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Uprooting the 'upset'

A new classification system for upsets and much more

Posted: Wednesday October 3, 2007 12:43PM; Updated: Wednesday October 3, 2007 3:20PM
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Wes Byrum
Auburn's win over Florida was pretty surprising, but it was far from shocking.
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All across the country this week, it seems people are still trying to come to terms with what exactly happened in college football last weekend.

They know five top 10 teams (and seven ranked teams in all) losing in one weekend was something eventful. They know it felt kind of crazy. But in the words of the illustrious Austin Powers, What does it all mean, Basil?

Stewart, considering this recent "upset weekend," as well as all the upsets that have been happening since the beginning of the year (i.e. Louisville's, Michigan's, Notre Dame's, et. al.), could you say without a doubt that we'll see more upsets this year than we have in the past 20 years and officially call 2007 the "Year of the Upset?"
-- Nishant Gogna, Gainesville, Fla.

I've got a better idea. Why don't we agree to make this "The Year We Stop Using the Word 'Upset' So Much."

I realize the textbook definition of the word "upset" applies to any instance where "the party popularly expected to win [the favorite] is defeated by an underdog the majority expects to lose" (thanks, Wikipedia). I also realize that in earlier eras, such instances were much rarer than they are today. But in the modern era, how is it that we're still using this one, general term to label such disparate events as Appalachian State's win over Michigan and Auburn's win over Florida?

Meanwhile, it seems the nation's headline writers are running out of synonyms for "stun" and "shock." Either that, or they're not trying very hard. According to my crack research (Google), the phrase "Appalachian State stuns Michigan" appeared at least 81 times following that Sept. 1 game. Who could argue? I know I was stunned. However, another search also revealed 36 uses last weekend of "South Florida stuns West Virginia." Really? The result was admittedly surprising, but was it truly "stunning" the Mountaineers lost on the road to a ranked team that beat them just seven games earlier? Not exactly.

Which is why we need to come up with a new classification system that more accurately reflects the wide variation amongst modern-day "upsets." I'm encouraging the use of three different types:

Level I: Stunners: These are the type of gargantuan upsets that will become increasingly rare in the age of continued parity and should be used only with great discretion. When used as a verb, the word "shock" can be substituted interchangeably for "stun" -- just be careful when using the phrase "shocker," a favorite slang word of 17-year-olds everywhere.

Recent examples: Appalachian State over Michigan, Syracuse over Louisville, Colorado over Oklahoma.

Proper use: "Wow, Appalachian State beat Michigan? That's shocking!" or "Jeez -- Baylor beat Oklahoma and Stanford beat USC on the same weekend? It's 'Stunner Saturday!' "

Level II: Surprises: These encompass the kind of games where you're genuinely surprised at the outcome, but at the same time, it's not like the result comes from completely out of nowhere.

Recent examples: Auburn over Florida, Kansas State over Texas, Illinois over Penn State.

Proper use: "Hey, did you see Florida lost to Auburn at home? That surprises me." Or "Wow -- Michigan State over Ohio State? Vanderbilt over Georgia? There have been a lot of surprises today."

Level III: "Weird ones": These encompass all those games that qualify as upsets, seem like upsets ... but you're just not sure yet how big they are. Maybe you'll know better in a couple of weeks.

Recent examples: Miami over Texas A&M, Maryland over Rutgers, Georgia Tech over Clemson.

Proper use: "Maryland beating Rutgers -- that was a 'weird one.' I thought Rutgers was supposed to be all that?" Or, "There have been so many 'weird ones' in the ACC lately -- I have no idea who's going to win that league."

As for when you should use the actual word "upset" -- you just shouldn't. Really. Leave that one for basketball, with its Coppin States and George Masons.

The increased unpredictability in college football -- a trend likely to continue growing -- certainly seems to have reached a high point this season, but it didn't exactly crop up overnight, either. In fact, I seem to remember some guy writing about it for his publication's season-preview section about, oh, five years ago. Hmm. ... I wonder how I could find that story?

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