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 in their non-conference schedule, while the visiting team, usually from a less prestigious league, collects a big check that helps their athletic department’s overall bottom line.
But while the vast majority of these games result in comfortable and expected victories for the home team, often the visitors turn out to be anything but cupcakes. And sometimes, they even win. Just last year, UCLA lost a home game to Fresno State, eventual ACC champion Pittsburgh was beaten by Western Michigan, and Washington’s inglorious season was foreshadowed by an opening loss to Montana of the Football Championship Subdivision.
FCS upsets are less frequent, of course, but in most years there is at least one Group of Five school that pulls off a road win against a power conference team. This year there are many candidates, but for this exercise we will limit ourselves to games with guarantees greater than one million dollars. In chronological order, these are the games where the visiting school could pick up a big win as well as a seven-figure blessing.
Cincinnati in Arkansas
Date: September 3. Payment: $1.5 million.
This one wouldn’t be much of a surprise, as the Bearcats already claimed a seat at the adult table with last year’s playoff appearance and future arrival in the Big 12. But Cincinnati has plenty of parts of the 2021 team that need replacement. , so a win in SEC territory would go a long way toward cementing 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 the challenges of the SEC West still ahead.
Appalachian State at Texas A&M
Date: September, 10th. Payment: $1.5 million.
The Mountaineers became the ultimate giant-killer in the 2007 season opener when, still a member of the FCS, they entered the Big House and knocked out a Michigan team in the top five. The Mountaineers have continued their winning ways even since moving up to the Bowl Subdivision, posting at least nine wins each of the last five years as they became immediate perennial contenders 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 (Fla.) on the road last year. The Aggies will be well aware of Appalachian State history, of course, but any school that agrees to host the Mountaineers is taking a risk regardless of its ranking.
Brigham Young in Oregon
Date: September, 17th. Payment: $1.1 million.
The Week 3 lineup guarantees games galore, as conference schedules won’t be in full swing just yet. This has the potential to be another Top 25 matchup at kickoff. BYU, of course, isn’t your typical underdog school, it’s also destined for the Big 12 and has a national championship etched in its history. Much of their lineup returns after 10 wins last season. This contest continues an ambitious non-conference roster for the Ducks, who will have faced Georgia just two weeks earlier.
SMU in Maryland
Date: September, 17th. Payment: $1.2 million.
The Mustangs have a new coaching staff, but they should still bring a high-octane offense to College Park, led by quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who threw for 39 touchdowns last season. The Terrapins will have bigger challenges ahead of them as they try to make their way through the rugged Big Ten East, but they will almost certainly be tested here as well, especially if they look past this American Athletic opponent.
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Texas-San Antonio in Texas
Date: September, 17th. Payment: $1.52 million.
We’ll know a lot more about the Roadrunners in just a few days when they open at home against the American Athletic Conference contender and 25th-ranked Houston. But UTSA’s recent run of success, including an 11-2 season last year, in Conference USA suggests it could make things difficult for the Longhorns. Texas will also be coming off a date with Alabama, which could leave them with less than a full tank against an in-state team likely to play with a chip on its shoulder.
Louisiana-Lafayette in the state of Florida
Date: November 19th. Payment: $1.4 million.
The Ragin’ Cajuns were unable to capitalize on last year’s guaranteed game opportunity in Texas, and the program is now under new management after Billy Napier left for work in Florida. But ULL will be catching the Seminoles at a good time on the eve of their annual rivalry matchup with Florida. FSU’s level of interest could also be in question if the team struggles again through the ACC game. We’ve seen the Seminoles lose to Group of Five opponents regularly at home in recent years. This would not be a big surprise.
Western Kentucky at Auburn
Date: November 19th. Payment: $1.9 million.
It’s true that the Tigers were within a couple of points of Alabama last season. It’s equally true that that same team had been in a four-quarter fight with the state of Georgia earlier in the season. In short, you never know exactly what you’ll get with Auburn, which by the way will also have the Crimson Tide date on the horizon when WKU comes to town. The Hilltoppers probably won’t rack up touchdown passes like they did last season with record-setting quarterback Bailey Zappe at controls, but the open system is still in place, and some early successes on the Plains will have the home crowd. . highly strung.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Guaranteed college football schedule games that are ripe for surprises