What's the best rivalry in college football? The initial response is to go with Alabama-Auburn, and it's hard to disagree with a sentiment like that; the two programs share the last four national championships and the games usually make for appointment viewing there in late November.
Though rivalries are supposed to be two-sided, Auburn is quite clearly not on Alabama's level. Nobody is, really, but Auburn isn't even as close as LSU or Florida, and neither of those schools share the deep, historical, passionate and visceral rivalry with Alabama that Auburn does.
Florida and Georgia have a great rivalry, but for some reason—perhaps the game's usual date in October before the stakes are clear—the annual World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party seems more like a sideshow than an important football game.
Most of the other rivalries in college football either lack passion, competitiveness, end-of-season importance or something else that would otherwise diminish their national standing. And really, there is no perfect rivalry and never will be.
But if you're looking for a rivalry that's going to kick up over the next few years, one that already has the national standing and historical significance, you'd better be looking at Michigan and Ohio State. More particularly, it'll be between Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer.
We've seen the seeds of this rivalry sown from the moment both coaches set foot on their respective campuses. Hoke won't wear red or say the words "Ohio State," and he served notice to the rest of the conference that he was here to dominate when he started out 11-2, beating Ohio State in the regular season finale and securing the Rivals.com No. 7 recruiting class afterwards.
Urban Meyer was named the Ohio State head coach two days after Michigan's victory in 2011. While Luke Fickell kept control of the program through its ill-fated Gator Bowl appearance, Meyer focused on recruiting, and by the time his class was done, it had surpassed Michigan's, ranking fourth in the national on the same Rivals.com scale.
Nobody else in the Big Ten was even close.
That rivalry continued apace in 2012, as Meyer won his first rivalry game against the Wolverines, 26-21, en route to clinching an undefeated season with Ohio State. More importantly, Meyer and Hoke are neck-and-neck on the recruiting trail, with the Buckeyes finally inching past the Wolverines in Rivals.com's 2013 rankings; Ohio State is now No. 4, and Michigan is now No. 5.
Again, nobody else in the Big Ten comes even close.
This battle is already at its fever pitch, or what we imagine it to be at this point, as Meyer has just waltzed into the state of Michigan to secure a commitment from Damon Webb, a cornerback who might well be the state's best prospect in the class of 2014. Here's more from the Columbus Dispatch:
“I just felt like it’s the best program for me,” Webb said. “I like the coaches and the atmosphere there, and the academics as well.”
The second player to commit to the OSU 2014 class, joining offensive lineman Marcelys Jones of Cleveland (Glenville), Webb is a major win for coach Urban Meyer and his staff, said Bill Greene, recruiting analyst for Scout.com.
“Damon Webb is one of the top players in the country for 2014,” Greene said. “He might end up (rated as) a five-star player in the end. He will be higher-ranked than Eli Apple, Cam Burrows or Gareon Conley (cornerbacks in the 2013 OSU class), and is a significant addition for Ohio State.”
And like all great rivalries, this one isn't lopsided. In fact, Brady Hoke has made a habit of going into Ohio for some of his best recruits; among several Ohioans, the 2012 class boasted Kyle Kalis, a 5-star offensive lineman, and 4-star linebacker Joe Bolden, who saw immediate and extensive playing time in this past season.
The 2013 class is even more Ohio-heavy for Hoke and Michigan. In this class, nine of Michigan's verbals hail from the Buckeye State (which they will likely never call it again), including highly-touted offensive lineman Kyle Bosch and safety Dymonte Thomas.
If Hoke and Meyer continue pulling in Top 10-quality recruiting classes for the foreseeable future—and there's no reason to believe that pattern's going to change—they're going to be fielding the best two teams in the Big Ten year in and year out. They'll both be routine challengers for Top 10 status in the polls and for bids to the Big Ten Championship Game.
Combine that with all the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry stands for and all its historical cachet, and this has all the makings of college football's best rivalry. Get ready, folks; the Tressel-Carr era is going to look like child's play compared to what Meyer and Hoke put into gaining the upper hand here.