Ask any normal SEC fan, and they’d likely tell you that the only thing better than winning a national championship is beating their arch-rival. (Fans around the country are looking at us like we’re crazy right now. Who would rather beat your in-state neighbor than be the best team in the country?) The thing is, in the South, rivalries last 365 days. Championships fade, but in the dead of winter when the year seems longest, you can always talk about beating that “other” team.
So as coaches, players and fans alike count down the days to their team’s season opener, let’s take a look at the SEC’s top 10 rivalries going into 2014.
1. Auburn vs. Alabama
As if the Iron Bowl couldn’t get any more crazy, 2013 happened. There is arguably no play that has or will define the Yellowhammer State’s rivalry like Kick, Bama, Kick last year. Fans around the state are already hailing Gus Malzahn as just as good a coach, if not better, than Nick Saban which is blasphemous in Tuscaloosa. As we head into 2014, the SEC’s Western division is up for grabs with Bama being the favorite and pundits wondering if 2013 was a fluke for Auburn. The November 29th matchup at Bryant-Denny is most certainly a revenge game for the Tide.
2. LSU vs. Alabama
This is the game that has carried the most weight in recent years, but with new SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy’s insinuation that Les Miles’s success is due, in part, to Nick Saban’s tenure in Baton Rouge, things will almost certainly ramp up a few notches. Since Bear Bryant’s retirement, the series is virtually split, with Alabama leading 17-14-1. The 2014 rendition of the “Saban Bowl” should carry division, SEC championship and College Football Playoff implications as both teams are expected to contend for the SEC West title.
3. Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State
In what may come as a surprise to you, the Egg Bowl comes in at number three on our list of top 10 rivalries heading into the 2014 season. Under young head coaches, both schools are heading in the right direction, with some believing this may be the year both the Rebels and the Bulldogs can compete in the ever-tough SEC West. The 2014 Ole Miss-Mississippi State matchup will be the 87th Egg Bowl with the Rebels holding an Egg Bowl trophy series 55-26-5 edge, along with 61–43–6 record overall.
4. Georgia vs. South Carolina
Because of Steve Spurrier’s recent success in Columbia, this is now the most important game in the SEC East. Though it’s early in the schedule, the winner of this game controls their own destiny the rest of the way with the only real roadblock left the Gators. It wasn’t much of a rivalry until the ‘Ole Ball Coach stepped foot in Williams-Brice Stadium, but through his mouth (and Carolina’s three-straight 11-win seasons), Georgia and South Carolina has all but decided the Eastern Division champion.
5. Auburn vs. Georgia
Some would argue that the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry has lost its steam in the last half-decade. Maybe I’m a little biased, but much like the Iron Bowl, last year’s Prayer at Jordan-Hare should reinvigorate this matchup. The 2014 version will mark the 118th game played between the two schools with Auburn holding a slight edge at 55-54-8. With Auburn looking to repeat it’s magic from last year and Georgia optimistic about its chances with a healthy roster in 2014, this historic rivalry should reignite its flame.
6. Tennessee vs. Alabama
Though it hasn’t been the most competitive as of late, it’s still beautifully historic and filled with plenty of genuine hate. Especially now that Lane Kiffen has joined Alabama’s staff and will make a can’t-miss return to Knoxville on the Third Saturday in October. Alabama leads the series 50-38-7, but Butch Jones is doing a respectable job on Rocky Top and should have this rivalry back to full health in no time.
7. Georgia vs. Florida
The Dawgs have owned the series since Urban Meyer’s departure from Gainesville and many feel this is a must-win game for Will Muschamp’s likelihood in 2014, but despite all that, it’s still one of the conference’s best showdowns. The two schools don’t agree on when the series began or its record, but it’s the World’s Largest Cocktail Party so who cares. Even though this game likely won’t decide the SEC East winner this year, it’s still one of the most storied rivalries in all of college football.
8. Arkansas vs. LSU
Though the rivalry dates back to 1901, Arkansas and LSU resumed their annual rivalry in 1992 after Arkansas left the Southwest Conference for the SEC. The Battle for the Golden Boot has been a good one, though, with LSU leading the trophy series 11-6. Sadly, these two teams will no longer meet on the final weekend of the regular season, as LSU will take on Texas A&M and Arkansas will meet Missouri.
9. Florida vs. Tennessee
Florida and Tennessee have met annually since 1992 when both schools joined the SEC East. The rivalry took on a life of its own during the Phillip Fulmer and Steve Spurrier hey-days in the early 1990s and 2000s. Florida leads the all-time series 24-19. With Tennessee on the rise and Will Muschamp looking to turn things around in Gainesville, it would be good for the SEC if this rivalry can get back to what it once was.
10. Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt
This one may come as another surprise, but trust me, there is true hate boiling in the Volunteer State. The rivalry, aptly named Hatred in the Hills, dates back to 1892 with Tennessee leading 73-30-5. However, under James Franklin and aided partly by Tennessee’s downfall, this matchup has gotten interesting over the last five years. Vanderbilt has compiled some good seasons and looks to continue that trend under new headman Derek Mason. Butch Jones is leading Tennessee back to conference prominence, so look for this rivalry to continue its upward trend in the coming years.