It’s Underdog Week here at SB Nation, a time to reflect on one of the most magical happenings in sport: the upset. We’d all love to have a team that’s so successful that they are favored almost every week. But there’s also something special about the wins that come out of nowhere. When on paper there’s no logical reason your team should win, but they do it anyway. These are the games we remember, and the games that keep us coming back every week hoping to witness the next one.
The Texas A&M football program has had their share of good seasons and bad in the past few decades, but even in the bad, there have still been the rare Saturdays when everything comes together and something amazing happens. With that in mind, we take a look back and rank A&M’s top 12 (#branding) upsets of the past 30 years.
Oct. 6, 2018
Beating Kentucky in football won’t get you a lot of style points most years, but A&M’s lone matchup against the Wildcats since joining the SEC just happened to come during Kentucky’s only 10-win season in the past 42 years. The Wildcats’ came into the game undefeated, and their powerful running attack led by Benny Snell was held to only 70 yards.
It was the first Power 5 win at Kyle Field in the Jimbo Fisher era, and only the third time since joining the SEC that the Aggies defeated a ranked conference opponent on their home turf. The overtime victory seemed like a prime example of game that A&M would have lost during Kevin Sumlin’s tenure, and provided a spark of hope for what the future might hold.
Nov. 20, 2010
The game itself was a defensive slugfest, and it will be remembered as one of the more raucous nights in Kyle Field’s history. With more than 90,000 fans packed into a pre-renovation Hate Barn, the 12th Man powered the Aggies to their fifth straight win after starting the season 3-3 and let the 12th Man towels rain from the sky when the game ended.
A&M would go on to beat Texas the following week to secure what at the time was only their second 9-win season of the millennium.
Nov. 23, 2007
2007 might have been a down year for Texas based on their standards during the peak of the Mack Brown era, but an upset win over the hated Longhorns will always spark joy. Most notably, this was A&M’s first victory over Texas at Kyle Field since 1999 (we’ll get to that game later), and the first time they’d beaten the Longhorns in consecutive seasons since winning four straight from 1991-1994. Head coach Dennis Franchione announcing his resignation during the postgame press conference was the cherry on top.
Nov. 8, 2014
This game might have been one of the more unexpected wins on this list. Sure, the Aggies were ranked 24th at the time, but context matters. After starting the season 5-0 and rising to #6 in the country, A&M suffered three blowout SEC losses, saw starter Kenny Hill suspended/benched, and was coming off of an uninspiring 21-16 win over Louisiana Monroe. A&M was a ranked team that had not played like one in over a month, and headed into Auburn to face a 7-1 Tigers team who had just knocked off #4 Ole Miss and was very much in the national title hunt. But a blocked field goal for a touchdown and a couple crazy fourth quarter fumbles later, A&M snuck away with a huge upset victory. Meanwhile Auburn would subsequently see the wheels fall off, losing 3 of their next four games, with their only win coming over Samford.
Oct. 10, 1998
In 1998, Nebraska was still at the height of their powers. While they were in year one under new head coach Frank Solich, they were the defending national champions and had won the conference (Big 8/Big 12) seven years running (including defeating A&M in the Big 12 Championship Game one year prior). Add in that this was the first ever Maroon Out game, and this stands as one of the more regular significant victories in A&M history. It would propel them to a second straight Big 12 title game, while handing the Cornhuskers their first loss of the season (in what would turn out to be their first four-loss season since the 1960s).
Nov. 24, 2006
In what was easily the highlight of the Dennis Franchione era, the Aggies knocked off the Longhorns in Austin when QB Stephen McGee scored a touchdown with 2:32 remaining in the game, capping a 16-play, 88-yard drive that ate up almost nine minutes of game clock. Aggies came to know it simply as “The Drive.” The Longhorns would try to mount one last scoring drive, but stalled out when Colt McCoy was carted off the field following a hit from Michael Bennett with 0:20 on the clock. The loss cost the defending national champion Longhorns a berth in the Big 12 Championship game.
Nov. 24, 2018
If the overtime victory against Kentucky earlier in the season gave Aggie fans hope that the Jimbo Fisher era would be different, then this game confirmed it. In a game that had so many twists and turns that it’s hard to even recap it, A&M defeated LSU for the first time since joining the SEC in the highest-scoring game in college football history.
A game-clinching INT was overturned, ice from a premature Gatorade bath had to be swept off the field, officials had to add one second back onto the clock before Kellen Mond through a game-tying touchdown pass with no time left. And that was all before overtime even started. Still easily the craziest game I’ve ever seen in person.
Nov. 9, 2002
2002 was an otherwise dismal season in which A&M finished 6-6 (3-4 at home) and didn’t go to a bowl game, after which longtime coach R.C. Slocum was fired. But oh boy what a bright spot this game was.
After incumbent starter Dustin Long struggled early, Slocum inserted true freshman quarterback Reggie McNeal. The Lufkin product immediately showed why he had been such a highly touted recruit, showing off his speed and using play action fakes in the passing game, McNeal ran for 89 yards and passed for 191 more, throwing four touchdowns on only eight completions. The Sooners would go on to win the Big 12, but the loss in College Station combined with one in Stillwater two weeks later ensured that they were out of the national title hunt after winning it all only two years earlier.
McNeal would go on to be turned into an option quarterback by Dennis Franchione.
Dec. 29, 1990 (Holiday Bowl)
It was a classic “we don’t want to be here” scenario. BYU had risen to #4 in the country before a loss to Hawaii in the last game of the regular season dashed their national title hopes and dropped them to #13 in the polls. They suddenly found themselves playing an unranked A&M squad in the Holiday Bowl, a matchup that many BYU fans felt was beneath them. But the A&M offense totaled 680 total yards, while the Wrecking Crew defense forced four turnovers and gave BYU QB Ty Detmer two seperated shoulders, which would require offeseason surgery to repair.
The win served as a springboard for one of the most dominant stretches in Aggie football history, as they would go on to win 10+ games in each of the next four seasons, including three straight Southwest Conference titles (and what would have been a fourth in 1994 were it not for NCAA probation).
Nov. 20, 2012
Oh what a day this was. In a season full of highs, this was the highest of highs. First year in the SEC, going into Bryant Denny and knocking off the Crimson Tide to solidify Johnny Manziel’s Heisman candidacy (including having his “Heisman Moment”). At the time we thought this was a seminal moment for the Texas A&M football program, and the fact that the Aggies haven’t been able to replicate this success in the past seven seasons is certainly disappointing. But it doesn’t make the memory of that night they captured lightning in a bottle in Tuscaloosa any less special. Every Aggie will always remember where the were the night we knocked off Alabama.
Dec. 5, 1998 (Big 12 Championship Game)
Any overtime victory that gets you a conference title is gonna be pretty darn special. Especially one where you were down 27-12 in the fourth quarter. But the salt in the wound that this game was for Kansas State makes it that much better. I’ll let ESPN’s Jake Trotter take it from here:
“Going into the final weekend of the 1998 season, Tennessee, UCLA and K-State were all undefeated, generating a massive controversy in the debut year of the BCS.
The Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ poll. But because of the computers, they needed help.
Improbably, help came. Immediately after Darnell McDonald’s 66-yard touchdown catch put K-State up 17-3 over Texas A&M in the second quarter of the Big 12 championship game, the stadium announcement came: Miami had stunned UCLA. The Wildcats were on their way to putting the cherry on the top of Bill Snyder’s Manhattan Miracle.
Instead, that moment set the stage for an inexplicable finish in St. Louis, which left the Wildcats in heartbreak. And it turned a diminutive running back, with the help of a “voodoo doctor,” into an Aggies immortal.”
Nov. 25, 1999
It’s hard to imagine any game topping this moment for most Aggie fans. There have been bigger upsets, or wins that had bigger implications within the context of the football season. But there has never been a game Aggies needed to win more than this one. Not wanted to win. Needed to win.
Just one week after the 1999 bonfire collapse that killed 12 Texas A&M students, the Aggies and Longhorns gathered to play their annual game, the impetus for the Aggie Bonfire itself. While it was in many ways a somber affair, make no mistake, both teams wanted to win that day. Texas came in at 9-2, riding a five-game win streak and ranked in the top 5. A&M was 7-3, but hoping to finish the season undefeated at home.
A&M would overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to win the game 20-16, capped off by a strip sack and fumble recovery by linebacker Brian Gamble. Following the play, he fell to his knees, stretched his arms and looked to the sky. It was an iconic moment in A&M football history, and one that perfectly encapsulated the seemingly conflicting emotions of elation and grief that we all felt in that moment.
Out of all the underdog moments in Texas A&M’s history, never was an underdog more deserving of coming out on top than on this day. Gig ‘em.