Ten of the Best New and Rejuvenated Rivalries in College Football
They define college football.
Through the years, epic games such as the Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma, the Big Game between Stanford and Cal, the end of season finale between Ohio State and Michigan and the “Back Yard Brawl” between Pitt and West Virginia have given fans tons of memories, great plays, and intense moments.
Moments like a Cal player running through the Stanford band to win the game. Harvard scoring 16 points in the last two minutes to “win” 29-29 versus an undefeated Yale team. Bo versus Woody in the Big Ten. Daryl versus Frank in the old SWC.
Over the last few decades, however, leagues have changed and the independents are no more. Some of the old rivalries are just memories; Texas A&M against LSU, Penn State versus Pitt, Syracuse playing BC and Texas against old foe Arkansas, along with many others, have gone by the wayside.
The new alignments have, however, created some intriguing new matchups that have started to develop intensity. Here are my votes for the top 10 modern day rivalries that have started to develop the mixture of animosity, hard feelings, dislike, and genuine hate that make up all good rivalries.
Some are teams that have played for years but just recently got to really dislike each other. Others are relatively new match ups created from the new mergers and acquisitions mode that the leagues all seem to be in (a sign of the times perhaps).
And I've pointed out a few that may be...well, a bit of a stretch, shall we say....
Arkansas versus Mississippi
Arkansas was the team that really started all of the changes.
When they bolted for the SEC in 1981, they set in motion a series of changes that ultimately led to the demise of the SWC. And they started playing Ole Miss every year.
The Razorbacks hold a 17-12 lead in the series since it became an annual fixture in 1981, and the game has been marked by intense fan interest. This is fueled by the fact that it is one of the few venues for Razorback fans that they can reasonably drive to, and the overlapping recruiting territories of the schools
Connecticut versus Rutgers
Rutgers played the first football game ever against Princeton back in 1869. And proceeded to pretty much stink for the next century. They played in exactly one bowl before 2005.
UConn was a similar sad sack. A 1-AA program until 2003, they had played Rutgers on and off in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. In 2003, the Huskies upgraded to 1-A, joined the Big East, and started playing the Scarlet Knights every years.
And then a funny thing happened…both programs got decent. Rutgers has been in a bowl every year since 2005. UConn has been in four bowls in the past six years.
Since they started playing annually, Rutgers leads the series four to three. Only one game, a 38-17 victory by UConn in 2007, has been decided by more than one touchdown. Last year saw another typically tight battle, as Rutgers scored in the last minute to beat the Huskies 28-24 in East Hartford.
Both teams would go on to win their respective bowls. And Big East fans can look forward to more tight matchups between these two emerging powers.
Michigan versus Indiana
Indiana has not won this game since 1987. Michigan leads the all time series 51-9.
Under the stellar leadership of Rich Rodriguez for the Blue and Maize, however, I see this rivalry developing over the next few years. Why?
It appears that the Wolverines will be contending for the bottom of the Big Ten along with the Hoosiers as long as Rich Rod is around.
The 2009 game reflected this, as it was a real barn burner which was won 36-33 by Michigan. Neither team decided to play any defense that day...or for any of their other games.
Expect to see more of this excitement in upcoming years...or at least until the Michigan administration comes to their senses and gets some coaching in place that knows how to compete in the Big Ten.
Oregon State versus USC
They’ve been playing this one a long time out West. But until recently, rivalry was not the word that came to mind for this game.
Automatic was more like it.
USC beat Oregon State every year from 1968 to 1999. Before 2000, when Oregon State broke that streak, the men of Troy held a 63-6-4 advantage over the Beavers. And most of them were not too close.
The Trojans would annually take on the Beavers and kick sand in their face, disrespect their mothers, steal their girlfriends, and otherwise plunder and pillage at will.
Since 2000, however, the Beavers have managed to make it a real series. The Trojans hold a six to three edge since then, but the games have been close and are no longer an automatic. And the rivalry is starting to gain some real traction. Another Beaver win this year at their home turf would go a long way to continuing that trend.
Clemson versus Presbyterian
You just gotta love some of this new style scheduling.
Big time schools fattening up on Division 1-AA cupcakes at their home fields. But sometimes it is almost embarrassing.
Like Clemson taking on Presbyterian this year. This has all the making of a really, really good rivalry.
If you’re a masochist.
Presbyterian, who just finished a winless season in Division 1-AA, must believe in the sacrament of Penance, since that self abuse was apparently not enough to satisfy their self destructive urges. Nope, they’re attempting to springboard off that magnificent season by upgrading their schedule to Division 1.
Clemson, for their part, must be trying to break the all time record of 222-0 scored when Georgia Tech under John Heisman beat the living tar out of Cumberland College back in the days of leather helmets. Why else would they schedule this?
The game, played in the friendly confines of Death Valley, should bring scenes from the movies Spartacus and Gladiator to mind...with Presbyterian playing the part of the sacrificial victims.
Texas Tech versus Oklahoma State
Tech and Oklahoma State played sporadically throughout the years, playing 23 times from 1935 through 1989. This changed with the formation of the Big 12 and the initiation of an annual game starting in 1996.
Since then, Texas Tech leads the series with nine wins versus the Cowboys five. But it continues to tighten up and is becoming one of the better rivalries in the league.
The series has see sawed back and forth the last eight years, with the home team winning each contest. Last year saw that wild and craaazy guy, Cowboy Coach Mike Gundy, lead his charges to a 24-17 victory over the swashbuckling Red Raiders of Mike Leach in Stillwater.
This year, new coach Tommy Tuberville gets the Cowboys in Lubbock. Expect a home team victory once again with the Red Raider faithful to showing their usual love for the opposition. And more fuel to the fire of this budding rivalry.
Texas A&M versus Oklahoma
Before they began playing annually as members of the new Big 12 in 1993, the Sooners and Aggies had not played since 1951.
That’s a long time.
Two storied programs with some of the best home atmospheres in college ball now go at it every year.
As Big 12 South rivals they’ve played 16 times, with the Sooners holding an 11-5 edge. And Oklahoma has now won seven games in a row.
But hopes are high in Aggieland for a turnaround this year, as they return the key pieces to a high powered offense, and get the Sooners at home in College Station.
Boston College versus Notre Dame
These two Catholic institutions represent quite a bit of football history between them. Boston College started playing football in 1893, Notre Dame in 1894.
Because of this, people assume that this series has long standing roots. But the two schools actually never met on the gridiron until 1975, and had only two more meetings (one of them in the Liberty Bowl) until they decided to make it an annual affair in 1992.
Since then, the Eagles have won nine times versus seven victories for the Irish. Eight of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less, with last year’s 20-16 Irish victory snapping a six game Eagle winning streak in the series.
TCU versus the State of Utah
The Horned Frogs joined the Mountain West in 1997, and have been battling with both the Utah Utes and BYU Cougars for league dominance since then. And the men of Utah have some out ahead.
Against Utah, the Froggies are 2-5, and have never won in Salt Lake. Until last year’s victory in Fort Worth, the Frogs had never scored more than 23 points against the Utes.
And against the Cougars, TCU has gone 4-5 overall, 3-4 since 1996, although they have managed to win the last two games in convincing fashion.
The games have become increasingly intense, with sellout crowds, big time media coverage, national rankings and BCS berths on the line.
With a plethora of starters back for both TCU and Utah in 2010, and Coach Bronco Mendenhal doing his usual superb job of preparing the Cougars, expect more hard fought games and big crowds in 2010.
Penn State versus Ohio State
There were a lot of reasons that Joe Paterno wanted to have join the Big Ten. Squaring off against teams like Ohio State was one of them.
Before they joined the league in 1993, Penn State had played the Buckeyes eight times; once in a bowl, once at Happy Valley and six times in Columbus.
Since then, the Buckeyes have won 11 while the Lions have won six—and the game has become one circled on the calendars of fans of both programs. Big programs, big crowds, big games—Big Ten.