OSU-Michigan vs. Alabama-Auburn: What Is the Best CFB Rivalry?

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2020

Ohio State and Michigan players play at the line of scrimmage in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

While we patiently wait and hope for a 2020 season of college football, Bleacher Report writers David Kenyon and Kerry Miller are engaging in a trio of good-natured debates.

To this point, we've argued whether Dabo Swinney or Nick Saban is the best coach in the sport and if the Big Ten or SEC is the most dominant conference. Rounding out the series is the best rivalry in college football: the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn, or The Game, featuring Michigan and Ohio State.

In the interest of full disclosure, a coin flip determined which side of the argument we took.

Kerry Miller

It's time to decide once and for all whether The Game or The Iron Bowl is the best rivalry in the sport.

I'm taking the SEC battle, and I will immediately concede that the Big Ten game's nickname reigns supreme. I know there's Birmingham steel history behind the origin of the "Iron Bowl" moniker, but when an entire nation recognizes your game as simply "The Game," you've done something right.

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That said, in-state rivalries automatically have a leg up over those that necessitate the crossing of a border.

Duke vs. North Carolina and Louisville vs. Kentucky are the two best rivalries in college basketball, and each one features in-state...let's call it brotherly love. You walk into a Walmart in any part of Alabama and you're going to find both Auburn and Alabama gear. That's not true in Ohio and Michigan, and a rivalry just isn't the same without the intermingling of fans.

Also, the Kick Six was the greatest play in the history of college football.

You go.


David Kenyon

How disappointing to only have one state involved in a rivalry, Kerry. Oklahoma and Texas are really missing out too. Now, yes, I understand your point. I also raise you the feeling of stepping into a state and knowing everyone is giving you a side-eye. The moment you cross from the Mitten into the Buckeye State, you're in "enemy" territory. And, unlike in Alabama, there's nothing you can do about it.

Though the Kick Six has an edge on a singular Michigan/Ohio State play—Desmond Howard's punt return with a Heisman Trophy pose is close behind, for the record—the Iron Bowl doesn't have a Game of the Century or a Ten-Year War.

The 2006 game featured the nation's No. 1 and 2 teams, something the Iron Bowl never has. Plus, while Alabama and Auburn have had two Top Five matchups, The Game has 10 such clashes since 1968, the season before the Ten-Year War began. That stretch from 1969 to '78 featured the Bo Schembechler/Woody Hayes rivalry and boasts three of the best games in CFB history. And we haven't even mentioned the 1950 Snow Bowl yet.

I'd love to see you top that.


Kerry Miller

That 2006 game was amazing. I'll give you that. Aside from many hours spent dominating Halo 2 LAN parties in my college dorm, it's one of the few things I vividly remember about that calendar year. The 2016 game was pretty great, too, even though it ended in controversy.

Aside from that, though, The Game has barely even been a rivalry lately. Ohio State has won 15 of the last 16 games, with the exception coming in that one-year gap between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer when the Buckeyes were (by their standards) dreadful. During that same 16-year window, both Alabama and Auburn are 8-8 in the Iron Bowl, and the game always has colossal national implications.

This past seasonwhen Alabama was ranked No. 5 and Auburn was No. 16was the first time since 2007 that neither Alabama nor Auburn was ranked No. 1 or No. 2 at the time of the Iron Bowl. Meanwhile, in only four of the last 22 installments of The Game were either Michigan or Ohio State ranked No. 1 or No. 2.

Say it with me: In the SEC, it just means more.

You can have the Ten-Year War that began 20 years before either of us was born, though. The Iron Bowl is clearly superior in this millennium.


David Kenyon

In this millennium, sure. Rivalries aren't contingent on both teams winning all the time, though. If that were true, the Iron Bowl would've become irrelevant after Alabama ripped off 19 wins during the 23 games from 1959 to '81. The Game has a lopsided trend right now, but it always flips back the other way.

Even with Michigan's recent struggles, The Game is unique. Ohio State fans simply refuse to acknowledge Michigan's existence. The school crosses out the letter "M" from, like, literally everything during game week. Buckeyes fans refer to the Wolverines as "That Team Up North" or the entire state of Michigan as "That State Up North" because the words cannot escape their tongue. The Game is the definition of bitterness. Simply shouting "Roll Tide" and "War Eagle" just doesn't compare.

Plus, controversies only add fuel to the rivalry fire. Ohio State refused to cancel the 1950 game despite a horrible blizzard.

In 1968, legendary OSU coach Woody Hayes attempted a two-point conversion while leading 50-14 because he "couldn't go for three." In 1973, Ohio State ripped down the M Club banner before a game that ended in a 10-10 tie. And then, Big Ten athletic directors served as the tiebreakers and voted to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl over Michigan. Jim Harbaugh's guarantee in 1986. All the guarantees-gone-wrong in the 1990s. "The Spot" in 2016.

Rivalries are built on history, and The Game is absolutely stacked with enduring moments.


Kerry Miller

Your whole "That Team Up North" point is why I don't care for interstate rivalries. Alabama and Auburn fans hate each 365 days per year because they're constantly forced to interact with one another. Occasionally, that hatred drives an Alabama fan to make an ill-advised attempt to kill iconic Auburn trees.

Butch Dill/Associated Press

OSU-Michigan is more of a Cold War in which each fanbase tries to pretend the other doesn't exista luxury of being separated by several hundred miles.

To address your other main point, rivalries definitely require historywhich the Iron Bowl has plenty of toobut recent past is also crucial when you're trying to make the case for the best rivalry in the sport. Don't take me away from an active volcano, drive me to a dormant volcano and try to tell me it's the niftiest one on the island because it regularly spewed lava decades ago.

Listen, even Danny Kanell thinks the Iron Bowl reigns supreme, and that dude trolls SEC fans even harder than Paul Finebaum hates on everything that exists outside SEC country. If Kanell is a believer, surely we can convert you.


David Kenyon

Ann Arbor to Columbus is only 30 miles farther than Auburn to Tuscaloosa. There's a lot more overlap than you think, especially in Toledo. Heck, Harbaugh and Meyer were born in the same hospital seven months apart. These interstate roots are strong.

Not to get hung up on Kanell, but he specified it's the best rivalry "currently, in today's climate." We already agree on that. But it won't be like this for much longer.

Kerry, the thing about dormant volcanoes is they erupt again. And if Ian expert volcanologist who definitely didn't rely on my roommate in science classestook you to an area primed for another eruption, you'd be all-in. And if that volcano were a key part of history, you'd have total respect for it.

The Game owns the history section. And as soon as Michigan starts winning again, there won't even be a debate.