Ranking the SEC's end-of-season rivalries
Passion, competitiveness, tradition, hatred and proximity for year-round bragging rights. These are just a handful of things that make for a good end of season rivalry.
Thankfully, the SEC has its share of good games in this treasured college football tradition. But which of these is best? Using a loose formula of the descriptors listed above, I’ve developed a ranking of the league’s late November traditions:
Note: This is not an evaluation of how the games would rank this season, but more of an over-time type of look.
9. Arkansas vs. Missouri
All-time record: Missouri leads 4-2
This is the baby of the SEC rivalry games, but it really does have some potential to move up the list. The Tigers and Razorbacks met for the first time as conference foes last season, which was the beginning of what the league hopes turns into a great end-of-season tradition. It makes sense geographically, and with a newly assigned permanent East-West game featuring these two, it will have a chance to grow.
8. LSU vs. Texas A&M
All-time record: LSU leads 30-20-3
While this, too, was a newly anointed “end of season” meeting in 2014, there is actually quite a bit of history between these two schools. The two teams first met back in 1899. Playing annually in stretches from 1942-49, 1960-75 and 1986-95, there were times that this game could be considered a yearly tradition. The modern-day teams don’t feel the heat of those old meetings, but it’s the hope of the league that this catches on as a new tradition for two of its most prized programs.
7. Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt
All-time record: Tennessee leads 74-30-5
This is one of the more lopsided rivalries in the league, but that is actually what makes this a pretty testy game for the fan bases. Many Tennessee fans refuse to even acknowledge this as a rivalry because of the Vols’ dominance, putting a chip on the shoulder of most every Vanderbilt fan. However, most Tennessee fans are actually quite scared of a loss to Vanderbilt because of the negative connotation they themselves have associated with it after years belittling their private-schooled neighbors to the west. So when the Vols lose, like they did twice in a row in 2012 and 2013, the emotions are very much like you would expect from a heated in-state rivalry.
6. Kentucky vs. Louisville
All-time record: Kentucky leads 14-13
Sure, this might be a basketball rivalry that is spilling over onto the gridiron, but that doesn’t make the hate any less real. After going 70 years between meetings, the game between the Wildcats and Cardinals has been a yearly event since 1994. Since rekindling the football game that year, the Cardinals actually hold a 13-8 advantage in the series. Now situated at the end of the schedule after years of meeting in the opening weeks of the season, this rivalry fits right in with the rest of the in-state clashes at the end of the college football season.
5. Florida vs. Florida State
All-time record: Florida leads 34-23-2
While many of the rivalries on this list are rooted in deep tradition, this one is actually kind of a relatively new thing. The first meeting was in 1958 because Florida State was a woman’s college until 1947. So while these programs clearly don’t like each other, it is not exactly a hatred passed down through many generations of people. Things really picked up for this rivalry on the national scene during the Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden years, which included a Sugar Bowl meeting to determine the 1996 national champions. Thanks to the Gators winning 16 of the first 19 meetings, they own a comfortable series lead, but this has been one of the “must-watch” rivalries for more than two decades now.
4. Georgia vs. Georgia Tech
All-time record: Georgia leads 64-38-5*
The asterisk is because these two bitter rivals can’t agree on a win count. Georgia leads the series 64-38-5 because it doesn’t count two Georgia Tech wins during World War II (1943-44) when the Yellow Jackets utilized players from a naval officers training program hosted on campus. Tech, of course, counts those as wins. The Bulldogs are 12-2 against Georgia Tech under Mark Richt and the coach has won all seven of his rivalry games played in Atlanta. The series has been a slugfest lately, though. The last two games have been decided in overtime, with the road team winning. Georgia fans take a similar look at this game as Tennessee fans do with Vanderbilt; a win is expected and it’s embarrassing if it happens against “little brother.” That drives Tech fans nuts, of course.
3. South Carolina vs. Clemson
All-time record: Clemson leads 66-42-4
We’re getting into the good stuff now. South Carolina may be the smallest state in the SEC, but it has two big-time college football programs. That can make things seem crowded at times, especially with two schools that hate each other as much as these two do. The game played between these two, which was officially dubbed The Palmetto Bowl last year, dates back to 1896. Clemson, which is perhaps one of the more “SEC-like” football programs that isn’t actually in the league, has enjoyed a good deal of success against the Gamecocks. Since joining the league in 1992, South Carolina is 10-13 against Clemson, which includes wins in five of the last six meetings.
2. Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State
All-time record: Ole Miss leads 62-43-6
I’m of the opinion that the Egg Bowl, or “The Battle for the Golden Egg” if you prefer, is one of the more underrated rivalry games in the nation. Alabama and Auburn get a lot of the love on the national scene, but everyone close to SEC football understands what this game means to the state of Mississippi. This one started back in 1901, and with the exception of 1912, 1913, 1914 and 1943, has been a yearly tradition ever since. There have been extended stretches of success for both teams during this rivalry, with Mississippi State winning 13 in a row from 1911-25 and Ole Miss going unbeaten from 1947-63, but things are as heated as ever with an even 6-6 split during the last 12 meetings.
1. Alabama vs. Auburn
All-time record: Alabama leads 43-35-1
The Iron Bowl has created the type of rivalry that caused rifts at family Thanksgiving gatherings throughout Alabama that linger well into the new year. There are marriages made and broken by the rivalry, and children that are shunned for making the wrong decision when getting old to enough to decide who to root for in this game. There’s a long story about a political disagreement that helped develop this rivalry, which wasn’t even played from 1907-1947, but we’ll leave that for you to research at your leisure. What you need to know is this: College football is a way of life in Alabama, and you’re either on one side or the other. The tension and stakes involved make this not only the SEC’s best rivalry game, but one that belongs in the discussion with any in the country.