and had not defeated the Sooners in Lawrence since 1964.

My mother remembers this game quite fondly. My folks were living in Oklahoma City at the time, and had been living in Oklahoma since 1981. (Their experience in Oklahoma is why they are NOT Sooner fans! I digress.) Throughout the week, she had been receiving grief from one of the junior high kids at their church, and they finally agreed to a friendly wager on the game; my mom won a can of diet coke.

The upset made the New York Times. You can watch most of the game here. (Love those old-school KU uniforms, btw.)

1. 1978 - Kansas 28, vs #8 UCLA 24

The Jayhawks had quite a tough schedule lined up for themselves in 1978; three of the four non-conference matchups were against ranked foes (#16 Texas A&M, #18 Washington, #8 UCLA) not to mention the three ranked squads in the Big 8 (#13 Colorado, #4 Nebraska, #1 Oklahoma).

After dropping their first two games, at home against Texas A&M and on the road at Washington, Kansas (-3.33 SRS) returned to Lawrence to take on the PAC-10 favorite Bruins (15.42 SRS). With the score tied at 7-7, the Jayhawks put up 21 points in 2 minutes and 56 seconds to take a 28-7 lead. UCLA scored 17 second-half points while holding Kansas to 26 yards of total offense in the second half, but it wasn't enough to overcome the early deficit, and gave KU what would be their ONLY win of the 1978 season.

The game made headlines across the country - "Underdog Kansas flattens UCLA" said the Chicaco Tribune. The 1-10 campaign would be head coach Bud Moore's last season at the helm, and ushered in part two of the Don Fambrough era.

Below is the table I compiled for this article with all of the wins an unranked Kansas team has claimed over ranked foes.

Year H / A / N Opponent Score KU Rk Opp Rk Opp SRS KU SRS Difference
1992 N BYU 23-20 25 7.49 8.67 -1.18
1975 H vs Missouruh 42-24 18 14.29 13.82 0.47
1980 H Iowa State 28-17 19 8.64 8.14 0.50
1983 A Southern Cal 26-20 10 2.05 -0.16 2.21
1967 H Nebraska 10-0 8 7.63 5.17 2.46
1976 A Missouruh 41-14 19 14.47 11.24 3.23
2005 H Iowa State 24-21 25 8.48 5.22 3.26
2008 N Missouruh 40-37 12 13.11 9.23 3.88
2003 H Missouruh 35-14 23 6.45 -0.59 7.04
1977 H Washington State 14-12 15 8.71 1.20 7.51
2010 H Georgia Tech 28-25 15 0.80 -8.61 9.41
1998 H Colorado 33-17 17 8.81 -0.74 9.55
1975 A Oklahoma 23-3 2 24.15 13.82 10.33
1983 H Missouruh 37-27 19 10.59 -0.16 10.75
1974 H Texas A&M 28-10 5 14.58 3.79 10.79
1946 H Oklahoma 16-13 16 13.26 1.06 12.20
1984 H Oklahoma 28-11 2 13.27 -1.25 14.52
1978 H UCLA 28-24 8 15.42 -3.33 18.75

The first thing that stood out to me is that of the 18 games on the list, 13 of those wins came in good ole Lawrence, KS. Only three came on the road and only two came at a neutral site. So take heart, loyal season ticket holders. You just might see one of the biggest upsets of all-time this fall.

One more final fun fact for you - the Jayhawks are 2-3 all-time vs Oklahoma when the Sooners are ranked #2. Maybe next time they get up that high, we'll even up that record to 3-3.