Howard-UNLV Has Biggest Underdog to Win NCAA Football Game

UNLV Loses to Howard Bison

Caylin Newton, Howard’s starting quarterback, is Cam Newton’s brother.

The Howard University Bison pulled off the biggest point spread upset in the history of college football on Saturday, with Howard defeating the UNLV Rebels 43-40. UNLV was considered a 45-point favorite, though Las Vegas sportsbooks refused to take bets on the game. Some offshore bookmakers offered the game to bettors, with at least one betting line at 600-to-1.

The Bison (not “Bisons”) play in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Howard University’s football team historically has been an average small Division I program, posting a 497-472-38 all-time record. Over the past two years, the Bison have endured 1-10 and 2-9 records under Gary Harrell.

Howard Bison: -45 Underdog

This was the first game of Mike London’s tenure at Howard, which is located in Washington D.C. It was a startling debut, because it was the Bison’s first defeat ever of a FBS opponent.

For a team that won only 3 games over the past 2 seasons, it will be interesting to see whether Mike London can keep his squad on an even keel in Howard’s next game against the Kent State Golden Flashes. The teams play next Saturday, so there is little time to savor the victory over the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Big Underdog Winners in NCAA History

The previous record underdog was Stanford, which defeated the 39-point favorite USC Trojans in 2007. That same year, Appalachian State upset the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor. That game has no point spread, because the Mountainteers were Division I-AA competitors at the time they defeated Michigan.

In the earlier days of college football, there likely were other major underdogs who pulled off major upsets. In the first 50 years of college football — when the college game was more popular than the NFL (or pre-dated it) — no legal sportsbooks existed in the United States to provide betting lines.

Caylin Newton: Cam Newton’s Brother

Though Howard University is obscure, its star player has NFL connections. Caylin Newton is the younger brother of Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers. Cam Newton was the 2015 NFL MVP, the 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year, and 2010 Heimsan Trophy winner.

In Saturday’s game, Caylin Newton displayed some of the rushing ability that has made Cam Newton a dual threat in the National Football League. Newton carried the ball 21 times for 190 rushing yards. His passing ability was not on display as much, though Newton has 140 passing yards and one passing touchdown.

UNLV-Howard Game Highlights

Newton had help from Howard’s special teams in the 2nd Quarter when Devin Rollins carried a fumble recovery 75 yards for a defensive touchdown. That pushed the Bison’s lead to 21-9, giving the underdog hope they could pull off a major upset.

That hope seemed to be dashed when the Rebels scored 24 consecutive points in the remainder of the 2nd Quarter and first 9 minutes of the 3rd Quarter. As the game entered its final 20 minutes, UNLV held a 33-21 advantage and appeared to have beaten back the challenge of an small college underdog.

Anthony Philyaw, a senior running back from Los Angeles, scored two rushing touchdowns (3,11) to put the Bison up by a 34-33 margin. Those scores were answered by Lexington Thomas, a junior running back from Houston, who gave UNLV its final lead early in the 4th Quarter, 40-36. Thomas had 151 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on the day.

How Howard Defeated UNLVĀ 

Caylin Newton ended the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run midway through the Fourth Quarter. Despite quarterback Armani Rogers 220 yards passing on the day, UNLV was unable to mount a comeback over the final 7 minutes of the game.

Howard University was not a Division I football program until the mid-1990s. Many of the schools the Bison play on their non-conference schedule are Division I-AA schools. Some will quibble that Appalachian State’s defeat of Michigan remains the biggest upset in the history of college football, given that there was no betting line on that game (and Michigan is more highly regarded than UNLV in football). Of all games with a betting line in NCAA history, the Bison were the biggest underdog to outright win their ballgame. It is a tremendous feat for Mike London’s squad.