Year in review: The biggest upsets of 2021
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Year in review: The biggest upsets of 2021

Everyone loves a good upset. People tend to take sides when it comes to sports fandom; you either root for really good teams, or naturally gravitate towards lovable losers. The rise of sports betting has changed the sports world in many ways, but one interesting part of its impact is that it's now much easier to quantify just how big of an upset a particular outcome is. The sports world took baby steps back to normalcy in 2021, but upsets never left. Let's take a look at the biggest ones of 2021. 

 
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March 19th: Oral Roberts takes down Ohio State

March 19th: Oral Roberts takes down Ohio State
IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

The Buckeyes were 16-point favorites against the 15th-seeded Golden Eagles, but they were no match for Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas, who teamed up to push Oral Roberts to the win, in the process making them the ninth 15 seed to win a first-round game, and the first since Middle Tennessee over Michigan State in 2016. Obanor scored 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Abmas, the country's leading scorer, added 29. 

 
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March 20th: Abilene Christian sneaks past Texas

March 20th: Abilene Christian sneaks past Texas
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Pleasant's pair of free throws with two seconds left helped put the finishing touches on a comeback that saw 14th-seeded Abilene Christian top the third-seeded Longhorns after being down nine points early in the second half. Pleasant and Coryon Mason paced the Wildcats with 11 points apiece, and guard Damien Daniels chipped in with five steals in the game. 

 
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March 20th: Ohio sinks defending champion Virginia

March 20th: Ohio sinks defending champion Virginia
IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

Technically, the Cavaliers entered the 2021 NCAA Tournament as the defending champions, as the tourney was canceled in 2020. They only lasted a game in their title defense, falling to the 13th-seeded Bobcats thanks to a balanced effort led by Ohio guard Jason Preston, who rose from completely unknown and unrecruited high school player to leader of Ohio's attack. Preston had 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists, and Ben Vander Plas led the Bobcats with 17 points. Virginia fell victim yet again to cold shooting, going just 21-60 from the floor. 

 
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March 22nd: Wright State women shock Arkansas for biggest women's NCAA Tournament upset

March 22nd: Wright State women shock Arkansas for biggest women's NCAA Tournament upset
Wright State on Twitter

NCAA women's basketball isn't often a hotbed for upsets; the top teams are usually just too strong. That's why it's worth noting what 13th-seeded Wright State did to Arkansas, sneaking past the fourth-seeded Razorbacks 66-62 in the first round of the tournament. The Raiders got a 26-point effort from guard Angel Baker, who played all 40 minutes, and they needed almost all of it to overcome 27 points from Arkansas' Chelsea Dungee. Wright State was one of just three double-digit seeds to win in the first round of the tournament. 

 
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March 30th: UCLA shocks Michigan to reach the Final Four

March 30th: UCLA shocks Michigan to reach the Final Four
Mykal McEldowney via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The 11th-seeded Bruins came up one game short of the national championship game, losing to Gonzaga in an all-time tournament classic. Their win to get there wasn't exactly a work of art, but it was still a big upset. UCLA dumped top-seeded Michigan with a supreme defensive effort, topping the Wolverines 51-49. Johnny Juzang delivered a clutch performance, scoring 28 points - no other player on either side had more than 11 - to pace UCLA to victory.

 
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April 5th: Baylor drills unbeaten Gonzaga to win the national championship

April 5th: Baylor drills unbeaten Gonzaga to win the national championship
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears existed in Gonzaga's shadow all season, but when they finally had a chance to prove they belonged with the undefeated, favored Bulldogs, Scott Drew's team seized it, jumping out to a 9-0 lead and never looking back en route to a dominant 86-70 championship triumph. Jared Butler paced Baylor with 22 points and 7 assists, while guards Macio Teague and Davion Mitchell chipped in with 19 and 15, respectively. 

 
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June 6th: Elena Rybakina shocks Serena Williams at the French Open

June 6th: Elena Rybakina shocks Serena Williams at the French Open
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Williams was seeded seventh, and by the fourth round of the French Open, all six seeds ahead of her had lost. It looked like she had a strong chance at picking up her 24th Grand Slam singles title, but Rybakina, the 21st seed, had other ideas. She took it to Williams in the first set, winning 6-3, then succeeded whether others have so often failed, and withstood pressure from Williams in the second set to win 7-5 and claim the straight-sets victory.

 
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September 11th: Jacksonville State's Hail Mary stuns Florida State

September 11th: Jacksonville State's Hail Mary stuns Florida State
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville State, an FCS program located in northern Alabama, had never beaten an FBS school when it rolled into Doak Campbell Stadium, but after a thrilling final-play touchdown, the Gamecocks had not only their first FBS win but a victory over a Power 5 school. Jacksonville State came in a 27.5-point underdog but exited a winner after Damond Philyaw-Johnson's 59-yard touchdown catch, one that saw him beat two tacklers over the last 20 yards to get to the end zone.

 
9 of 20

September 11th: Duquesne beats Ohio for its first win over an FBS team

September 11th: Duquesne beats Ohio for its first win over an FBS team
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Dukes, 28.5-point underdogs, notched their first win over an FBS team in school history with a 28-26 win over the Bobcats. Duquesne's win wasn't fluky, either. The Dukes outgained Ohio 362-307, possessed the football for 41:02, and had 26 first downs to just 15 for Ohio. Duquesne had just three drives in the second half, but they were all at least 10 plays and 66 yards and yielded 17 points. The historic victory was sealed after the Dukes held Ohio on what would have been a tying two-point conversion. 

 
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September 12th: Daniil Medvedev dominates Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open

September 12th: Daniil Medvedev dominates Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Djokovic is clearly the most powerful force in men's tennis, and some feel he is the greatest player of all time. Medvedev cared little about that when the two met in the U.S. Open finals. Medvedev took it to Djokovic right from the start of the match and never blinked, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to secure his first Grand Slam title, while also denying the Serbian star in his quest to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Grand Slams in one season, as well as break his Grand Slam career tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. 

 
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September 12th: Jameis Winston and Saints crush Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay

September 12th: Jameis Winston and Saints crush Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Rodgers and the Packers look like one of the NFL's best teams, but in the season opener, they looked like one of the worst. New Orleans forced three turnovers, two of them Rodgers interceptions, and Jameis Winston threw five touchdowns on just 14 completions, as the Saints were never challenged. That the game was played in Jacksonville because of Hurricane Ida made the whole thing even more surreal.

 
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September 25th: Four-touchdown underdog Bowling Green beats Minnesota

September 25th: Four-touchdown underdog Bowling Green beats Minnesota
Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota came into their game with Bowling Green a 30.5-point favorite, but left a shocked loser, as the Falcons held firm defensively long enough to get the go-ahead score with 31 seconds left in the third quarter, then picked off Minnesota twice in the fourth quarter to seal the win and spoil the Gophers' homecoming. The loss broke Minnesota's streak of 21 straight non-conference wins, which was the longest in the country entering the game.

 
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October 9th: Down its starting quarterback, Texas A&M beats Alabama

October 9th: Down its starting quarterback, Texas A&M beats Alabama
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Hardly anyone beats Alabama, and even fewer teams do it when their starting quarterback is out. The Aggies, 18-point underdogs, bucked that trend, with Zach Calzada stepping in to play the role of hero, going 21-of-31 for 285 yards and 3 touchdowns, and leading two late drives that brought Texas A&M back from a late 38-31 deficit, and led to a game-winning 28-yard field goal by Seth Small as time expired. The game also marked the first time Nick Saban had ever lost to a former assistant, as he had been 24-0 in such situations coming into the contest.

 
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October 31st: Mike White goes crazy and the Jets stun the Bengals

October 31st: Mike White goes crazy and the Jets stun the Bengals
Kareem Elgazzar / USA TODAY NETWORK

The concept of 15 minutes of fame has applied to few players as much as it did the Jets' White. Making his first NFL start, White torched Cincinnati for 405 yards and 3 touchdowns and led New York to a 34-31 win over the Bengals. White's big game was the Jets' first 400-yard passing performance since 2000, and the first by a first-time starter since Cam Newton in 2011. What's more, White looked more comfortable than rookie Zach Wilson ever had. Any chance of a quarterback controversy was dashed when White threw four interceptions just two weeks later.

 
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November 7th: Jaguars shock Bills for one of Urban Meyer's two wins

November 7th: Jaguars shock Bills for one of Urban Meyer's two wins
Bob Self/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

Urban Meyer's tenure in Jacksonville was a complete disaster, of course, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. Jacksonville prevailed in a supremely ugly defensive battle, winning 9-6 over the Bills, who were favored by 14.5 points. Josh Allen - the Jaguars' ace pass rusher, that is - was the star, making history by being the first player to record a sack of a quarterback with the same name. Allen also added an interception, and Meyer had a brief moment of glory in an otherwise horrible, abbreviated tenure.

 
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November 13th: Kansas goes into Austin and hands Texas an astonishing loss

November 13th: Kansas goes into Austin and hands Texas an astonishing loss
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Jayhawks, perennially the Big 12's worst program, staggered into Austin with a 1-8 record, and as 31-point underdogs. Hours later, they left with a memorable 57-56 overtime triumph, one that ended on a successful two-point conversion pass to a freshman walk-on fullback, Jared Casey, who hadn't caught a pass all season. Astonishingly, the win also snapped Kansas' 56-game conference road losing streak, which dated back to 2008.

 
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December 11th: Julianna Peña submits Amanda Nunes, earns massive upset win

December 11th: Julianna Peña submits Amanda Nunes, earns massive upset win
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Nunes, who came in having won 12 fights in a row, was a heavy favorite to retain her bantamweight title entering the fight, but Peña, nearly a 7-to-1 underdog, survived a shaky first round to dominate the second round of the fight, connecting often with jabs, making a tiring Nunes miss repeatedly, and eventually locking in a rear-naked choke, at which point Nunes quickly tapped. The result was immediately viewed by many as the biggest upset in MMA history. 

 
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December 16th: Wisconsin stuns unbeaten Louisville in women's volleyball Final Four

December 16th: Wisconsin stuns unbeaten Louisville in women's volleyball Final Four
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville hadn't lost a match all season and was the prohibitive favorite to win the national championship, but the Badgers, who lost 3-0 to Louisville on September 18th, had other ideas. The Cardinals had lost just one set in their first four matches of the tournament but were locked into a tight, back-and-forth affair with the Huskers, who alternated set victories until claiming the decisive fifth set. 

 
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December 19th: Saints shut out Tom Brady, breaking a 255-game streak

December 19th: Saints shut out Tom Brady, breaking a 255-game streak
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The point spread for this game wasn't astronomical - Tampa Bay was around a 9 or 9.5-point favorite - but the way the contest played out was shocking. New Orleans continued its regular-season mastery of the Brady since his move to Tampa Bay, blanking the Buccaneers 9-0. The game broke Brady's 255-game streak of not being shut out as a starting quarterback and stands as one of the worst performances of his career. 

 
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December 19th: Woeful Lions destroy Cardinals

December 19th: Woeful Lions destroy Cardinals
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions came into their Week 15 matchup with Arizona 1-11-1, but only a week removed from their first win of the year against the Vikings. Still, they were 13-point home underdogs against the Cardinals. Someone should have told Detroit that, because they jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead, stretched it all the way to 27-6 in the early fourth quarter, and cruised to a 30-12 domination that left Arizona, and the rest of the NFL world, shell-shocked. Jared Goff threw for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Craig Reynolds paced Detroit's ground game with 112 yards on 26 carries. 

Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.

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