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The 10 Greatest College Football Rivalries

September 03, 2015

[caption id="attachment_914" align="aligncenter" width="474"]Smack Zone - Steve Hill After a newsy (and boozy) offseason, college football is finally back! Illustration: Steve Hill.[/caption] By Bob D’Angelo, Smack Zone Contributor You live and die for your college football team. You savor victories against your hated rival. Losing is unthinkable. “I’d rather have a Pap smear and a root canal, simultaneously, than have Alabama lose to Auburn,” said author and Tide fan Bonnie Bartel Latino. You get the idea. Some rivalries date to the early 1890s, and we LOVE the fact that we are on the verge of starting yet another season. Here’s hoping that this year brings even more fuel to the smack bonfires of history. And now, we present the Smack Zone top 10 college football rivalries of all time:
  1. Ohio State vs. Michigan.
[caption id="attachment_898" align="alignright" width="296"]College Football Rivalries Ohio State and Michigan is No. 1 on our list. Where did your team's rivalry land? Who did we miss?[/caption] The third Saturday in November usually has Big Ten and national title implications. In fact, Ohio State was No. 1 and Michigan was No. 2 when the teams clashed in 2006. Ohio State won 42-39 in Columbus. Interestingly, the Ohio Lottery Pick 4 drawing that night was 4-2-3-9. Michigan owns a 56-46-6 lead in this border war that began in 1897, but this series has been defined by two coaches. Woody and Bo. Woody Hayes had a genuine hate for “that team up north.” Late in the 1968 game, a 50-14 OSU rout, the Buckeyes went for two. Hayes was asked why. “Because they wouldn’t let me go for three,” he said. Michigan’s Bo Schembechler was a former Hayes assistant who went 5-4-1 against his mentor from 1969 to 1978. We might have a modern-day coaching parallel: Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh against Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. Time will tell. The two fierce rivals have an equally loyal fan base. When 10-year-old Ivan Applin needed heart surgery in Michigan, the Toledo resident was afraid the doctors “were going to make his heart love Michigan instead of Ohio State.” Doctors assured the boy his heart would not be trifled with.
  1. Alabama-Auburn
College Football RivalriesThe Iron Bowl hosts the country’s best in-state rivalry. The teams began play in 1893 and Alabama owns a 43-35-1 series lead. The two most memorable games were Auburn upsets. In 2013, top-ranked Alabama attempted a 57-yard field goal with one second left in a tie game. Auburn’s Chris Davis fielded it nine yards deep in the end zone, then sprinted past the lumbering Tide field goal unit for a shocking 34-28 victory. Then there was “Punt, ’Bama, Punt” in 1972. Leading 16-0 in the fourth quarter, Alabama lost the game when two of its blocked punts were returned for touchdowns in a 17-16 final.
  1. Army-Navy
These two teams rarely contend for national honors, but don’t call this game irrelevant. Since 1890, the series has produced five Heisman Trophy winners and a slew of Hall of Famers. The teams have clashed 115 times; Navy leads the series, 59-49-7. For pure national pride, this rivalry is untouchable. Pride, competition and patriotism rule.
  1. Florida-Georgia
College Football RivalriesAs dawn breaks in Jacksonville, Florida and Georgia fans break out the Bloody Marys to kick off “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Then the taunts begin. “Why does the St. Johns River flow north?” a Florida fan asks. “Because Georgia sucks.” Georgia fans counter with “Lindsay Scott.” The Bulldogs dominated this unpredictable series during the Vince Dooley era, but Steve Spurrier brought the Gators some swagger and victories in the 1990s. These rivals rarely agree. Georgia counts a 1904 game it won, while Florida claims its football program didn’t begin until 1906. It creates some lively debate over those Bloody Marys.
  1. Oklahoma-Texas
For years, it was called the Red River Shootout, but 10 years ago it was renamed and is now called the more politically correct Red River Showdown. College Football RivalriesBy any name, this game has been bitterly contested since 1900 — seven years before Oklahoma was admitted to the Union. Sixty-seven times since The Associated Press poll began in 1936, at least one of the teams has come into the game ranked. The game has been played at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas since 1932. Both teams’ locker rooms spill into a common corridor. Surprisingly, there have been no incidents; both teams prefer to settle their differences on the field.
  1. USC-Notre Dame
Hands down, the nation’s top intersectional rivalry. It combines tradition, big names and the Jeweled Shillelagh. Each team can claim 11 national titles and seven Heisman Trophy winners. They have met 86 times since 1926; the Irish lead the series 45-36-5. In 1974 “the Comeback” showcased Anthony Davis, when USC overcame a 24-0 deficit late in the first half. Davis caught a touchdown pass with 10 seconds left before intermission, then opened the second half with a 102-yard kickoff return. That sparked a 35-point third quarter for USC and a 55-24 win. “That wasn’t very nice,” Notre Dame president Theodore Martin Hesburgh said afterward to USC coach John McKay, an Irish Catholic. “That’s what you get for hiring a Presbyterian,” McKay cracked, referring to Irish coach Ara Parseghian’s faith.
  1. Harvard-Yale
It doesn’t have the sizzle of other rivalries, but this series crackles with tradition. The two teams have met 131 times since 1875 and have played annually since 1897. The most memorable game might have been Harvard’s 16-point rally in the game’s final 42 seconds to earn a tie in 1968. Smirked The Harvard Crimson the next day: “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.”
  1. Florida-Florida State
College Football RivalriesIt took an act of the Florida Legislature to sanction this series, which began in 1958. Florida dominated for years, but that changed with the arrival of Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 1976. In the 1994 “Choke at Doak,” the Gators blew a 31-3 fourth-quarter lead and the Seminoles scored four touchdowns in a 31-31 tie. In 1996, FSU beat No. 1 Florida 24-21, but thanks to some timely upsets, the two teams met several weeks later for the national title. Florida won 52-20 in the rematch. In 1993, Warrick Dunn’s momentum-changing 79-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown at Florida Field sent the Noles to the Orange Bowl, where they would win their first national title. After that play, Dunn said, “you could hear a pin drop in that place.”
The two Los Angeles schools met for the first time in 1929 and play for the Victory Bell. Since the Pacific Coast Conference (the ancestor of the Pac-12) was formed in 1916, USC has won or shared 37 conference titles, while UCLA has won or shared 17. “Beating ’SC is not a matter of life and death,” UCLA coach Red Sanders said during the 1950s. “It’s more important than that.”
  1. Georgia-Georgia Tech
A most underrated rivalry. Author Bill Cromartie’s 2002 book, “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate,” is an appropriate title for this series, which began in 1893. The Bulldogs own a 64-40-5 series advantage against their nearby rival.


Did we miss any? Tell us who and why you think they deserve to be among the top 10 college football rivalries of all time. And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram this season for a steady stream of sports rivalry news and smack talk!

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