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Dandy Dozens: Top college football rivalries
History, heroes and hate. The best rivalries have an ample dose of those three elements.
It helps if the teams are good, though the best rivalries can be compelling even if the participants in a particular year are just so-so. And the most intense can turn a bad season into a good one for the team that wins _ or get a coach fired from the team that loses.
So here are the 12 most heated and celebrated rivalries in major college football. We’ll stick to the Division I-A variety, so Harvard-Yale and Lehigh-Lafayette, while worthy of recognition, don’t qualify for this list.
And we’ll list the participants in alphabetical order because even which team gets mentioned first can be a point of contention in these matchups.
Nickname: The Iron Bowl.
Series record: Alabama 40, Auburn 33, 1 tie.
It is cliche to say this Southeastern Conference rivalry divides families _ it’s also true. Alabama-Auburn is a 365-days-a-year topic in the state. How important is this game? Put it this way, if Alabama beats Auburn on Friday but somehow the Tigers still went on to win the national championship, there will be plenty of Tide fans convinced their team had the better season.
2) Michigan-Ohio State.
Nickname: The Game.
Series record: Michigan 57, Ohio State 43, 6 ties.
Ohio State coach Woody Hayes refused to even refer to Michigan by name. He’d just call it, “That school to the north.” John Cooper went 111-43-4 in 13 seasons as Buckeyes coach, but was 2-10-1 against Michigan and most Ohio State fans have never forgiven him. If Rich Rodriguez wants to win over Michigan fans, all he has to do is break the Buckeyes’ six-game winning streak in the series.
Nickname: Red River Rivalry.
Series record: Texas 59, Oklahoma 41, 5 ties.
Since 1912, the Sooners and Longhorns have played all but three of their games in Dallas _ halfway between Austin, Texas, and Norman, Okla. And since 1932, the Cotton Bowl has been the site and the game has been played during the Texas State Fair. Corny dogs and Ferris wheels are as much a part of the rivalry as great football by two perennial powerhouses.
4) Notre Dame-Southern California.
Series record: Notre Dame 42, USC 33, 5 ties.
Considered the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football, the story goes that Knute Rockne’s wife convinced her husband, the famed Notre Dame coach, to play USC regularly after it was suggested to her by the wife of USC’s athletic director. The series has been marked by long stretches of dominance by each side, the latest by USC, which has won eight straight. The gap between Pete Carroll’s Trojans and the Fighting Irish has been emblematic of Notre Dame’s demise over the last decade.
Nickname: None needed.
Series record: Navy 54, Army 49, 7 ties.
No single game is as important to its participants as Army-Navy. For the vast majority of the seniors, it’s the last competitive football game they’ll ever play. And when the game is over the teams stand together as the alma maters are played. If you’re looking for NFL prospects playing for BCS bids, look elsewhere. But the spectacle and passion is worth the price of admission.
Nickname: Big Game.
Series record: Stanford 56, California 46, 11 ties.
The northern California Bay Area rivals are known for their irreverence, pranks and taunting bands. The Cardinal and Golden Bears are also responsible for the most remarkable and famous play in college football history. Known simply as The Play, Cal used five laterals and had to run over a Stanford trombone player to score the winning touchdown on the last play of the game in 1982. Stanford still does not acknowledge the victory and insists the play was illegal.
Nickname: The Holy War.
Series record: Utah 50, BYU 30, 4 ties.
When you get religion involved things can get nasty. Both schools were founded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and many students at both schools are Mormons. But BYU is owned by the church and Utah is a public school. The Utes tend to think the Cougars act holier than thou. Former BYU quarterback Max Hall called the Utes classless after last year’s game.
8) Clemson-South Carolina.
Nickname: Palmetto Bowl or Battle for the Palmetto State.
Series record: Clemson 65, South Carolina 38, 4 ties.
The long history of animosity between the schools dates back to the early 1800s and has various political and cultural roots. Fights were common in the early years, and in 2004 the Gamecocks and Tigers had an old-school brawl that resulted in both schools banning their teams from postseason play.
Nickname: Border War.
Series record: Missouri 55, Kansas 54, 9 ties.
There is some seriously bad blood not just between the schools, but between the states. The seeds were sowed before the Civil War when Lawrence, Kan., was burned by Confederate raiders and 200 people were murdered. Both schools are known more for basketball, but it’s because of that the football rivalry is just as intense. For many years, winning the Border War was the sole definition of a successful season for the Jayhawks and Tigers.
Nickname: The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Series record: Georgia 47, Florida 40, 2 ties.
The nickname was officially phased out a few years ago because school officials felt it promoted underage drinking. Fair enough, though the party atmosphere that surrounds the neutral site game played in Jacksonville, Fla., almost every year since 1933 is as much a reason that it appears on this list as the football. And the football has been darn good, too.
11) Pittsburgh-West Virginia.
Nickname: Backyard Brawl.
Series record: Pittsburgh 61, West Virginia 38, 3 ties.
The schools are 70 miles apart. One is located in a city known for steel mills. The other in a state known for coal mines. Point is, there are some tough people in that part of the country and the teams often reflect that. And that leads to some fierce football games.
12) Oregon-Oregon State
Nickname: The Civil War.
Series record: Oregon 57, Oregon State 46, 10 ties.
It’s a rivalry that didn’t get much attention for years because neither school was much more than an afterthought in the Pac-10 for decades, but what it lacked in national exposure it made up for in student body shenanigans. The Oregon State homecoming queen was taken hostage for about a half hour by Oregon students back in 1960. In 1972, Ducks fans stormed the field after a win and tore down the goal posts _ at Oregon State.
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