Perhaps the best part of each college football season is the collection of rivalries that feature rabid fans, packed stadiums and hot tempers on the field. Starting toward the end of November, it's all about the rivalries — with cool trophies and funny names.
Here's our ranking of the top 25 college football rivalries currently and ones we'd like to see start up again.
These schools play for the famed Old Oaken Bucket each season. Though neither program has been in contention for a Big Ten title in recent years, it's still one of the most storied and respected rivalries in all of sports. The Hoosiers and Boilermakers first met in 1891. Purdue holds a significant lead in the series (74-41-6) and has won the last two meetings.
We're going to stay in the state of Indiana but drop down to Division III. Each year DePauw's Tigers face Wabash's Little Giants with the Monon Bell on the line. The 300-pound locomotive bell has gone to the victor of each game since 1932, though these schools first met in 1890. Wabash holds a slight edge in the series, thanks to victories in nine of the last 10 meetings.
Simply known as "The Rivalry," these FCS schools, located less than 20 miles apart in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, started taking on each other in 1884, thus, reportedly, making it the most played matchup between schools in all of college football. Though Lafayette leads the series 78-71-5, Lehigh has won four in a row and nine of the last 11 get-togethers.
These in-state rivals went from 1935-76 without playing each other, but this has been a regular matchup since 1977. While Iowa has won the last four meetings in the series, we put it on this list because both teams have reason to feel good about things in 2019. When the schools meet in Ames on Sept. 14, it might have the makings of a memorable affair.
It's always a spirited contest when Paul Bunyan's Axe is on the line. However, we have a feeling things could get ratcheted up for the 2019 installment, at least from the Wisconsin side. The Badgers' 14-game winning streak in the rivalry ended last season when P.J. Fleck's Gophers rowed the boat into Madison and shipped out with a decisive 37-15 victory to get their hands on the Axe for the first time since 2003.
Obviously a big deal to the good folks of South Carolina, this rivalry has been rather streaky since the 2009 season. That year, the Gamecocks won what would be the first of five straight over the Tigers. However, Clemson has returned the favor by winning five in a row — and the last three by a combined 146-52.
Who doesn't love them some Bedlam. Fans of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State football certainly do. This series has some great history that includes players diving into a creek to recover the ball, the mafia fixing games and plenty of high-scoring shootouts. About the only thing that has dampened this series is Oklahoma's dominance (88-18-7). The Sooners have won four in a row and 14 of the last 16 matchups.
This is dubbed the "Holy War," in reference to both school's having several members who are part of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The teams even met in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl, which became known as the "Holy War in Sin City." Utah leads the series 61-34-4 and has won the last eight meetings.
Remember Mike Hart's "little brother" comment regarding Michigan State from a few years back? It's still kind of true, considering Michigan leads the series 70-36-15. After the Spartans won three straight from 2013-15, the Wolverines claimed two of the last three meetings and will host this year's version in Ann Arbor.
Sticking with the Wolverines, this is one rivalry of which they do not hold the advantage overall or of late. The Wolverines lead 24-17-1 in the all-time series with Notre Dame, but the Irish have won the last two meetings. After the teams play this year in Ann Arbor, the series will again go on hiatus. It's always disappointing that these schools can't find a way to make it a point to play each other every year.
The Apple Cup might be the best rivalry on the West Coast from the standpoint that both schools are among the best in the Pac-12. Of course, Washington has had its way in recent years during a rivalry that began in 1900. The Huskies have won six in a row by an average margin of almost 22 points. Still, the history and longevity of this series makes it pretty special.
One day, the battle for Los Angeles is going to mean something again. We just don't know when because both teams are far from national championship contenders, and even earning a bowl bid has been a chore of late. USC had won three straight in the series until UCLA scored 13 unanswered fourth-quarter points to win 34-27 last season in a game that was actually quite entertaining.
It's too bad this rivalry has been put on hiatus since 2011 due to the Aggies leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. Reportedly, there has been talk of trying to revive the rivalry starting early in the next decade, but thus far nothing has been agreed upon. Prior to the series being halted, the Longhorns had won three of four and lead 76-37-5 all time.
Bad news first: The "Backyard Brawl" between Pitt and West Virginia has not been played since 2011 when the Mountaineers won their third straight in the series. Here's the good news: The rivalry will start up again in 2022. OK, that's still a ways to wait, but we know it's coming and it will be wild, heated and fun for more than just the fan bases of both schools. Pitt leads 61-40-3 over West Virginia.
Since 2001, the Gators and Seminoles have split their 18 meetings. Now that's a rivalry. Of course, it wasn't like the teams were alternating victories. Florida won six in a row from 2004-09, and Florida State took five straight before the Gators ended the fun — and the Seminoles' lengthy bowl run — with last year's 41-14 rout at Gainesville. At the moment, it's about the Gators, but FSU should be hungry.
It goes by a few different names ("The Play," The Stanford Band Play"). That does not matter, but this is one rivalry that will forever be defined by one game and arguably the most improbable finish ever in college football. We are long since removed from that remarkable 1982 afternoon in Berkeley, but the rivalry is still pretty intense. Stanford, though, leads 64-46-11 in the all-time series of the "Big Game" and has won nine in a row.
"The Game" has been going strong since 1875. It's the one day of the school year when academics truly don't come first at these hallowed Ivy League institutions. The game day traditions at both schools are as much a part of the season-finale contest as the on-field matchup itself. While Yale owns a 67-60-8 advantage in the all-time series, Harvard has won 15 of the last 18.
This rivalry is more about history than anything else, especially since the last five matchups have not been all that close — though SC did lead 10-0 in last year's meeting before losing 24-17. These are still two of the most storied programs that make it a point to play each other every year and treat the rivalry with respect — the way it ought to be.
One reason this rivalry ranks high on our list is because for years the caliber of star players on the field at the same time was like a future Pro Bowl. From the various "wide right" — or "left — to Miami's impressive 2018 comeback from 27-7 down, the Seminoles and Hurricanes continue to thrill. Miami holds a slight edge in the all-time series.
The rivalry game known as the Egg Bowl was first played in 1901 and is one of the longest uninterrupted such contests in college football history. Neither team is keen on the other, and that includes players, coaches, fans, anybody. It's also a Thanksgiving week — or weekend — staple. The Rebels lead the all-time series 62-45-6, but it has been relatively close with Mississippi State holding a 12-11 advantage beginning with the 1996 season.
With Jacksonville, Florida, as the setting, one of the best scenes in all of college football happens when the Bulldogs and Gators meet each season. Though the name is no longer officially used, the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" is the perfect description for the atmosphere and experience that is a Georgia-Florida football game. On the field Georgia has won the last two meetings after Florida dominated for years. However, with both teams expected to challenge for the SEC East Division title, this year's installment should be something special.
It's simple: Nobody on either side of the Iron Bowl rivalry likes anybody associated with the other. The heated nature of this series has gone behind the football field and shown just how misguided sports fans, in general, can be and to what lengths they will go to support their teams. The schools have met 85 times on the field with Alabama leading the series 47 to 37 with one tie.
The atmosphere at the Cotton Bowl during the Texas State Fair in October is the perfect backdrop for the Red River Showdown. It's even better when both teams are good. That's been the case the last two years and should be again in 2019. Last season was extra special with these rivals also meeting in the Big 12 championship game. Let's hope we get a repeat in 2019.
This is another rivalry where the teams and their respective fans just don't like each other. While it's not quite as heated as, say, the Iron Bowl, it's still that one game each team is expected to win. Of late, it's all Ohio State, winner of seven in a row and 14 of 15. Last season was slated to be the year Michigan showed up and ended its series slide. Instead, Jim Harbaugh's guys were blasted 62-39 by the Buckeyes. The Wolverines should not be taken seriously until they are able to beat Ohio State again.
It's perhaps the one rivalry where records truly don't matter and respect is abound. The pageantry, emotion and tradition displayed annually between these service academies are always something to be seen. Navy leads the series 60-52-7, but Army has won the last three meetings by a combined 12 points. Then again, after watching the effort put forth by both teams, it's easy to see why this rivalry is about more than just football.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.
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