The adage “you get what you pay for” doesn’t always apply in college football. Throughout this season, there will be prominent Power Five schools paying hundreds of thousands – and sometimes millions – of dollars to smaller opponents coming to their home stadium.
These guarantee games seem to offer a simple trade-off: We pay you to show up and we cruise to a comfortable win. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Upsets are the norm in college football and that is sure to continue this season.
So where could some of these surprises occur? Here are six of the best possibilities.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Texas
Date: Sept. 4 Payout: $1,500,000
When the Longhorns agreed to this game in 2019, they wouldn’t have believed the Ragin’ Cajuns would enter as a ranked opponent. That might actually be to their benefit, however, as Texas won’t be overlooking them in Steve Sarkisian’s first game as coach. Louisiana-Lafayette, which returns 20 starters from last year’s team that went 10-1, won’t be overwhelmed by the environment in Austin. The Cajuns knocked off Iowa State on the road last year in their season opener and face a team with an inexperienced quarterback in Hudson Card. Seems like an almost perfect situation.
Buffalo at Nebraska
Date: Sept. 11 Payout: $1,320,000
This isn’t just a reaction to the Cornhuskers falling to Illinois in their opener. The Bulls were always going to be a dangerous opponent given their recent success – two MAC championship games and three bowl appearances in three years. Nebraska still seems mired in mediocrity and losing to a Group of Five opponent at home wouldn’t be unprecedented. Troy and Northern Illinois have won in Lincoln in the past four seasons.
Fresno State at UCLA
Fresno State players celebrate their 38-14 win over UCLA in 2018.
Date: Sept. 18 Payout: $1,100,000
Both the Bulldogs and Bruins had impressive wins in Week 0 and each will face difficult games Saturday against Oregon and LSU, respectively. Their matchup against each other the following week is tricky for UCLA. Should they beat the Tigers, the Bruins face the possibility of a letdown. A loss could also result in them being down. Fresno State is the kind of team that is easy to overlook. But the Bulldogs have the capability of pulling off a surprise with quarterback Jake Haener, a Washington transfer, leading the offense.
FOLLOW THE MONEY: Searchable, sortable list of 2021 guarantee games
Nevada at Kansas State
Date: Sept. 18 Payout: $1,000,000
This might not qualify as an upset with the Wolf Pack looking like one of the best teams in the Mountain West. The optimism around the team starts with Carson Strong at quarterback. Regarded as a top prospect for next year’s NFL draft, Strong is going to put up big numbers this season. The Wildcats have their own talented quarterback in Skylar Thompson, portending a possible shootout that could go either way.
Army at Wisconsin
Date: Oct. 16 Payout: $1,200,000
There aren’t many challenges more difficult than preparing for the Black Knights’ option offense. Add the wrinkle of playing the game in the middle of the Big Ten season and you can see why this matchup would concern the Badgers. Army, which has averaged almost nine wins during the past five seasons, has given Oklahoma and Michigan scares recently. Don’t be shocked if this one is another nail-biter.
Liberty at Mississippi
Date: Nov. 6 Payout: $1,500,000
The story line for this game is surely to focus on the return of former Rebels coach Hugh Freeze, though it is worth noting that the schools agreed to the game years before Freeze was hired by the Flames. This clash might be one of the more entertaining games of the season with quarterbacks Matt Corral and Malik Willis among the leaders in total offense in 2020. Liberty won at Virginia Tech last year and narrowly fell at North Carolina State, so a win in Oxford isn’t far-fetched.