Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi wanted nothing more than to treat his team's first meeting with Michigan State as just ++ another game, but the realization of the task at hand struck him sharply as he led his Chippewas into the 76,000-seat Spartan Stadium.
"It was just exciting just to go into that stadium," said Deromedi, in his 14th year at Central Michigan. "I felt like Rocky, getting ready and suddenly saying, 'Oh, my gosh, we have this chance, and we can get annihilated.' "
By afternoon's end, Central Michigan had defied the oddsmakers, the Michigan media and some of its followers with a 20-3 win over then-18th-ranked Michigan State. More than halfway into the football season, it ranks as the upset of the year.
"I just stood on those sidelines, and I was just so proud," Deromedi said. "I felt so happy for the kids. It gave our program some awareness, which is more important more than anything else."
When Navy (0-7) travels to South Bend, Ind., on Saturday, it will find itself in an even bigger challenge against fifth-ranked Notre Dame (7-1).
The Midshipmen are 41-point underdogs against against a team they haven't beaten since 1963. With those odds, and the different directions both teams are going, Navy might find itself trying to avoid one of the bigger margins of the year.
"I know what can happen, but I also know we'll give it our best shot," said Navy coach George Chaump, who devised a game plan that led to a surprisingly close, 52-31 loss last season in East Rutherford, N.J. "Preparation is exciting. I can't call it normal -- against Notre Dame, we want to put a little more into it."
For Deromedi and his Chippewas, all they had read in the newspapers before the season was about Michigan State, located 65 miles away. With his staff and players knowing everything there was to know about the Spartans -- and his team getting briefed daily by the Michigan papers -- he felt his team entered the game with the element of the unknown.
"Our people played with and against a lot of their players in high school, so that softened the mystique," said Deromedi, who made only one change in his team's routine all week -- he didn't hold a practice at Spartan Stadium.
"We just went to play football. We knew it was going to take us playing to the ultimate to just keep from being overwhelmed."
Rice coach Fred Goldsmith got the feeling his team wouldn't be overwhelmed against eighth-ranked and unbeaten Baylor on Oct. 8, because his team had played the Bears tough two years in a row.
"Our kids feel they can play, regardless of what the odds are," Goldsmith said. "You play and the longer it stays close, the longer it turns on your players.
"It wasn't a big surprise, but it was special because we hadn't beaten a top 10 team since 1965 and they were seventh in the country. The closest we get to the polls is when we read them."
Going into Vanderbilt's Oct. 19 homecoming game against No. 17 Georgia, the Commodores were 1-5 and had won just twice in their previous 16 games. But after Georgia missed two late field-goal tries, Vanderbilt was a 27-25 winner.
"I really felt our players were improving, and they were getting frustrated, because there was no reward -- the reward is winning," said first-year Vanderbilt coach Gerry DiNardo, whose team entered the Georgia game having lost three games by a total of eight points. "They finally won a game that they worked hard for, and it was special because it was against a ranked opponent. It was a tremendous feeling."
The latest big upset occurred last weekend when Northwestern -- known more for its journalism school than its football program -- upset 17th-ranked Illinois before a half-filled Dyche Stadium in Evanston, north of Chicago. Wearing all-purple for the first time in more than a decade, the Wildcats beat a ranked team for the first time since a 1971 victory over Ohio State.
"I don't blame Illinois if it was overconfident," Northwestern linebacker Tom Homco said after the game. "We were 1-5. They probably thought they'd come in here and stomp all over us."
While the upsets have made their impact on the campuses of the victors, at least one coach doesn't look for luck to strike twice in a row.
"To honest, I don't think we'll beat a Michigan State again," said Deromedi, whose team will play in Michigan State's home opener the next two years. "It's unrealistic. But it does give us a moment when people say, 'They do play good football.' "
And what are Navy's chances of experiencing that same moment?
"The person that goes to Navy doesn't go there to beat Notre Dame, he goes there for a different reason," Deromedi said. "But if they should somehow beat Notre Dame, it's a special thrill they'll have for the rest of their lives."
Going the rout...or the upset route
Biggest routs of 1991
These are the most lopsided games this season between Division I-A teams:
6,Penn State, 81, Cincinnati 0.. .. .. .. +81
Houston 73, La.Tech 3 .. .. .. .. .. .. +70
California 86, Pacific 24.. .. .. .. .. +62
Alabama 62, Tulane 0. .. .. .. .. .. .. +62
Florida State 58, W. Michigan 0.. .. .. +58
Colorado 58, Minnesota 0 .. .. .. .. .. +58
Biggest upsets of 1991
* Sept. 7 - Mississippi State 13, Texas 6: The Longhorns were 9 1/2 -point favorites and ranked No. 13. Mississippi State was expected to finish in the bottom half of the Southeastern Conference.
* Sept. 14 - Central Michigan 20, Michigan State 3: The Spartans were ranked No. 18. Central Michigan was such a big underdog that there was no line on the game.
* Oct. 12 - Rice 20, Baylor 17: - The Bears were 20-point favorites, 5-0 and ranked No. 17. Rice hadn't beaten a top 10 opponent since 1965.
* Oct. 19 - Vanderbilt 27, Georgia 25: The Bulldogs were 15 1/2 -point favorite, 5-1 and ranked No. 17. The Commodores had won just twice in their previous 16 games.
* Oct. 26 - Northwestern 17, Illinois 11: The Illini were 22-point favorites, 4-2 and ranked No. 17. Northwestern, the perennial Big Ten doormat, had beaten only 1-6 Wake Forest.