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It's Not Unprecedented - Preseason No. 1 Teams That Lost Their Openers

Gobbler Country looks back on preseason No. 1 college football squads that have dropped their season openers.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Since 1936 the Associated Press (AP) has provided a college football poll communicating their opinion of the best teams in the country. Through the decades the rankings have been different from what is currently produced. At one point, in the mid-1960s, the AP only ranked the top ten teams! The current Top 25 format was adopted in 1989. Since the AP implemented its current poll format no football program has received a unanimous preseason number one ranking in the AP poll. The 2015 AP Top 25 College Football Poll was released on Sunday, and the Ohio State Buckeyes are the first team to be unanimously preseason ranked number one in the poll. An auspicious achievement and one that we here at Gobbler Country hope will be short lived.

Being the top preseason team provides no guarantee for an opening victory.  In two weeks the Virginia Tech Hokies will face the very first unanimous number one team in the AP Top 25 College Football Poll when the Ohio State Buckeyes invade Blacksburg on Monday September 7. VPI is no stranger to opening the season against number one teams. Most recently, in August 2013, VT lost to preseason number one Alabama, 10-35. Ohio State represents the third preseason number one team that Virginia Tech has faced in game one since 2004.

As Virginia Tech prepares to face, arguably, their most daunting opening match-up, Gobbler Country will explore seven games where the preseason number one squads failed to achieve opening victories. We do this in order to harvest hope and continue fanning the optimism burning within the Hokie faithful. To frame the discussion the games will be ranked, from bottom to top, taking into consideration how each game could most realistically reflect the situation facing VPI.

7. 1976: No.1 Nebraska ties unranked LSU
In front of 70,000 fans at Baton Rouge the preseason number one Nebraska Cornhuskers failed to defeat the unranked Louisiana State Tigers. In what can only be described as a defensive battle, Nebraska scored a singular touchdown in the first half, but failed to convert the extra point. That TD proved to be the only points produced by Nebraska, and LSU eventually tied the game with two field goals in the second half. The game ended in a draw, 6-6. Although, like LSU, VT starts the season unranked and facing a No. 1 team, the reality is that NCAA FBS games can no longer end in a tie. As a result, the 1976 match between number one Nebraska and unranked LSU is an impossible outcome between VT and OSU.

6. 1984: No. 1 Auburn loses to No. 14 Miami
The 1984 Auburn Tiger squad not only dropped their opening match against Miami (final, 18-20), they failed to win their second matchup against No. 4 Texas (final, 27-35). Although Auburn managed to maintain a presence in the top 20, and win the Liberty Bowl that December, they never lived up to the hype of being the top preseason team. Suffice to say, Virginia Tech is not a ranked team, as Miami was when they defeated No. 1 Auburn. Additionally, the 2015 Ohio State Squad has decidedly more talent than the Auburn effort in 1984.

5. 1989: No. 2 Michigan loses to No.1 Notre Dame
Reading the above statement might lead the reader to believe that the Michigan Wolverines defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 1989, but in fact it was Notre Dame who defeated Michigan. Michigan was the preseason number one team while Notre Dame was number two. But, Notre Dame beat the Virginia Cavaliers in the 1989 Kick-off Classic while Michigan remained stationary in week one. The initial rankings, post season start, resulted in (1-0) Notre Dame jumping (0-0) Michigan in the polls, before the Fighting Irish went to play the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. As a result, Michigan was No. 2 when they lost their season opener, but remained the preseason No. 1 when Notre Dame defeated them, 24-19. This matchup was between two initially highly ranked and talented teams. While this is a defeat of a preseason number one at their opener the Hokies are nowhere near as respected, in the polls, as Notre Dame was in 1989.

4. 1990: No. 1 Miami loses to No. 16 BYU
Before hosting the Miami Hurricanes at Provo, the BYU Cougars warmed up with a win over UTEP the week before. The defending National Champions were summarily shredded by Ty Detmer who passed for 408 yards, and led BYU to a 28-21 victory, despite five BYU turnovers. This is another example of a respected, ranked team, defeating the preseason number one. Virginia Tech is not ranked, and they also do not have the luxury of a warm up game prior to facing Ohio State this year. But, VPI, like BYU, is hosting the previous year’s National Champion squad’s opening game in a contest they are not favored to win.

3. 1988: No. 1 FSU loses to No. 6 Miami
Both the 1988 the Florida State and Miami squads were powerhouse teams that only suffered a single loss all season. Miami finished the season ranked second behind undefeated National Champions Notre Dame, and FSU ended the season ranked third. FSU was absolutely devastated by Miami 0-31. After that crushing defeat FSU went on to win 11 straight and beat No. 7 Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Virginia Tech is not a top ten ranked team and the reality is that VT will most likely not come close to finishing second in the polls at the completion of the 2015 season. What are the similarities? Last year, National Champions Ohio State record was 14 and Virginia Tech. Although it was the second game of the season, VT’s defeat of OSU is an early loss delivered to a team that went on to achieve the pinnacle of success in FBS, and OSU never lost another game. FSU did not win the National Championship, but they finished No. 2, and after their defeat at the hands of Miami they went on to win every single game they played in the remainder of the 1988 season. The only preseason ranked team Ohio State will face in 2015 are the No. 5 Michigan State Spartans on November 21. If [when] VT defeats Ohio State, it is entirely feasible that they, just like the 1988 FSU squad, will complete the regular season without another loss. VT has already performed in the manner as the 1988 Miami squad. The question is can VPI repeat?

2. 1981: No.1 Michigan loses to unranked Wisconsin
On September 12, 1981 the Michigan Wolverines opened their season in Madison where they suffered a 14-21 defeat at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers. After their stunning upset, the 1981 Wisconsin squad flirted with being ranked, but never maintained a consistent presence in the polls, and finished outside of the rankings. Wisconsin is starting to look a lot like the best case scenario for the Hokies, and shares several similarities. VT is opening against the number one team in the nation, just like Wisconsin. The Hokies are coming off a challenging, lackluster previous season, just like the Badgers. VPI is hoping to improve on their preceding season, just like Wisconsin. Last year, after beating Ohio State, VT dropped their very next game… just like Wisconsin did against UCLA after beating Michigan. The parallels between VT and Wisconsin are remarkable. If the 2015 Fighting Gobblers can demonstrate the same temerity that the 1981 Badgers exhibited against Michigan the Hokies have a fighting chance at, not only improving on their previous season’s efforts, but defeating the very first unanimous AP No. 1 team.

1. 1972: No.1 Nebraska loses to unranked UCLA
On September 9, 1972 the UCLA Bruins hosted Nebraska. Nebraska had won two consecutive National Championships in 1970 and 1971. Additionally, the Cornhuskers carried with them eventual Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Rodgers. When they arrived in Los Angeles the Huskers were riding a 32 game winning streak that stretched all the way back to 1969. The 1971 season had been brutal for UCLA. They finished a dismal 2-7-1, and were decided underdogs in their opening game against the monolith that was Cornhusker football. UCLA shocked the athletic world when they defeated Nebraska 20-17. This victory catapulted the unranked Bruins into the top ten at number eight. UCLA ended up dropping three games throughout the season, but never left the top 20. They finished the season 8-3 and ranked a respectable 15 in the final AP poll. Of all the squads to defeat preseason number one teams the 1972 UCLA effort embodies what VT fans hope for, and what the 2015 Hokie squad is capable of achieving. The similarities, listed above, that VT shares with the 1981 Wisconsin badgers, are also present in the 1972 UCLA campaign. In addition to those similarities the Nebraska squad characterizes the near overwhelming reality that the 2015 Buckeyes represent. They carry with them one of the preseason favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. While Ohio State does not own the same winning streak that Nebraska brought to UCLA, they are one of the most talented college football teams, ever. Nobody thinks VT can win. Nobody thought UCLA could win. There is one significant difference though. Virginia Tech went into the National Champion’s house and beat them in front of the third largest crowd the Horseshoe has ever hosted. At the time it was the largest, but two following 2014 games against Cincinnati and Michigan eclipsed the VT game attendance. Virginia Tech beat OSU in one of the most hostile environments in college football. Now, the Hokies host the Buckeyes in one of the most hostile environments in college football.

Anyone that has ever experienced a game at Lane Stadium knows that there is something special about the environment, particularly when it is at night. There is a supernatural air about Blacksburg when the sun sets. The Hokies have no business beating Ohio State, but I fully feel that they will. Virginia Tech will, in all reality, not be in the running for the College Football Playoff. Ohio State will, most likely, go on to win a second National Championship. Regardless, I believe that the Buckeyes will leave Blacksburg with a loss.

Let’s. Go. Hokies.