Saturday, November 28, 2015

Top 10 College Football Rivalries

Okay, this isn't scientific, but I checked 7 different online polls, to get as comprehensive as possible and weed out any outliers.

Note that I have listed all of these rivalries in alphabetical order. It has nothing to do with which team I like better, or with who has won this year's game, or with who has the better overall record, the better academics, the better mascot, the hotter cheerleaders, or anything else. It's alphabetical order, the simplest way to do it.

Regardless of whether a poll listed 10 teams, 25 teams, or any other number, I assigned the rivalry that finished 1st 25 points, 2nd 24, and so on. Matchups mentioned in a poll but did not make the cutoff in it got 1 point.

First, a few that got mentions, but didn't make the cut:

* Mentioned in 1 of the 7: Arkansas vs. Louisiana State (hereafter referred to as LSU), Auburn vs. Georgia, Baylor vs. Texas Christian, Colorado vs. Colorado State, Colorado vs. Nebraska, DePauw vs. Wabash, Florida State vs. Louisiana State, Georgia vs. South Carolina, Grambling State vs. Southern, Iowa vs. Iowa State, Kansas vs. Kansas State, Kansas vs. Missouri, LSU vs. Mississippi (hereafter referred to as Ole Miss), Maryland vs. West Virginia, Michigan State vs. Notre Dame, Ohio State vs. Pennsylvania State (hereafter referred to as Penn State), Penn State vs. Pittsburgh (hereafter referred to as Pitt), Texas A&M vs. Texas Tech.

* Mentioned in 2 of the 7: Alabama vs. LSU, Amherst vs. Williams, Florida vs. Tennessee, Kentucky vs. Louisville, Michigan vs. Notre Dame,  Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, Washington vs. Washington State.

* Mentioned in 3 of the 7: Alabama vs. Tennessee, Arizona vs. Arizona State, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, Lafayette vs. Lehigh, Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State.

* Mentioned in 4 of the 7: Harvard vs. Yale (#5 in one of the polls), Michigan vs. Michigan State, Minnesota vs. Wisconsin, Pitt vs. West Vriginia, Texas vs. Texas A&M,

* Mentioned in 6 of the 7: Brigham Young vs. Utah, Clemson vs. South Carolina, Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss, Oregon vs. Oregon State.

You may have noticed some interesting names missing. If this were basketball, Kentucky vs. Louisville would be a lot higher. And you would likely see Duke vs. North Carolina, Indiana vs. Purdue, maybe Georgetown vs. St. John's or Connecticut vs. Syracuse. Although you wouldn't see Rutgers vs. Princeton: That died out as a serious rivalry long before anyone not at ARPA ever heard of the Internet. If it were hockey, Harvard vs. Yale, Michigan vs. Michigan State and Minnesota vs. Wisconsin would be higher; while Minnesota vs. North Dakota and Boston College vs. Boston University would be on the list. If it were wrestling, Iowa vs. Iowa State and Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State would be the top 2.

About any of these pairs of teams, you could use the line of the greatest of all college football announcers, ABC Sports' retired but still living legend, Keith Jackson: "These two teams just... don't... like each other!"

Top 10 College Football Rivalries

Note that every one of these games is played in late November, except where noted, and may even be playing today.

10. Florida vs. Florida State. Mentioned in 5 of the 7 polls, but still had more cumulative points than the 4 Honorable Mentions cited above that were mentioned in 6 of the 7. One of the more recent rivalries, as it didn't get noticed nationally until Bobby Bowden propped FSU up in the late 1970s. Part of a 3-way hate triangle with Miami (see below, although Florida vs. Miami didn't even make my first cut). Particularly in the 1990s, this was rough. Fights still happen on the field. Once, a fight happened even before the kickoff.

9. The University of California at Los Angeles vs. the University of Southern California, a.k.a. UCLA vs. USC. Mentioned in 5 of the 7 polls, but still had more cumulative points than the 4 Honorable Mentions cited above that were mentioned in 6 of the 7. This one isn't as big as it was, but it's still a classic, with spectacular uniforms (powder blue and gold vs. maroon and gold), great old stadiums (the Los Angeles Coliseum as home ground for USC, the Rose Bowl for UCLA), and one of the closest matchups (the campuses are just 14 miles apart).

8. Florida vs. Georgia. Mentioned in 5 of the 7 polls, but still had more cumulative points than the 4 Honorable Mentions cited above that were mentioned in 6 of the 7. "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" has to be held on "neutral ground" at EverBank Field in Jacksonville (and, before that, at the previous stadium on the site, the Gator Bowl).

7. California vs. Stanford. Mentioned in 6 of the 7 polls, and probably only missed the 7th because that one only mentioned 6 rivalries. "The Big Game" between the East Bay school usually called "Cal" for sports and "Berkeley" for all other purposes, and the Peninsula school nicknamed "The Farm," is the best one on this list, academically speaking (although the students at the schools at #3 may dispute this). It's probably the one with the richest alumni (although those from he schools at #4 may dispute this). Put it this way: If the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders ever met in a Super Bowl, Cal vs. Stanford would still be a bigger game to people in the Bay Area.

6. Florida State vs. Miami. Mentioned in 6 of the 7 polls. Miami has fallen on hard times, or else this one could be higher. And, somehow, a Hurricanes game at the Dolphins' stadium out in the suburbs doesn't have the same kind of atmosphere as one at the Orange Bowl in the ghetto. Seminoles fans are fine with having the better atmosphere at Doak Campbell Stadium, and with having the better team the last few years. But in the 1990s, this game was every bit as big as FSU vs. the Gators.

5. Notre Dame vs. USC. Mentioned in 6 of the 7 polls. Held in mid-October when ND hosts in South Bend, Indiana, and on the Saturday after Thanksgiving when USC hosts in Los Angeles. The only real intersectional rivalry in college football, and between 2 of the biggies. There are people who don't like either team, for their successes and their arrogance, but they still watch.

The last 4 were the only ones mentioned in all 7 polls.

4. Oklahoma vs. Texas. Came in 3rd in one poll, and 4th in all the others. Held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, as part of the Texas State Fair, every 2nd Saturday in October, but actually closer to the Sooners' campus in Norman than it is to the Longhorns' base in Austin. When rich Southern men who are not used to defeat go up against each other, well, I'm surprised there isn't usually shooting afterwards.

3. Army vs. Navy. Came in 1st in 2 polls, 2nd in another, 3rd in another, 4th in another, and 5th in the other 2.Always played at a neutral site, usually in Philadelphia, as it's roughly halfway between the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York vs. the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. (They've used Franklin Field, Municipal/John F. Kennedy Stadium, Veterans Stadium, and now Lincoln Financial Field.) They've also used the Meadowlands, Baltimore's new stadium, and the Washington Redskins' new stadium in recent years. The best one academically? Maybe. The one with the best pageantry? Possible. The one with the most respect for each other? Absolutely. One where each team's given record, now and historically, really doesn't matter? You bet your brass.

Based on my ratings system (25 points for 1st place in a poll, 24 for 2nd, and so on), the last 2 were very close: 170 to 168. If you put a gun to my head and told me to write down the top 10, and rank them, these would be the 1st 2 I would think of, in that order.

2. Alabama vs. Auburn. Came in 1st in 2 polls, 2nd in 3, 3rd in the other 2. For years, it had to be held on neutral ground at Legion Field in Birmingham, because they hate each other that much. The Iron Bowl has divided families, broken up marriages, and even led one angry Alabama fan to poison a pair of beloved trees in the town center of Auburn a few years back. And with both teams challenging for the National Championship the last few years, and each team having won it recently, it's as good (or as bad) as ever.

The Iron Bowl is easily the nastiest in-State rivalry. But the best one between one State and another, and the best one period, is this one, and that's far from just my choice:

1. Michigan vs. Ohio State. Came in 1st in 3 polls, 2nd in 3, and 3rd in the other. Michigan was the original dominant football school in the Midwest, and Ohio State coach Woody Hayes decided that he would do whatever it took to, to borrow a phrase from English football (soccer), knock them off their perch. He would never refer to his rival as "Michigan" or "The Wolverines," it was always "That School Up North" (which Buckeye fans now abbreviate to TSUN). When Bo Schembechler, who had played for him at Miami of Ohio and assisted him at Ohio State, became the Michigan coach, Buckeyes vs. Wolverines became known as The Ten-Year War (1969-78). Woody would hear that Bo was recruiting in Ohio, and he'd call up the State Police and say, "Close the border! Bo's in the State!" Paranoid? Al Davis of the Raiders had nothing on Woody.

Michigan would reassert its dominance, but when Jim Tressel was given the OSU job, he said his priority was not to win the National or Big Ten Championship, but to beat Michigan. Mission accomplished: Michigan has one just twice since he took over, even though he's now gone and former Florida maestro Urban Meyer is in charge.

You can fit nearly 100,000 fans in Ohio Stadium in Columbus, and over 110,000 fans in Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. And getting tickets for this game can be filed under "Forget it." As with Harvard vs. Yale, this is known simply as "The Game."

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