Southeastern Conference football has risen to new heights of prominence in the last 10 years for a number of reasons. The games are exciting, the coaching is unparalleled, the fan support is outrageous, and the talent on the field is NFL-caliber.
But what really makes SEC football the most fascinating league in all of sports is the rivalries. College sports thrive on rivalries, and no one has more intense, deep-seated, hate-driven rivalries than the SEC. Here's a look at which rivalries are the most heated heading into the 2009 season.
(Note: This is not a list of the greatest rivalries in SEC history, but rather the rivalries that CURRENTLY carry the most intensity in 2009.)
1. Florida vs. Tennessee
Series Record: Tied 19-19
Last Year: Florida 30, Tennessee 6
Urban Meyer's dominance of the Volunteers helped usher out the Phillip Fulmer era at Tennessee. Now, Fulmer's replacement has come out swinging at Meyer and the Gators, and both sides are as fired up as ever about this once great rivalry.
It will take some time before Lane Kiffin has the talent to back up his lip, but that won't stop this game from being easily the most anticipated SEC rivalry game entering the 2009 season.
2. Alabama vs. Tennessee
Series Record: Alabama leads 46-38-7
Last Year: Alabama 29, Tennessee 9
While Kiffin aimed his trash talk at Florida, his top lieutenant and former Crimson Tide assistant Lance Thompson laid down some smack talking of his own towards his former employer. Accusations of dirty recruiting tactics have already been flung from both sides, and with the Tide on a two-game winning streak against the Vols, many Tennessee fans can't decide who they'd rather beat more: Florida or Alabama.
Tuscaloosa is never louder than when the Vols are in town, and we shouldn't expect any different this year.
3. Florida vs. Georgia
Series Record: Georgia leads 46-38-2
Last Year: Florida 49, Georgia 10
One of the most one-sided rivalries of the past decade got a little more interesting back in 2007 when Mark Richt sent his entire team onto the field for one of the most outrageous touchdown celebrations in college football history. Last year, Meyer responded with a few unnecessary timeouts to rub salt in the wound at the end of Florida's 39-point beatdown of the Dawgs.
The matchup loses a little steam this year with Georgia looking to rebuild, but don't expect the Dawgs to gladly suffer the indignity of having the score run up on them in 2008.
4. Alabama vs. LSU
Series Record: Alabama leads 44-23-5
Last Year: Alabama 27, LSU 21
It was a game everyone pointed to the moment Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, and it has not disappointed, delivering two of the most exciting games of the past two SEC football seasons. This game has decided the SEC West title in the last two seasons and very likely will again when the Tigers and Tide do battle in Tuscaloosa this November.
5. Alabama vs. Auburn
Series Record: Alabama leads 39-33-1
Last Year: Alabama 36, Auburn 0
It may be the greatest rivalry of all time in the SEC and possibly in all of sports, but it hasn't produced the most exciting games in recent years. The Iron Bowl is more about what happens off the field, and Nick Saban's recruiting dominance in the state of Alabama has given the Tide the edge at the moment.
Will Gene Chizik's staff be able to stop the Tide's incredible momentum? Better yet, will they at least be able to score a point this year?
6. Ole Miss vs. Arkansas
Series Record: Arkansas leads 29-25-1
Last Year: Ole Miss 23, Arkansas 21
Think there's drama between LSU and Nick Saban? Try Googling "Houston Nutt" and "Cell Phone Records," and you'll see just how complicated the relationship is between the Ole Miss head coach and his former employers, the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Nutt edged out his old team this year, but Bobby Petrino's Hogs showed major improvement over the course of the season and should only get better in 2009. Look for this game to become one of the best annual contests in the SEC West for the next several years.
7. Arkansas vs. LSU
Series Record: LSU leads 33-19-2
Last Year: Arkansas 31, LSU 30
The battle for the Golden Boot was once a major rivalry, but LSU has dominated the series in recent years...that is, until the Razorbacks won the last two in dramatic fashion. Luckily for the Tigers, neither loss made a significant impact on the outcome of their season, but with Arkansas on the upswing, could this be turning into a major SEC West battle?
8. South Carolina vs. Tennessee
Series Record: Tennessee leads 21-4-2
Last Year: South Carolina 27, Tennessee 6
Historically, this series hasn't been much more than an annual résumé booster for the Vols, but that was before Steve Spurrier arrived at South Carolina. Since the Ole Ball Coach arrived, UT and SC have split the last four meetings, with last year's rout putting the nail in the coffin of Phillip Fulmer's tenure.
For the Gamecocks, this has become one of the most anticipated games of the season every year. For the Vols, this game has become a pestering reminder of how tough the SEC East can be.
9. Alabama vs. Florida
Series Record: Alabama leads 20-14
Last Year: Florida 31, Alabama 20
It's not a rivalry built on deep-seated hatred or mutual disrespect like most great SEC rivalries. In fact, this is the only matchup on this list that isn't scheduled to take place in 2009 (at least not yet). Six of their last 10 meetings have come in the SEC Championship Game, and by the looks of things, they could meet several more times in Atlanta in the next few years.
Alabama vs. Florida makes the list for being a noble clash of worthy foes, one in which both teams congratulate each other when it's over.
10. Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State
Series Record: Ole Miss leads 60-39-6
Last Year: Ole Miss 45, Mississippi State 0
The Egg Bowl hasn't impacted the SEC Championship picture in well over a decade, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been a fascinating rivalry to watch. The losing team has fired its coach in each of the last two seasons, and with Ole Miss registering the biggest blowout in the series since 1971, the Bulldogs will be hungry for revenge in 2009.