SEC Football: Ranking the Conference's Best Rivalries

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 13, 2015

SEC Football: Ranking the Conference's Best Rivalries

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    Alabama RB Derrick Henry
    Alabama RB Derrick HenryKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The SEC is known for having some of the best rivalries in college football, both inside the conference and outside with state schools from other conferences.

    Let's leave those out-of-conference rivalries alone for now and take a look at the best rivalries in the SEC.

    Our top 10 based on intensity, tradition and national importance are in this slideshow.

10. Georgia vs. South Carolina

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    Former South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson (left) and Georgia head coach Mark Richt
    Former South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson (left) and Georgia head coach Mark RichtStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    When it comes to early-season showdowns, it doesn't get much better than Georgia vs. South Carolina.

    The two SEC East foes share a border and typically cross that border (typically in early September) to define the initial landscape of the division. What's more, the game itself typically gets pretty crazy. In three of the last four seasons, both teams have topped the 30-point mark in wild shootouts that became instant classics.

    Toss in the added dimension of Steve Spurrier—who terrorized Georgia when he was the head coach of Florida—getting South Carolina back on track, with three straight 11-win seasons from 2011-2013, and this matchup has everything you want in a big-time SEC rivalry.

    The winner of this game establishes itself as the front-runner for the division title, while the loser leaves itself a small margin for error for the rest of the season.

9. LSU vs. Texas A&M

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    LSU RB Leonard Fournette
    LSU RB Leonard FournetteScott Halleran/Getty Images

    Wait, what? Can Texas A&M—in its fourth season in the conference—really have one of the SEC's top rivalries?

    Yes, it can, and it already does.

    LSU has won each of the first three meetings against the Aggies after they joined the SEC in 2012, but those were just three of the 53 meetings between the two border rivals. Overall, LSU holds a 30-20-3 series lead over Texas A&M, with last season's edition taking place on Thanksgiving night in College Station.

    It's going to get bigger in the future too.

    LSU doesn't depend on the state of Texas for recruiting, but it routinely crosses the border to cherry-pick some of the state's best prospects out of Texas A&M's backyard. As high school players become more and more familiar with Texas A&M as an SEC school, it's going to make LSU's job much more difficult.

    As a result, beating the Aggies on the field will be much more important in years to come in order for LSU to continue to have recruiting success in the Lone Star State.

8. Tennessee vs. Florida

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    It wasn't too long ago when Tennessee vs. Florida was the defining game not just in the SEC East, but in the entire conference. The rivalry has given the college football world plenty to talk about, including controversial catches, one-sided unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, thrilling endings and catchphrases like former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier saying that "you can't spell 'Citrus' without UT."

    Unfortunately, this rivalry has fallen on hard times.

    The struggles of both programs have relegated it to the back burner in recent seasons, but there's still no doubt that the two programs dislike each other. Need proof? Look no further than former Florida head coach Will Muschamp taking pleasure in the fans leaving Neyland Stadium disappointed last season in the video above.

    It may not be down for long, though. 

    Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has turned the program into a recruiting machine, and it's not like the cupboard is bare for new Florida head coach Jim McElwain in Gainesville. Expect this rivalry to fly back up the charts in the coming years as the two programs regain their footing in the SEC East.

7. LSU vs. Arkansas

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    If you're looking for weird football, the Battle for the Golden Boot is your game.

    LSU and Arkansas have produced an Ice Bowl, two versions of The Miracle on Markham, a triple-overtime regular-season finale that almost cost LSU a national title bid in former Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt's final game in 2007 and, more recently, a fourth-quarter 99-yard drive led by true freshman Anthony Jennings in an LSU win over Arkansas in 2013.

    Even in down years, like when John L. Smith was Arkansas' head coach in 2012, this game routinely goes down to the wire and provides some incredible plays, like Jarvis Landry's ridiculous one-handed catch that same season.

    Unfortunately, this game got moved from its traditional day-after-Thanksgiving time slot, but it's still one of the SEC's best matchups.

6. Tennessee vs. Alabama

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    Former Alabama WR Amari Cooper
    Former Alabama WR Amari CooperWade Payne/Associated Press

    The Third Saturday Day in October isn't played on its traditional weekend anymore, but that doesn't take away from its importance and tradition.

    One of two cross-division rivalries that can't be eliminated, this matchup has featured everything from blocked field goals as time expired to victory cigars and even a subpoena served to former Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer at SEC media days in 2008.

    Unfortunately, Tennessee's struggles and Alabama's success since Fulmer was served that subpoena have rendered this game as more of a snoozefest when the two meet on the field, but the two SEC powers have still met 96 times since 1901 and circle the meeting on the calendar every offseason.

    If Tennessee gets built back into a power by head coach Butch Jones, this could become one of the SEC's best rivalries over the next few years.

5. Auburn vs. Georgia

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    Auburn WR Ricardo Louis
    Auburn WR Ricardo LouisUSA TODAY Sports

    The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has produced some memorable matchups, including a game that saw Georgia fans storm Auburn's field and get pushed back by fire hoses (1986); a four-overtime thriller that resulted in Uga attempting to bite former Auburn wide receiver Robert Baker (1996); a wild affair in 2005 that went back and forth; and The Miracle on the Plains in 2013, when Nick Marshall's fourth-down prayer was answered off of a tip by wide receiver Ricardo Louis.

    Those are just the best of the best, because these two teams routinely meet in mid-November with division titles and the national title on the line for one or both programs.

    It also holds value to many of its key figures for personal reasons. Legendary Georgia head coach Vince Dooley played at Auburn and former Auburn head coach Pat Dye played for Georgia, which created quite a conflict during the 1980s.

    "It's a unique thing. It's like playing against your brother. I don't think anybody who plays in that game can ever forget it," Dye said, according to Cheryl Wray of AL.com. "It just doesn't matter much where it's played or what somebody's record is. It's so intense and tough, but at the same time, it's family."

4. Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State

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    Former Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
    Former Ole Miss QB Bo WallaceStacy Revere/Getty Images

    The world recently got a glimpse of what people in the SEC have known for years—the Egg Bowl is as intense as any rivalry in the conference.

    The annual meeting between intrastate rivals Ole Miss and Mississippi State was a top-20 matchup in 2014, with No. 19 Ole Miss wrecking No. 4 Mississippi State's outside shot at making the inaugural College Football Playoff. It was just the latest in a long line of classic matchups between the Rebels and the Bulldogs.

    In 2013, Bo Wallace fumbled going into the end zone in overtime as Mississippi State topped Ole Miss. In 1999, Mississippi State led a fourth-quarter rally for the ages, and a late Ole Miss two-point conversion in 1997 gave the Rebels a 15-14 win.

    The two teams have met 111 times, and while this game doesn't always have national implications like the 2014 meeting, it trails only the Iron Bowl in intensity among SEC rivalry games.

3. LSU vs. Alabama

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    LSU and Alabama met in 2011 in Tuscaloosa in The Game of the Century, but it was only one in a long line of games that have defined the recent history of SEC football.

    When Nick Saban moved from the Miami Dolphins to lead the Alabama Crimson Tide prior to the 2007 season, this rivalry kicked into overdrive. Since that time, the two SEC West juggernauts have met in three games that have gone into overtime, and only once—the 2013 meeting in Tuscaloosa—has the regular-season meeting been decided by more than nine points.

    From last-minute screen passes to phantom interceptions to goal-line stands, LSU vs. Alabama never fails to produce unforgettable regular-season games.

    Of course, when they meet for the national title, things go a bit differently. But that matchup following the 2011 season that Alabama won 21-0 is a fine reflection of just how good these two teams have been over the last decade.

2. Florida vs. Georgia

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    The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (yes, we still call it by its proper name) between Florida and Georgia is more than a football game, it's an event that marks the final day of summer.

    Typically played in Jacksonville, Florida, during the final weekend of October or first weekend of November, the meeting between the Gators and Bulldogs not only carries border bragging rights and SEC East title hopes, it's an event that sends Georgia fans on long weekends to St. Simons Island in a weekend-long celebration of football on the shores of the St. Johns River.

    From "Run, Lindsay, Run" to former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier hanging "half-a-hundred" in one of the rare matchups in the series' history to be played in Athens to Georgia emptying the bench celebrating a touchdown in 2007, this is a game that is a can't-miss event for college football fans.

    The winner has bragging rights for 365 days, while the loser has to deal with a year of frustration.

1. Auburn vs. Alabama

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    The Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama isn't just the best rivalry in the SEC, it's the best rivalry in the country.

    Second place isn't even close.

    The two intrastate rivals have met 79 times, with Alabama holding a 43-35-1 series lead over the Tigers. Why so few games when compared to other rivalries? The rivalry was put on hiatus during the early 1900s due to a disagreement over per diem, according to AL.com.

    Do you want thrillers? The Iron Bowl has had plenty. From "Punt, Bama, Punt" in 1972 to "Bo Over the Top" in 1982, "The Kick" in 1985, the first-ever game in Auburn in 1989 and, most recently, the "Kick Six" and a 55-44 shootout in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

    It isn't just thrilling endings, though. The winner of the Iron Bowl has played in either the national title game or made the College Football Playoff in each of the last six seasons, making this the most important game on the college football calendar every year.

    Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

    Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.