Best of College Football: Rivalries

Rivalries are the backbone of the college football landscape. Nothing brings two fan bases together more than an in-state battle for supremacy or the struggle to get into a conference title game. Some rivalries are newer due to the shifting sands of conference realignment while others are more storied than any others in sports. From the SEC to the Pac-12, college football has some of the best rivalries in all of sports.

Before we dive into the coup de grâce of gridiron rivalries, here are some honorable mentions that should not go completely unnoticed:

  • Wisconsin & Ohio State
  • Texas A&M and Alabama
  • Auburn & LSU
  • UCLA & USC
  • Oregon & Stanford

Here is the ‘Best Of College Football’ rivalry edition:

[Also check out our other “Best of College Football” lists on Cheers & Chants and Mascots]

BAYLOR v. TCU

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After various pauses throughout their storied history, the rivalry, aptly named “The Revivalry” to many, is now an annual series since TCU joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012.

ALL-TIME RECORD: TCU leads, 53-52-7, since 1899

SERIES SINCE 2000: TCU leads, 5-3 (won the latest meeting, 62-22)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 17.22

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1995, 2006, 2014, 2015

While this rivalry has a surprising history behind it, the ranking on this list stems from two very impressive and intense bouts in 2014 and 2015. The Horned Frogs and Bears have gone at each others’ throats since TCU joined the Big XII. This rivalry will only continue to grow with the deplorable nature of Baylor Athletics lately and the continued success Gary Patterson has brought to Fort Worth.

CLEMSON v. FLORIDA STATE

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Photo Credit: Emily Baton/Flickr

ALL-TIME RECORD: Florida State leads, 20-10, since 1970 (CLEM: 10-7 in last 17)

SERIES SINCE 2000: Florida State leads, 9-8 (CLEM: won the latest meeting, 37-34)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 14.88

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1999, 2012, 2014, 2016

Another recent arrival in the rivalry pantheon, Clemson-FSU has had its fair share of memorable moments as well. Whether it was Bowden vs. Bowden of the 1980s and early 90s or the recent fights for ACC supremacy, these two schools are the class of their conference and epitomize the best of the ACC. Quarterbacks of the caliber of Deshaun Watson, Jameis Winston, Tajh Boyd, and Everett Golson have participated in this unsung rivalry. The ‘Noles and Tigers have accounted for 30 ACC Titles and it seems that won’t be changing anytime soon.

UTAH v. BYU, The Holy War

ALL-TIME RECORD: Utah leads, 56-31-4, since 1896

SERIES SINCE 2000: Utah leads, 11-5 (current 6-game winning streak)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 9.8 (only five of the previous 24 meetings was the MoG in double-figures)

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1980, 1988, 2009, 2015 Las Vegas Bowl, 2016

These schools are only 50 miles apart but are very different despite their proximity. BYU is a school owned by the LDS Church (Mormon), while Utah is a state-owned school that plays things far more secular than its Utah counterpart. Players and fans on both sides personify the “Holy” in this rivalry’s name.

Byu has Lavell Edwards to thank for great success during his run in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Utah has the likes of Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham that have tipped the scales back in the Utes favor after some struggles against the Cougars during Edwards’ time in Provo.

USC v. NOTRE DAME, Jeweled Shillelagh

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Photo Credit: Tedmoseby/Flickr

ALL-TIME RECORD: Notre Dame leads, 46-37-5, since 1926

SERIES SINCE 2000:  USC leads, 11-6 (won the latest meeting, 45-27; 8-game winning streak vs. ND from 2002-09)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 19.52

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1929, 1964, 1974, 2005 – “The Bush Push”

This rivalry is far too low in these rankings considering the prowess of both programs. The issue with the storied USC-ND rivalry is that both schools haven’t been at their top-tier caliber in some time. While their bouts in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 2000s were incredible, this matchup just hasn’t had that same feeling.

Ever since Charlie Weis and Pete Carroll departed their respective schools, the rivalry has taken a back seat to more competitive and relevant rivalry games. These schools have accounted for 23 national titles, 13 Heisman Trophy winners, and nearly 1,000 first-round draft picks.

Those accolades should account for a much more momentous rivalry game than what we’ve seen since 2010.

Texas A&M v. ARKANSAS, Southwest Classic

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The rivalry between Arkansas and Texas A&M was renewed in 2009 and branded as the “Southwest Classic” after a 17-year hiatus in the series.

ALL-TIME RECORD: Arkansas leads, 41-29-3, since 1903

SERIES SINCE 2000: Texas A&M leads, 5-3 (current 5-game winning streak)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 16.75

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1980, 1991, 2011, 2014, 2015

The old Southwest Conference lives on in this rivalry. After an 18-year hiatus, the Hogs and Aggies renewed their rivalry in the confines of a new conference. This time around, the games would be played on a much larger stage and be played for the right of a new trophy: the Southwest Classic Trophy.

The battle between Texas A&M and Arkansas is now played at AT&T Stadium with some very exciting games played in 2014 and 2015. Despite its relative youth, there seems to be a lot of promise as this rivalry switches from Southwest to Southeast.

MICHIGAN v. MICHIGAN STATE, Paul Bunyan Trophy

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) attempts a pass as Michigan Wolverines linebacker Jabrill Peppers (5) defends during the second half at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

ALL-TIME RECORD: Michigan leads, 69-35-5, since 1898

SERIES SINCE 2000: Michigan leads, 9-8 (won latest meeting, 32-23)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 12.65

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1990 – “No. One vs. No One”, 2001 – “Clockgate”, 2004, 2015 – “Trouble with the Snap”

So much has already been written by this site and others about this rivalry. There is a dichotomy at play with this in-state brawl of brothers that makes it wildly interesting.

One side feels severe disrespect and pines for recognition in the rivalry and the national stage at large. The other side simply doesn’t care as much about this rivalry nearly as much as the other, their focus is on much bigger prizes while ignoring the growth of their in-state brethren.

Classic images had already been painted in the fight for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, but it was all encapsulated best in the most iconic play of 2015: The Trouble with the Snap. Every truly great rivalry has its iconic plays and moments, and now Michigan-Michigan State has theirs.

ARMY v. NAVY

111210-N-OA833-895 LANDOVER, Md.(Dec. 10, 2011) U.S. Naval Academy quarterback (#2) Kriss Proctor runs the ball during the 112th Army-Navy Football game at FEDEX Field in Landover, Md. The Midshipmen have won the previous nine meetings. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge/Released)
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge/Released)

ALL-TIME RECORD: Navy leads, 60-50-7, since 1890

SERIES SINCE 2000: Navy 15-2 (ARMY: won the latest meeting, 21-17; NAVY: 14-game winning streak from 2002-15)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 17.3

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1926, 1944, 1963 – “Post-JFK Assassination Game”, 2000, 2015

While writing this piece, I was surprised at the dominance of the Navy Midshipmen in the last 16 years. Despite this, it is hard to deny a rivalry more famous or passionate as Army-Navy. It is worth noting that most years, this game has its own weekend dedicated at the end of the season.

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The pageantry, fanfare, and alumni dressed in their uniforms make for a truly memorable game every year. A lack of competition is the reason for this historic rivalry not reaching higher on the list, but it could easily climb if Army can become a stable and successful program like Navy has become.

ALABAMA v. LSU

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Photo Credit: Thecoiner/Wikimedia Commons

ALL-TIME RECORD: Alabama 51-25-5 since 1895

SERIES SINCE 2000: Tied, 9-9 (ALA: 6-game winning streak)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 11.61

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 2011, 2012 BCS Title Game, 2012 2014

The date of this rivalry’s inception is very misleading. 1895 may have been the official start of Alabama-LSU, but the real competition started once Nick Saban left LSU for the NFL and went to SEC rival Alabama. From then on, three games went into overtime, seven games were decided by nine points or less, and these SEC heavyweights even met for the second time in a season in the 2012 BCS National Title Game.

Their games in 2010-12 were nationally-followed and considered some of the best games of the past decade. LSU has slipped since the Crimson Tide shut them out in the BCS title game, but one new coaching hire could awaken the sleeping Tigers into renewing this clash of SEC titans.

MIAMI (FL) v. FLORIDA STATE

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ALL-TIME RECORD: Miami 31-30 since 1951

SERIES SINCE 2000: Florida State 10-8 (current 7-game winning streak)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 8 (only three of previous 18 meetings was the MoG in double-figures)

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1987, 1991 – “Wide Right I”, 1992 – “Wide Right II”, 2002 – “Wide Left”, 2006, 2016 – “The Block at the Rock”

As has already been said on this list, iconic moments make a rivalry. These moments have many different names and feelings tied with them for both Florida State and Miami. Special teams, in particular, seem to be the bane of any who want to win in this Florida bout. Just this past year, we have been reminded again of how much special teams matters after Florida State won at the newly crowned Hard Rock Stadium.

Many times, these games can have a plethora of NFL talent due to FSU and Miami having a great track record with alumni being successful in the NFL. Especially in the 1990s, this was most prevalent as Miami was in their heyday and FSU was led by the enigmatic Bobby Bowden. Even after the rivalry had seemingly softened, the hire of Mark Richt for the ‘Canes seems to have given new life to one of the closest and most chaotic rivalries in all of college football.

TEXAS v. OKLAHOMA, Red River Showdown

Photo Credit: The Texas Exes/Flickr

ALL-TIME RECORD: Texas 61-45-5 since 1900

SERIES SINCE 2000: Oklahoma 11-6 (won latest meeting, 45-40, in 2016)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 19.24

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1963, 1984, 2007, 2015, 2016

If I did this list in 2010, the Red River Showdown would probably be No. 1. The Sooners and Longhorns had themselves some very impressive games culminated in 2007 as one of the most anticipated of the decade. Texas reached two BCS title games, Oklahoma respectively had gone to three. Since 2000, four of these games came when both programs were in the top ten.

The problem with this rivalry that put the Shootout at No. 3 was the disarray of Texas football since Mack Brown’s departure. While the games have been closer than many in the last 16 years, the problem of relevancy remains. If Texas can have a Michigan-style rebirth this may be a better contender for best in the nation. But as it currently sits, we must rest on the impressive laurels that have been set in the Cotton Bowl in the past.

MICHIGAN v. OHIO STATE, The Game

ALL-TIME RECORD: Michigan 58-48-6 since 1897

SERIES SINCE 2000: Ohio State 13-3 (current 5-game winning streak)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 12.06

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1941, 1950 – Snow Bowl, Ten Year War 1969-1978, 1995, 2006

Some will find it quite shocking that “The Game” isn’t No. 1 on this list. While this rivalry does have one of the best games in college football history under its belt, a huge knock on this rivalry must come from the lack of relevance it has attained in recent years. Since the epic clash in 2006, the Buckeyes and Wolverines have not played a game of national title significance.

Whether it was Ohio State dealing with the Jim Tressel scandal or Michigan going through four coaching changes, the rivalry didn’t muster up the substance that 2006 and the “Ten Year War” had. Jim Harbaugh’s less than subtle arrival in Ann Arbor could surely change the tides of a rivalry that has seen Ohio State win thirteen of the last fifteen games.

Until the rivalry swings more evenly and takes back the national title relevance it had had, there is one other rivalry that is better than “The Game.”

ALABAMA & AUBURN, The Iron Bowl

ALL-TIME RECORD: Alabama 45-35-1 since 1893

SERIES SINCE 2000: Auburn 9-8 (ALA: won three straight and seven of nine)

AVG. MARGIN OF VICTORY SINCE 2000: 14.71

NOTABLE HIGHLIGHT GAMES: 1964, 1967, 1993, 2010, 2013, 2014

Nothing speaks college football quite like the Iron Bowl. Alabama has been and continues to be arguably the best program in college football, and despite sharing the state, Auburn continues to give Alabama problems. The sheer ferocity and rage that comes with this in-state rivalry has been well documented and is best exemplified in the recent classics in 2010 and 2013.The Iron Bowl has had major national title implications since 2010 and trumps “The Game” in that regard. Having both fan bases so close to each other also creates a fervent anger that can only happen when brother fight brother. The best team in the land has to be a part of the best rivalry in America. This truly is the best rivalry in all of college sports.

The Iron Bowl has had major national title implications since 2010 and trumps “The Game” in that regard. Having both fan bases so close to each other also creates a fervent anger that can only happen when brother fight brother. The best team in the land has to be a part of the best rivalry in America. This truly is the best rivalry in all of college sports.

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