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10 Most Underrated Rivalries in College Football

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJune 23, 2014

10 Most Underrated Rivalries in College Football

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    USA TODAY Sports

    All of the biggest, most important rivalries in college football have been well-documented. Perhaps they have been overly well-documented. The Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama and The Game between Ohio State and Michigan are talked about, seemingly, 365 days per year.

    But there is a tier of lesser-discussed rivalries bubbling under the surface that have proved to be every bit as good. Perhaps they do not determine conference and national champions on a semiannual basis, but they are filled with pageantry and passion all the like.

    For the purposes of this list, only FBS rivalries were considered. There are some incredible rivalries hiding at the FCS level—I'm looking at you, Lehigh-Lafayette—but that is a topic for a different day. (Seriously, there are enough to rivalries fill their very own list.)

    The following are rivalries that don't get the national recognition they deserve, despite being at the FBS level. Recent results were used as a factor, but not a determining one; the way each program and fanbase feels about the other was of much bigger concern.

    Sound off below, and let me know where you disagree.

Alabama vs. Mississippi State

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Sometimes referred to as the "90-Minute Ride"—Tuscaloosa and Starkville are separated by 90 miles on U.S. Highway 82—the series between Alabama and Mississippi State lacks the cache of the name-brand SEC rivalries but is typically surprisingly competitive.

    Last year, for example, the Bulldogs played the Tide to a close 20-7 defeat, holding Nick Saban's team to a season-low in points.

    Especially because of what Alabama has become the past half-decade, beating it for the first time since 2007 would mean more, in some ways, than beating Ole Miss in the much-more-hyped Egg Bowl.

    The two teams will meet this year in Tuscaloosa in November.

Army vs. Navy

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    I wrote about the Army-Navy game at length back in December, imploring fans to watch despite what I called "C-plus-at-best" football.

    I am not ready to back off from the sentiment—seriously, the Black Knights have been pretty awful the past three seasons—but I still believe this is one of the most underrated rivalries in all of sports.

    No two teams and fanbases respect each more (for obvious reasons), and few games can match the pageantry and tradition. The outcome doesn't hold national importance each year the same way Auburn-Alabama does, but the fact that the game is played at all has its own, different kind of importance to the players and the teams.

    Those who don't watch the Army-Navy game because the quality isn't great are overthinking it. That is a pragmatic but misguided way to make decisions. Something about this rivalry literally feels different, even if the players aren't superstars or future pros.

    Everyone should see at least one of these meetings in person.

Baylor vs. TCU

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The Baylor-TCU rivalry has lost some luster since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 two seasons ago.

    But that was to be expected.

    How could these teams possibly match the season-opener in 2011, when Robert Griffin III jump-started his Heisman campaign with 359 passing yards and five touchdowns in a wild 50-48 victory?

    The 2013 meeting wasn't half bad itself, though. TCU nearly ruined the Bears' BCS chances but eventually lost, 41-38, on its home field.

    Also, before TCU's campus was moved to Fort Worth in 1910, it was actually located alongside Baylor in Waco.

    That is some pretty cool history.

BYU vs. Utah

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    The Holy War is generally regarded as one of the better rivalries in America, which made me hesitant to include it on this list.

    In the end, I decided it belonged because it is not one of the better rivalries in America. In truth, it is one of the best!

    The religious and cultural underpinnings make this game unlike any in America. Utah students think BYU students are overly pious goodie-goodies; BYU students resent how "hardcore" the Utes think they are.

    Plus, these are two of the most underappreciated but consistently good programs in the country. Which is to say: The quality of the football has been very, very good in most seasons. 

    That certainly does not hurt.

Clemson vs. South Carolina

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    This one has everything going for it.

    Clemson and South Carolina have only recently become consistent college football powers, but even before the rest of the country realized it, the in-state rivals have hated each other. Like, really hated each other. Enough so that this brawl happened in 2004.

    There is also some pretty cool lore to the rivalry between the schools, which includes a near-armed conflict in 1902. That and the constant modern-day potshots between Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney make the Clemson-USC rivalry an important one.

Clemson vs. Georgia Tech

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    No, I am not a Clemson homer. Yes, I put the Tigers on here twice.

    Why?

    Because in both cases, they deserve it.

    Clemson-Georgia Tech has always been a sneaky-good rivalry. The fans don't hate each other the way some of the others on this list do, but they definitely don't like each other either. Seriously, do you think "Crying Guy" feels anything but ill-will toward the Yellow Jackets?

    Me neither.

    GT handed Clemson one of the biggest "Clemsoning" losses in program history in 2011, knocking the Tigers off, 31-17, when they were 8-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country. Two years before that, it beat Clemson in the (since-vacated) ACC Championship Game 39-34.

    Always be ready for a good one when these teams meet.

Iowa vs. Iowa State

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    You can count on weird things to happen, consistently, in the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy, which has been decided by a total of 12 points the past three seasons.

    In 2011, the Cyclones beat the Hawkeyes by three points in a shootout, 44-41. In 2012, they beat them in a defensive struggle, 9-6. But Iowa got back on the board with a six-point win in Ames last season, 27-21.

    The only thing we know about this rivalry, it seems, is that we do not know anything about this rivalry.

    It's a wildly different game each time the two teams play.

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin

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    USA TODAY Sports

    For the most part, this list attempted to not consider trophies in the selection process. A cool trophy is prone to mask an otherwise uninspiring rivalry, so it didn't seem fair to weigh them too heavily.

    The battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, however, is too good to ignore. It is an apt symbol for a couple of teams from the great North who prefer to play power, downhill football. In every conceivable way, it works.

    The Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry is also cool because of location. Gophers fans often double as Minnesota Vikings fans, just as Badgers fans often double as Green Bay Packers fans. They continue rooting against one another long after graduating from school.

    Talk about a long-term investment.

Michigan vs. Michigan State

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    Things have never been the same since Michigan running back Mike Hart called the Spartans Michigan's "little brother" in 2007.

    Since that time, Michigan State has won five of six meetings and altered the power structure of football in the state of Michigan. Landing 5-star recruits such as Malik McDowell—despite his parents' reservations—over Michigan is something MSU can take pride in.

    A big part of the Spartans' rebirth has been fueled by their hatred of the second-class-citizen treatment they get from UM. Per Mike Griffith of MLive.com, here is what ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit had to say:

    I think it goes back to the `They're our little brother' comment from Mike Hart, (and) I think Michigan State plays with a great deal of anger and intensity, and it's because of the way over the years Michigan has viewed them. Mark Dantonio has lived that and he makes sure his team understands that. Michigan has to match that intensity.

    Ohio State is still Michigan's biggest rival. The Game will always be the biggest game on the Wolverines' schedule. No doubt about it.

    But the second-place finisher is (much) closer than it used to be.

Oregon vs. Washington

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    USA TODAY Sports

    This has never been a friendly rivalry.

    Washington and Oregon genuinely do not like each other, and that disdain spills over onto the field each and every season.

    "We know they hate us," former UW defensive tackle Larry Triplett said plainly before meeting the Ducks in 2001, per Shelley Smith of ESPN.com "There's no secret about that. I've had this game circled since beginning of season. It's a big-time game."

    It doesn't help that Oregon has won the last 10 meetings. Last year, the Huskies gave it a good shot and kept it close for three quarters but lost by 21 points after giving up two touchdowns in the fourth.

    Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and Washington head coach Chris Petersen were assistants together for the Ducks in 1997. Might their friendship be able to stem the tides between two schools and teams that sincerely do not care for another?

    "I will still be a friend of his most days," Helfrich joked after Petersen was hired this winter, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.

    "...364 days."

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