It’s a paradox, really.
After Cupcake Week, all we can think about is how our appetites are not yet sated.
That’s because Rivalry Week is upon us in the SEC.
College football fans, especially in the South, have plenty of words to describe their most bitter rival. Usually they are words we can’t print here (well, we could, but we would prefer to keep getting paid to write, thank you very much).
Which words would you use to describe your rival? Whether it’s for state supremacy or for conference bragging rights, or both, this is the week where the intensity gets turned up to 11.
What better way to start than with perhaps the most talked-about rivalry in the country:
Alabama vs. Auburn: Eternal
It never ends, really. For 365 days a year, in a state with no major professional sports teams and not a lot else to draw national sports attention other than two NASCAR races a year at Talladega, the Iron Bowl is everything. Paul Finebaum owes his career to this game. So do football legends on both sides. There is almost always a lot at stake in terms of either the SEC race or national rankings and this one is no different because Auburn feels like it can wreck Alabama’s whole season on Saturday.
Arkansas vs. Missouri: Leftovers
This is the fifth year in a row that the Tigers and Razorbacks will end their season against each other. It’s appropriate that this game lands on the day after Thanksgiving because, to be honest, this matchup feels like a leftover. Just about everybody else in the SEC squares up against a bitter rival this week in a game that always ends the regular season for both. But not for these two. Arkansas used to play LSU to close the regular season and Mizzou, in its Big 8/Big 12 days, closed against Kansas more often than not.
Florida vs. Florida State: Streaky
This series has a strange habit of leaning heavily toward one side or the other for years at a time. It’s not uncommon for a graduating class to leave these schools without ever having lost to, or ever having beaten, the other program. The Gators know that feeling too well because FSU has won the past five meetings by an average of 31-13. Florida won six in a row from 2004-09 and from 1981-86 but lost four straight to the Seminoles from 1987-90 and, of course, the current skid is UF’s longest ever in the series.
Georgia vs. Georgia Tech: Annoying
Bulldogs fans don’t take too kindly to the fact that their team has lost two of the past four meetings against the Yellow Jackets when Georgia has the best talent year in and year out. As for Tech, the school is in Atlanta, of course. But where do a good chunk of UGA graduates go when they get their degrees from Athens? Right, Atlanta. How annoyed must Yellow Jackets fans be when they often feel like they are surrounded by the enemy in their own city?
Kentucky vs. Louisville: Pigskin
All hail football in Kentucky! No, really. OK, Louisville has gone off the rails severely this season, but the Cardinals were nationally relevant often in the past several years, culminating when Louisville produced its first Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, in 2016. This season, Kentucky was a contender this season in the SEC East into November and the Wildcats are headed to a bowl for the third consecutive season, a Wildcats rarity. See how long we went without mentioning basketball?
LSU vs. Texas A&M: Jimbo
How different things might have turned out. Jimbo Fisher was LSU’s offensive coordinator from 2000-06 under Nick Saban, then Les Miles. When Saban left to take the Miami Dolphins head coaching job after the 2004 season, LSU chose Miles to replace him. Fisher left after the 2006 season to become Florida State’s coach in waiting. Miles won a national title, but it’s fun to speculate what might have happened had the Tigers chosen Fisher, who left FSU for Texas A&M this past offseason.
Mississippi vs. Mississippi State: Thanksgiving
Here we give thanks to tradition because the Egg Bowl is still on Thanksgiving Day. Texas A&M used to play Texas on Thanksgiving but of course that went away when the Aggies joined the SEC. This year, Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State is one of only two FBS games on Thursday, the other being Colorado State at Air Force. NFL games (three) now outnumber college games on Turkey Day. This is a tradition worth savoring and the emotion on display between these two rivals is always intense.
South Carolina vs. Clemson: Dabo
The Tigers changed this rivalry drastically when they hired Dabo Swinney as coach. How much so? Clemson has won at least 10 games in a season 15 times. Eight of those — the past eight years including this season — have come under Dabo. South Carolina won this game five years in a row from 2009-13 but Clemson has taken the past four. Two were routs including a 56-7 thumping in 2016 that was the most lopsided win for the Tigers in series history. The Gamecocks are playing catch-up.
Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt: Shifting
It’s no secret that the Vols are not the force they used to be. For evidence, look no further than their fortunes against their in-state SEC rival. Tennessee dominates the history of this series, but the Commodores have won the past 2 meetings and 4 of the past 6. The last time Vanderbilt won at least 4 times in a 6-year span against Tennessee, the Great Depression hadn’t happened. Vandy won 6 in a row from 1920-26 (the teams didn’t meet in 1924). That’s a serious change in fortunes.