Pick 6: Unforgettable Openers

Pick 6: Unforgettable Openers

Published Aug. 29, 2012 4:29 p.m. ET

One game can change a season in college football - and it could happen in Game 1.

This season starts with a long weekend of games, kicking off Thursday night and ending Monday night. While the schedule is mostly packed with powerhouse-vs.-pushover tilts, there are some intriguing matchups: Alabama against Michigan, Boise State at Michigan State, South Carolina against Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech facing Virginia Tech.

But as Appalachian State reminded us all a few years back, you never know when a classic is about to break out.

That unforgettable upset makes this Pick 6 of memorable season-openers in college football history.



USC 42, ALABAMA 21, Sept. 12, 1970.

The Sam ''Bam'' Cunningham Game. At this point the legends have probably overtaken the reality, but this much is true: USC fullback Sam Cunningham, who is black, ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries at Legion Field in Birmingham against an all-white Crimson Tide team.

Alabama coach Bear Bryant had already taken steps to integrate the Crimson Tide after years of segregation. But Cunningham and the Trojans made it clear to anyone who was uncomfortable with that plan that if Alabama didn't start recruiting more black players it would not remain a football power.


UCLA 20, NEBRASKA 17, Sept. 9, 1972

The Cornhuskers were No. 1 and hadn't lost a game since 1969. The Bruins were coming off a two-win season.

Led by Mark Harmon, yes the actor, running a newly installed wishbone offense, UCLA snapped Nebraska's 32-game unbeaten streak. Harmon passed for 65 yards and ran for 71 and a touchdown at the Los Angeles Coliseum and Efren Herrera hit a 29-yard field goal to provide the winning margin with 20 seconds left.


GEORGIA 16, TENNESSEE 15, Sept. 6, 1980

Herschel Walker's first game. And on his carry, he brought the house down.

With the Bulldogs down 15-2, Walker ran 16 yards for a touchdown, busting through Tennessee tacklers and running over safety Bill Bates.

The longtime great Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson famously said what everybody else was thinking: ''My God, a freshman!''


MIAMI 31, FLORIDA STATE 0, Sept. 3, 1988.

Bobby Bowden's first preseason No. 1 team was loaded, with Deion Sanders, LeRoy Butler and Sammie Smith, just to name a few.

And the Hurricanes ripped the overconfident Seminoles to shreds, behind a ferocious defense anchored by Cortez Kennedy and Russell Maryland up front.

Florida State didn't lose again and finished No. 3 in the country. Miami lost only once, a 31-30 defeat at eventual national champion Notre Dame, and finished No. 2.


NORTHWESTERN 17, NOTRE DAME 15, Sept. 2, 1995.

Northwestern was the worst. Simple as that. For years, the Wildcats epitomized football futility.

There was no reason to expect anything different in 1995. Then the Wildcats, a 28-point underdog, beat the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium.

Northwestern had not opened the season with a victory since 1975. The Wildcats were far from done, going on to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1949.



The day college football fans became acquainted with Boone, N.C. The Mountaineers were a Division I-AA (now FCS) powerhouse but still nobody gave them a chance at the Big House against the No. 5 team in the country.

The Wolverines had Chad Henne, Mike Hart and Jake Long on a powerful offense, but the defense was helpless to stop Armanti Edwards, Dexter Jackson and App State's spread offense.

Appalachian State kicked a 24-yard field goal with 1:11 left to go ahead and Corey Lynch blocked Michigan's 37-yard attempt as time expired and for the first time a ranked major college team had lost to a team from the lower tier of Division I.


Extra point: The Citadel 10, Arkansas 3, Sept. 5, 1992. The Razorbacks' first game as a member of the Southeastern Conference was one of the low points in program history. After losing to the I-AA (now FCS) team from South Carolina at home, Arkansas coach Jack Crowe resigned the next day. On Saturday, Crowe leads Jacksonville State into Fayetteville to take on the 10th-ranked Razorbacks, trying to pull an even bigger upset than the one 20 years ago.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP