Power Ranking the 10 Most Bitter Rivalries in College Football
Beyond the fact that for many teams it’s the final game of the campaign, what makes Week 13 of the college football season special is its traditional role as “rivalry weekend.”
Yes, while grudge matches are staged from September to November, Thanksgiving weekend is home to the biggest offering of rivalry matchups. The following slideshow pinpoints and then power ranks, for your pleasure, the 10 bitterest rivalries in college football.
Though four of these contests have already been played in 2012, six are still yet to be decided (five this Saturday).
What earns these long-standing clashes the “bitter” tag is a careful combination of relevancy, competitiveness and history.
Even more importantly, each of these hate-fests are still active, festering affairs and all are by and large oozing with meaning—an element that means that the outcome of the game earns the winner more than mere bragging rights.
10. South Carolina vs. Clemson
Sometimes it seems like the entire state of South Carolina is overlooked as a hotbed of college football activity.
Indeed, if there were some sort of scientific gauge of institutional gridiron-sourced hate, the state of South Carolina would glow brightly, outshining the majority of a nation filled with sporting detestation.
Perhaps the lack of attention is because the major players in South Carolina, the Gamecocks and Clemson Tigers, combine for a mere one national title and relatively low 19 conference crowns. Still, these two fanbases exercise their right to hate as well as almost anyone.
It also doesn’t help the Cocks and Tigers that they play in separate conferences (the SEC and ACC, respectively). But again, this is a long-running major football rivalry between two big schools from big conferences in a state with few if any other distractions from a gridiron standpoint.
South Carolina and Clemson have been squaring off since 1896 and this Saturday’s clash will mark the 110th time the two have met at the altar of embitterment.
The Tigers lead the all-time series 65-40-4 and the Cocks have won four of the last six meetings, including the last three.
9. Florida vs. Florida State
The youngest rivalry in our rankings, Florida-Florida State has yet to reach the age of 60 (this Saturday’s game will be No. 57), but this is a heated affair that represents the two biggest college football programs in what is arguably the richest talent pool state in the nation.
The series is somewhat downgraded by the fact that they don’t share a conference home (the SEC Gators and ACC Seminoles), but this liability is dampened somewhat by the fact that this game is generally played as the regular-season finale.
This means that the outcome of the game will more than likely go a very long way in determining the postseason fate of two teams that have combined for five national championships since 1993.
If Florida State can continue to flame the fire of their reemergence on the national landscape, then look for this game to become even more meaningful, and heated, as time goes on.
The Gators lead the all-time series 33-21-2, and before dropping the last two to FSU, won six straight.
8. Harvard vs. Yale
In what may look like a wild card on the surface, Harvard vs. Yale may well deserve not only to be on our list, but it may even warrant a higher ranking.
Why? Well, first you’ve got the fact that this is the oldest rivalry on our illustrious list—an affair that dates all the way back to 1875 (or, only 10 years after the end of our Civil War). Next, this is a series that has always had impact, and this is true from more than just a historical standpoint.
Most college football enthusiasts know that the Harvard-Yale series was key in the early history of the game—illustrated by the fact the two programs combined for 26 national championships from 1874-1927.
What may be less obvious, especially since the two schools have dropped from “major” college football, is the fact that this is still a rivalry that decides championships.
Indeed, did you know that of the 55 football championships awarded since the Ivy League kicked off in 1956 that either Harvard or Yale have won 28 times? And this includes five of the last 10 Ivy League crowns.
When you look beyond history, success and impact, you find the Harvard and Yale fans may love their teams and hate their rivals with great vigor even though they don’t play the part of an SEC fanatic. If this is truly a free country, then mild-mannered football fans wearing tweed and carrying candelabras should be considered just as passionate as those wearing a spirit wig and carrying a beer bong.
This season marked the 129th playing of Harvard-Yale, and though the Crimson triumphed 34-24, the Bulldogs lead the all-time series 65-56-8.
7. USC vs. UCLA
The closest rivals on our list from a purely geographic standpoint, the UCLA and USC series dates back to 1929.
Though the Bruins' rise-from-the-ashes campaign in 2012 makes their annual clash with the Trojans seem more attractive from a national standpoint, let’s not forget that this hate-fest historically emits as saucy a set of fumes as any on our list.
To illustrate, what did former Bruin coach Rick Neuheisel say when he took over the UCLA job? Indeed, how did he attempt to define his entire job? Well, it went something like “The Football Monopoly in Los Angeles Is Officially Over.”
Ironically, Neuheisel didn’t deliver on his promise until…well he never did. But, the Bruins bested the Trojans for the first time since 2006 this past Saturday, 38-28.
Despite any perceived USC dominance (the Trojans do lead the series 44-29-7), this is a major city with two major college football programs vying for the affections of a fanbase that has mysteriously still not been able to lure an NFL team.
And just because West Coasters might seem more laid back than say Southern or Midwestern types, that doesn’t mean that their hearts don’t embody the same type of rage when a neighbor fly the rivals’ colors in their yard.
6. Oregon vs. Oregon State
Though at first glance the Oregon-Oregon State series might not seem like an age-old affair, the “Civil War” dates back to 1894, making it the fourth oldest clash on our list.
The game may not have the appeal—from a championship decider factor—as say an Oklahoma vs. Texas or Georgia vs. Florida, but there is no doubt that these two programs have an intense dislike for each another.
Don’t think so? Well, among the many wild incidents directly resulting from the rivalry is a 1960 incident involving the alleged kidnapping of the Oregon State homecoming queen by Oregon fans, and an all-out melee that broke out between opposing fans after the 1972 meeting.
Overall, the Ducks lead the series 59-46-10 and have won six out of the last 10 meetings. The 116th edition of the Civil War is slated for this Saturday, in Corvallis.
5. Florida vs. Georgia
This matchup is commonly referred to as “the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party,” but the actual roots of this hate-fest actually date back to before prohibition.
The start date of the series, 1915, means that the eight Florida-Georgia games played from 1920-32 were operated under the iron rule of prohibition, representing an unprecedented dry spell for the rivalry in terms of cocktails and such.
Of interest, the Bulldogs lead the “dry” series over the Gators, with a 5-2-1 mark versus Florida during periods of Constitutional-driven prohibition. Who knew?
The fact that these two powerhouses play in the same conference division, the SEC East, means that when these two programs meet there is generally something on the line beyond mere bragging rights. To illustrate, since the SEC split into divisions in 1992 the Gators and Bulldogs have combined to earn 15 of the 21 possible Eastern division crowns.
Georgia and Florida met for the 90th time in history this season (the Bulldogs triumphed 17-9, handing the Gators their only loss thus far in 2012) and the Bulldogs lead the all-time series 48-40-2.
4. Oklahoma vs. Texas
The Red River Rivalry has been in full swing since the turn of the century (the last one, not this one) and has uniquely flourished both when its participants played in different leagues, and while sharing the same conference home.
Oklahoma and Texas were both in older, now defunct leagues when their series initially kicked off in 1900, and since then have shared an intriguing on-again, off-again relationship.
From 1915-19 both programs were members of the Southwest Conference until the Sooners left for the Missouri Valley Conference (1920-27) and then the Big Eight (1928-95).
The rivalry was alive and well when the two traditional powerhouses hooked back up again in 1996 for the dawning of the Big 12 era in college football.
Since then, the Sooners and Longhorns have combined to capture 10 of the 16 Big 12 titles ever awarded, meaning that most of their modern meetings have been extremely meaningful. All in all, we’ve got two programs which have amassed 11 national championships and 73 conference crowns.
This season marked the 107th meeting between the Horns and Sooners, and though Oklahoma triumphed 63-21, it is UT that still holds the series lead at 59-43-5.
3. Army vs. Navy
Though not the oldest rivalry in our rankings, Army-Navy is a storied affair on levels that simply can’t be matched.
First, you’ve got the two oldest and largest military academies squaring off for bragging rights in a series that has lasted through the Spanish-American War, two World Wars, the Korean War, a Cold War, the Gulf War, the War on Terror and a myriad of other conflicts.
This history lesson all sounds meaningless until you realize that the guys on the field during the annual Army vs. Navy game are representing, and soon to become themselves, the men and women serving the U.S. armed forces around the globe.
It’s serious business.
Though it’s been 66 years since Army contended for a national title, these teams do play for hardware beyond bragging rights of ships vs. ground forces. And that prize is called the Commander in Chief’s Trophy, an award given since 1972 to the winner of a triangular series between Army, Navy and Air Force.
The 113th meeting between Army and Navy (slated for Dec. 8 in Philadelphia) is significant, as it marks the first time since 2005 that the rivalry clash will directly decide which team takes home the service academy hardware.
Navy leads the all-time series 56-49-7 and the Midshipmen have sank the Black Knights in the last 10 consecutive meetings. Army’s last win over Navy came in 2001.
2. Alabama vs. Auburn
Perhaps the bitterest rivalry in the South (which is saying a lot), the Iron Bowl has featured Alabama and Auburn squaring off on the gridiron since 1893.
This is a grudge match that has it all. Indeed, it’s the two major football programs from a state without any professional teams, and the two squads in question hail from the same conference and the same division.
Auburn and Alabama have combined for 16 national titles and 37 conference crowns over their storied histories, meaning that this late-season game is more than likely going to have a huge impact on, at minimum, the SEC landscape.
From a more modern perspective, the Tide and Tigers have combined for 11 of the 20 available SEC West titles since the conference split in 1992.
There simply isn’t much that could dilute the hate that clearly is in Alabama’s college football water supply, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Auburn and Alabama will square off for the 77th time in history this Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide lead the all-time series 41-34-1.
1. Ohio State vs. Michigan
No. 1 in our embittered sweepstakes, Ohio State vs. Michigan is arguably the most heated rivalry in college football.
Really, the bad feelings between Buckeye fans and Wolverine fans go way beyond any kind of logical explanation and the relationship actually defines the long-term association between the two states.
Michigan enthusiasts who dare to clad themselves in Blue and Maize and show up at an Ohio Wal-Mart are treated to a zillion glares and threatening glances, while a guy with a nut necklace in Detroit is a marked man indeed.
Keep in mind that this a rivalry that has the firepower to produce death threats over the issue of a Michigan commit purportedly burning an Ohio State recruiting letter. And these people were serious, dead serious.
What makes the OSU-Michigan series so bitter is the fact that it is a rivalry that represents what might be the most prolific and consistent combination in college football rivalry history.
Together, the Buckeyes and Wolverines share 18 national championships from 1901-2002, and a whopping 79 conference titles stretching from 1898 all the way to 2010.
In fact, of the 115 Big Ten football titles ever awarded, either Michigan or Ohio State, or a combination of the two, have won well over half. And from 1968-82 the Wolverines and/or Buckeyes captured 15 consecutive Big Ten crowns.
It's hate, it's chock full of impact, it's bragging rights and it’s THE game in one of the most football-rich regions in the nation.
The 109th meeting between Michigan and Ohio State is slated for this Saturday in Columbus. Michigan leads the all-time series 58-44-2, and before winning last season’s clash lost seven straight. The Wolverines’ last win in Columbus came back in 2000.