The Hottest College Football Rivalries of 2009
Rivalries are funny things.
They might be fought neck-and-neck every year, with the bragging rights trading hands perennially.
They also might go five, ten, even twenty years in favor of a dominant team, with the bad blood lying dormant the whole time.
But as soon as that underdog wins, the animosity is rekindled, the vitriol flows, and hope that the balance will shift springs anew.
While my favorite rivalry struggles through one-sided dominance, I'd like to look at other rivalries—some entirely new, some that go way back—with this sense of newfound hope.
Some of these games have played out already, while others have yet to be decided.
Here are 10 of the hottest rivalries of the 2009 season.
Michigan v. Michigan State
After six years of dominance, suddenly the Michigan Wolverines find themselves on consecutive losing ends in the annual fight for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
Back-to-back losses to the Spartans have rejuvenated Spartan recruiting in-state and resparked the vitriol between the two rival programs.
Last year, the Spartans beat the Wolverines and celebrated in the Big House for the first time since 1990.
This year, the loss to the Spartans precipitated the Wolverines' five-game conference free-fall and was the first back-to-back victory for the Spartans since 1967.
The consensus among close observers was that the Spartans had prepared immensely for Rich Rodriguez's spread attack, almost to the exclusion of all other preparation.
But Michigan State fans won't complain. Beating Big Blue is sometimes better than a winning season. This year, they might get to have both.
Next year, Rich Rodriguez's Wolverines will have to show they're serious about their in-state brethren, or risk losing more ground in the state.
The "Civil War": Oregon v. Oregon State
This was already a fine rivalry for those in the know, though until recently it hadn't had the Pac-10 title implications it now has.
Last year, the Ducks played spoiler to the Beavers' Rose Bowl hopes by running up 694 yards and 65 total points in Corvallis. Without that loss, the Beavers would have made the Rose Bowl on the strength of their upset of USC and their only Pac-10 loss occurring against Stanford in the first week of the season.
If Oregon beats Arizona, this year the Beavers will be in position to play spoiler, as the winner of this game will receive the Pac-10's BCS berth.
Texas Tech v. Oklahoma State
This all started two years ago, when Mike Leach—no stranger to the microphone—poked fun at Oklahoma State claiming they had the "greatest offense in the world" before Texas Tech's visit to Stillwater.
The Red Raiders lost that game, leading to another Leach meltdown at the microphone declaiming the arrogance of his players.
But Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy hasn't exactly shown a steady hand. His comments following the 2007 win are pretty legendary.
In 2008, the no. 2 Red Raiders ran up the score on Oklahoma State before losing to Oklahoma later in the year.
Oklahoma State won this year's spatfest, 24-17, but not before losing quarterback Zac Robinson to a crushing blow from Texas Tech safety Jamar Wall. Robinson, who lay for several minutes without moving, was carted off the field, but is expected to return.
This all occurred a few weeks after Leach chewed out his players' fat little girlfriends for taking time and focus away from their boyfriends in practice.
For we few, we lucky few, who proclaim Leach the patron saint of political incorrectness, (or for anyone that digs a little wonky offense), this is definitely one of the hottest rivalries out there.
Navy v. Notre Dame
2007 was a down year for the Irish, so losing to Navy, though painful, was understandable.
2008 was a close win against a good Midshipmen team that finished 8-5. That one was a relief.
But losing to the Midshipmen in 2009 may be what pushes the ND administration over the edge on the Weis question.
And for a game that hadn't broken in Navy's favor since Roger Staubach was quarterback, beating the Irish in South Bend gave new life to an extremely lopsided rivalry overall.
The Irish hold a 7:1 advantage in the series; but that was then, this is now. Watch for this rivalry to keep momentum if the ND administration waffles on firing Weis.
Stanford v. USC
It all began when Jim Harbaugh alleged that Pete Carroll was planning on coaching for "one more year" at USC before heading to the NFL prior to the 2007 season. Harbaugh cited anonymous staff within Pete Carroll's university. Carroll rebuked Harbuagh for his comments.
Harbaugh responded by praising USC as the team of the century, then beating them, 24-23, in the biggest statistical upset in college football history.
Carroll's Trojans overwhelmed the Cardinal the following year, but this year the rivalry was rejuvenated when Harbaugh's team went for a two-point conversion despite already leading Carroll's Trojans 48-21.
Carroll allegedly asked Harbaugh "What's your deal?" twice at midfield, to which Harbaugh replied, "What's your deal?"
Harbaugh was only trying to get to 50 points, like any good Big Ten guy would do.
This rivalry should play out interestingly if the Cardinal prove they can be a consistent Pac-10 threat and if USC finds itself struggling to regain its prominence next year.
Harbaugh has dealt two blows to USC in the Coliseum, but has yet to beat the Trojans at home.
Check back next year to see what each coach's deal is.
Iowa v. Northwestern
Is it a true rivalry? No.
Do they play for one of those funny, old-timey trophy gadgets that litter the Big Ten landscape? Nope.
But has Northwestern played spoiler to some of Iowa finer moments as a football program? Um, oddly, yes.
The closest chance Iowa has had to a national championship since Hayden Fry coached was tragically ripped away when Northwestern's D-coordinator anticipated a Ricky Stanzi rollout.
Once the carnage was cleared, Northwestern had scored a touchdown off a fumble, Ricky Stanzi was in a medical boot, and Scott Vandenberg was throwing nine completions on 27 attempts and an interception to seal the upset in Kinnick Stadium.
The near-fatal blow to Iowa's chances at an outright Big Ten championship was finished the following week, at Ohio Stadium.
Why Northwestern is Iowa's Achilles heel is beyond me, but this rivalry should be interesting to watch next year if fortune shines on the upstart Wildcats.
If you can't beat 'em...well, upset 'em.
Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate: Georgia v. Georgia Tech
There's nothing new about this rivalry—Georgia Tech's fight song calls out Georgia by name, and it was written in 1911.
But until recently, the Georgia Bulldogs owned this rivalry, and hadn't lost to GT since 2000.
Statistically, they still do; the series is 59-39-5 in favor of the Bulldgos. But that didn't stop the Yellow Jackets from notching a 45-42 upset over the Matthew Stafford-led Bulldogs in last year's season finale in Athens.
This year it is the Bulldogs who can play spoiler to the 10-1 Yellow Jackets.
Paul Johnson's team is likely BCS bound with a berth in the ACC title game sewn up, but that won't prevent Mark Richt's Bulldogs from trying to overcome a lackluster season and take a little luster off of Paul Johnson's Cinderella campaign in Atlanta.
Now, there's plenty of clean, old-fashioned hate to go around.
Texas v. Texas A&M
The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is an easy choice, but that game has already been played.
And besides, there are so many great traditions involved in the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry.
There's the Aggie Bonfire (pictured), a hulking mass of flame symbolizing Aggie fans' burning desire to beat Texas.
And there's the Texas Hex, where UT students burn red candles to "curse" the Aggies before the game.
Just get this story that forms the origin of the Texas Hex:
Before the 1941 game, a group of [Texas] students went to a fortune teller, Mozzelle "Madame Augusta" Hipple, for advice. The Aggies were undefeated that season and the Longhorns had not defeated A&M at Kyle Field in almost 18 years, going 10-7-1 from 1923 through 1940. The fortune teller told the students to burn red candles, symbolizing challenge and opposition. University students, alumni and fans burned red candles for the entire week before the game. The Longhorns won the football game 23-0.
The Aggies can respond in kind by working that strange Longhorn-killing magic that's worked two out of the last three years. Beating Texas would not only guarantee bowl eligibility for the struggling Aggies, but would end their national title hopes and spoil the Longhorns' dream season.
This year's game is at Kyle Field. The Vince Young-led Longhorns had to get through the 12th man before embarking on their national championship run. Let's see if Colt McCoy's can do the same.
Tennessee v. Florida
This rivalry is as old as the Tennessee hills.
But Lane Kiffin gave it new life when he snatched recruit and Pahokee, Florida native Nu'Keese Richardson out of Urban Meyer's fold (we all know how that turned out, right?), then alleged that Meyer violated recruiting rules when he called Nu'Keese while the player was visiting Tennesee's (which is not a recruiting violation).
Oh, and he said "Something something Rocky Top something beat Florida something all night something."
In spite of their moribund offense, the Vols gave the Gators quite a scare in the Swamp in September, containing the Florida offense to only 23 points and forcing the Gators to scrap for every yard.
Next year, Tennessee gets the Gators in Neyland Stadium, where the Vols last beat Florida in 2004, when neither of these men were coaches of their institutions. If Kiffin can start putting his money where his offense is (his offense where his mouth is?), there's a chance this rivalry starts deciding the SEC East champ like it used to do in the good ol' days.
UCLA v. USC
This year could be the year Rick Neuheisel finally makes good on his promise to challenge the Trojans for their recruiting prowess in the LA area.
This game used to function as a de facto Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth-decider. Famous games played out between Heisman winners and All-Americans as the two teams battled for dominance in the recruiting hotbed.
But as of late, the intensity has died down and the Trojans have owned the rivalry on and off the field.
The Bruins' last win was a memorable upset of the national championship-bound Trojans in 2006.
If UCLA can knock off USC in the Coliseum, it will be the fourth Pac-10 loss for the reeling Pete Carroll administration, and will likely also lead to a bowl berty for UCLA.
Renewing this rivalry is crucial to buffering UCLA's credibility, and for Rick Neuheisel, this has to be the year to do it.