Here’s the problem with ranking LSU’s biggest rival in football:
Unlike most SEC teams, the Tigers have no in-state rival in the SEC or any other Power 5 conference.
So just about any program that might get an LSU fan pumped might not feel the same about the Tigers. That’s because they all have a more natural geographic rival.
Maybe the right answer to the question of who is the Tigers’ biggest rival comes down to this: Whoever most consistently has the most compelling matchups with the Tigers at a given time.
Here are LSU’s biggest rivals, its more natural rivals and why they may, or may not, be actual rivalries.
More natural rivals: Auburn, Tennessee
Why LSU feels the rivalry: Alabama is the perennial roadblock between the Tigers and their ambition. And somebody named Nick Saban.
Why Alabama doesn’t: The Tide have won five straight in the series dating back to the 2012 national championship game. Auburn is not only the geographic rival, those Tigers have been more of a thorn in the Crimson Tide’s side than LSU has been lately.
Signs of LSU’s antipathy: Burning Saban’s likeness in effigy. Making jokes about Bama fans’ IQs.
Signs of Alabama’s antipathy: LSU fans should avoid fast-food burger joints after losses to Alabama. Requests to call when you get 16 (national championship) rings.
2. Ole Miss
More natural rival: Mississippi State
Why LSU feels the rivalry: The Rebels do just enough to be a thorn in the Tigers’ side like last year’s 38-17 win in Oxford. Tigers fans will be seething for revenge this year. And win or lose, they’ll bring up Billy Cannon and the punt return.
Why Ole Miss doesn’t: Let’s get this straight: The Rebels DO feel the rivalry, but probably no more than they feel Alabama and definitely less than the school they call “Moo State.”
Signs of LSU’s antipathy: LSU fans’ habit of spelling “Miss” with a “P” instead of an “M.” A habit of LSU fans to chant instructions telling Ole Miss where to go (somewhere well south of Biloxi).
Signs of Ole Miss’ antipathy: Milk bottle abuse.
3. Texas A&M
More natural rival: Texas
Why LSU feels the rivalry: Finally, LSU can get on Interstate 10 and drive to an SEC rival in a few hours. This is the natural geographic rivalry Arkansas never was. LSU graduates flock to Houston for jobs and long to trash talk Aggies. Plus, Texas A&M took John Chavis away from LSU.
Why Texas A&M does not: A win over LSU would be important to A&M mainly because the Aggies did it and Texas didn’t.
Why neither team feels it: LSU has won five straight against the Aggies and is 4-0 against them since they joined the SEC. For this to be a rivalry, A&M needs to start showing some resistance.
Signs of LSU’s antipathy: Calling Texas friends for Aggie jokes and ways to heckle the yell leaders.
Signs of A&M’s antipathy: Avoiding Houston restaurants and bars in fear of obnoxious LSU fans after Tiger wins.
More natural rival: Florida State, Georgia
Why LSU feels the rivalry: Basically, because the SEC makes it. LSU has long wanted Florida to cease to be the Tigers’ permanent SEC East rival (mainly, by doing away with permanent cross-division rivals altogether). But the SEC has decided it would rather have the compelling matchup annually.
Why Florida does not: There’s a lot of drinking in Baton Rouge, but it’s no cocktail party.
Signs of LSU’s antipathy: Occasional calls to end permanent cross-division opponents. Well, that antipathy is more for the SEC office than Florida.
Sign of Florida’s antipathy: Rolling eyes at LSU’s complaint about cross-division rivalries.
More natural rival: The Southwest Conference. Missouri.
Why LSU feels the rivalry: Because somebody at the SEC and CBS told them to for years. And because somebody came up with a cumbersome rivalry trophy. So LSU played along … not really. This spot should really go to Auburn, but we’re just picking on the “arch-rivalry” that never was.
Why neither team feels the rivalry: Because although this is technically a rivalry between bordering states, to get from Baton Rouge to Fayetteville you have to drive out of the bayou near the Gulf of Mexico to North Louisiana, cross the state line on substandard Louisiana roads, then drive almost the entire length of Arkansas on substandard Arkansas roads to land in a town nestled near the Oklahoma and Missouri state lines. The arduous journey takes you from the bayous to the Ozark Mountains. Border rivalry? It never felt like it.
Signs of LSU antipathy: To quote Elie Wiesel, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
Signs of Arkansas antipathy: Maybe annoyance at LSU’s lack of antipathy?
And a good-old-days shout out to … Tulane
Why Tulane?: Because once upon a time, LSU DID have a natural in-state rival it closed the season with. As late as the 1982 season, Tulane actually had a stretch where it won three of four games in the series. LSU won the next 12 years straight, and the Tigers phased the series out.
Why not Tulane?: Because after Tulane left the SEC in 1966, it slowly began to decline, losing its identity and fan base. Meanwhile, the SEC slowly improved to become the nation’s premier conference. These days, Tulane would have a more compelling rivalry with Louisiana-Lafayette than it could dream of having with LSU.
Signs of LSU’s antipathy: LSU will play at Tulane from time to time, mostly as outreach to its New Orleans fans. And those games will pack the Superdome with mostly LSU fans, something that causes Tigers fans to snicker.
Signs of Tulane’s antipathy: Complaints that outside of the Garden District, New Orleans is pretty much an LSU town.