The 10 Best Emerging College Football Rivalries
What makes a rivalry great?
Is it how far back into history the matchup stretches, the traditions surrounding the game or how many combined championships the teams share?
Though these aspects all matter, at least historically speaking, they don’t whip fans into a frenzy like a game with a little more meat on the bone.
Rivalries are at their best when the outcome of an annual game consistently means something more than just bragging rights.
Losing out on the opportunity to compete for something bigger—a title, a playoff spot or even a bowl game—is something a fan never forgets. It fuels the flame of hate that can only be quenched with sweet revenge.
These matchups aren’t in the same league as the Iron Bowl, The Game, Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate or the Civil War, but they do have all the makings of something beautiful.
If that's not enough, they are power-ranked for your pleasure.
Not only will these two brain-trust schools square off in this season's opener in Evanston, Illinois, but they also have four future dates slated.
The pair will take 2017 and 2018 off—Northwestern will continue keeping its academic standards high with Duke, while Stanford will play Notre Dame—and then reunite for games in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
If either is a conference champion or national contender, these games will mean way more than just watching the smart guys beat up on each other.
Northwestern and Stanford have met six times previously, but not since 1994, a 41-41 draw in Evanston. The Cardinal own a 3-1-2 all-time advantage, with the Wildcats' only win coming via a 28-0 shutout in 1958.
Did you know the American Athletic Conference is splitting into two divisions in 2015?
The addition of Navy brings membership up to 12, allowing the league to form East and West Divisions. Cincinnati, UConn, East Carolina, Temple, UCF and South Florida man the East, while Houston, Memphis, Navy, SMU, Tulane and Tulsa combine for the West.
This makes the East, with both Cincinnati and UCF, top-heavy. Combined, the two teams are 40-7 in conference play since 2012.
No other American duo has performed as well over the same time period, making the Bearcats and Knights' placement in the same division a lot like Florida State and Clemson in the ACC Atlantic.
However, the two schools don't have history or geographic proximity going for them. Cincinnati and UCF have never met in football, and they are located 900 miles apart.
8. Pitt-Virginia Tech
The Pitt-Virginia Tech rivalry is waiting for either of the two schools to get back onto the national radar.
In the Panthers' case, it means getting back to where they were from 2009 to 2010, when they posted a 10-win season (2009) and won their last league crown (a share of the 2010 Big East).
For Virginia Tech, it’s about recapturing the essence of its dominating run that lasted from 1999 to 2011. During that span, the Hokies posted 11 double-digit-win seasons and won five conference titles.
These are two quality programs hiding out in the ACC Coastal, where Georgia Tech and Duke are currently the top dogs. But despite their recent achievements, remember that the Yellow Jackets and Blue Devils haven’t won a conference title since 2009 and 1989, respectively.
Throw in the fact that Pitt and Virginia Tech mixed it up in the Big East from 1991 to 2003 and are located a drivable 325 miles apart, and this rivalry shapes up to have even more potential.
The two teams have met 14 times; the Hokies hold an 8-6 all-time advantage and have won five of the last six. The Panthers’ most recent win came in 2013, when they won 19-9 in Blacksburg.
As permanent cross-division rivals, Missouri and Arkansas are set to face off annually for a game that will give the winner a boost in getting to the SEC title game.
For the Tigers, it will count as much as beating Georgia. For the Razorbacks, it’s the same thing as knocking off LSU. For both, it's a "winnable" game in a stacked SEC schedule.
Other than both programs trending up, the sticking point for this budding rivalry is geographic proximity. No fellow SEC East program is as close to Columbia, Missouri, as Fayetteville, Arkansas, is, coming in at just under 300 miles.
It’s a distance that’s absolutely drivable, especially in relative terms: Mizzou is 432 miles from Vanderbilt’s campus, 460 miles from Kentucky’s, 608 from Tennessee’s, 735 from Georgia’s, 870 from South Carolina’s and a whopping 1,011 from Florida’s.
Missouri and Arkansas have met six times in history. The Tigers have a 4-2 all-time advantage, and the Razorbacks' most recent win came in the 2003 Independence Bowl.
6. BYU-Boise State
Did you know BYU and Boise State have games scheduled every season through 2023?
It makes the Cougars as regular an opponent as any team from the Broncos’ Mountain West Conference. On the flip side, Boise State will also be BYU’s most consistently played foe, beating out Utah and Utah State.
This game has "rivalry" written all over it for several reasons. First, for BYU, Boise State is the next best thing to playing a Power Five team without actually playing it. Basically, you get a lot of street cred, but the talent level isn’t quite there, so a win is more likely.
For Boise State, a program still in need of a strength-of-schedule boost, it’s another whack at a Power Five opponent. Why? Because both the SEC and ACC have labeled the Cougars (and all three independents, including Army) as a Power Five program for their new scheduling requirement. Again, it’s like playing a top-tier team, but not quite.
Next, you have the regional proximity of the two schools, which are located a relatively close 400 miles apart.
The pair are also the most likely candidates to be a part of the next wave of conference expansion, especially from their region. These games will be a part of the fabric of those changes, perhaps a preview of the future Pac-14.
BYU and Boise State have met five times in history, all since 2003. The Broncos hold a commanding 4-1 advantage all-time, with the Cougars’ only win coming in 2013.
5. Ohio State-Michigan State
Though Ohio State-Michigan State is definitely not “The Game” (a la the Buckeyes versus Michigan), it has become “The Game That Matters.”
Since 2011, when the Big Ten debuted its league title game, only once has there been a championship without either the Buckeyes or the Spartans. That was in 2012, when Wisconsin destroyed Nebraska.
Ohio State and Michigan State even played for all the marbles straight up in 2013’s title game, when both were still in opposite divisions. The Spartans won that contest 34-24.
As of 2014, these two teams are both Big Ten East members, meaning only one can advance to the conference championship game.
It comes down to the best two teams in the entire league being in the same division. Think Florida State-Clemson, Oregon-Stanford and Alabama-LSU.
So no matter how much Michigan and Ohio State fans hate each other, Michigan State versus Ohio State, for now, means more.
The Buckeyes have a 29-13 advantage in the all-time series and have won nine of the last 11. That said, the Spartans have captured two of the last four.
Louisville’s placement in the ACC Atlantic, where it landed after moving from the Big East in 2014, makes the division even more top-heavy than it already was.
The Atlantic is home to Florida State and Clemson, who have combined to win the last four ACC titles. Adding Louisville to the mix gives the division three schools that had double-digit-win seasons all but once since 2012 (the Cardinals in 2014).
Louisville-Clemson has some extra oomph because both are up-and-coming teams that are trying to knock off the established king of the mountain, Florida State. The Cardinals and Tigers will have to battle each other first to determine who will challenge the Seminoles.
The two teams have met only once in history—last season, when Clemson eked out a 23-17 victory.
Baylor-TCU is a renewed rivalry with a new twist.
The Bears and Horned Frogs met regularly from 1903 to 1995, first as independents and from 1923 onward as co-members of the old Southwest Conference.
When TCU joined the Big 12 in 2012, not only did it make the game an annual affair again, but the school signed on when both the Horned Frogs and Bears were becoming powerful forces on a national stage.
The two are now at the forefront of a huge power swing in a conference that has been long dominated by Texas and Oklahoma. Baylor won the Big 12 outright in 2013 and then shared the honors with the Frogs last season. It marked the first two-year stint since 1997 (Nebraska) and 1998 (Texas A&M) when neither the Longhorns nor Sooners won the conference.
Add in that the two coaches have had recent words, and you’ve got two top-ranked schools with lots of history located just over an hour apart.
Baylor and TCU have met 102 times. The Bears have a narrow 53-50-7 all-time advantage and have won two straight.
2. Texas A&M-LSU
What tips Texas A&M-LSU over the edge is their respective fanbases.
On the one hand, you have the militant, never-sit-down, cult-like Aggies, while on the other hand, you have the colorful, cross-dressing, start-drinking-on-Tuesday Tigers.
One group finds it disrespectful to drink in their stadium, while the other finds it sacrilegious not to. What binds the two is a brand of fanaticism that is equaled only in a handful of college towns.
A&M and LSU met every year from 1986 to 1995, giving a chunk of their alumni a taste of a delicious dish that was put back on the menu when the Aggies signed on with the SEC in 2012.
Now they’ll meet annually, playing for a crucial rung in the ladder that leads to the SEC West title and the conference championship game.
The two schools are a mere 340 miles apart, mostly a straight shot on I-10, especially convenient for the throng of fans living in Houston and New Orleans.
The series dates back to 1906. LSU leads 30-19-3 all-time and has won four straight. The Aggies last won in 1995, which at the time was their fifth-straight victory over the Tigers.
Wisconsin-Nebraska gets the edge over LSU-Texas A&M because the games have a better chance of being meaningful.
While all four fanbases are jacked-up crazy for their beloved teams, the way the Big Ten West and SEC West divisions are fielded makes the Badgers-Huskers game more likely to decide who goes to the league title game.
Where LSU and A&M have to contend with Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas, Wisconsin and Nebraska have Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue.
It’s safe to say, for now, this game will decide who goes to the Big Ten championship game.
The two schools met five times before Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011 and have played four times since, including the 2012 conference championship, which the Badgers won.
The other angle for the Huskers is retribution: They've lost the last two by an average of 37 points.
Wisconsin holds a 5-4 all-time advantage and has won four of the last five. Nebraska last won in 2012.