Ranking the Top 15 rivalries in college football
It’s Rivalry Week in the SEC and around the country. The intensity got underway on Thursday night in the Egg Bowl, with Mississippi and Mississippi State renewing their feud.
That got us to thinking: What are the best 15 college football rivalries?
The Egg Bowl didn’t quite make this list, but the SEC is strongly represented, and not just because this is an SEC website. The success of the league’s top programs through the decades has ensured that there’s a lot more at stake the just owning your state or regional pride in rivalry games. Our criteria loosely included the stakes – how often are these teams competing for conference titles or national titles when they meet? How often does one rival ruin another’s otherwise excellent season?
Those are among the factors we weighed as we decided on these 15 rivalries as the best, most passionate, most memorable in college football. We have included series records, how often both teams were ranked in the Associated Press poll when they met and how often both were ranked in the top 10 for their game.
The other requirement is that the rivalry be current and annual. For example, Oklahoma-Nebraska and Pitt-Penn State have gone by the wayside (at least on an annual basis) amid conference realignment. When Texas joins the SEC, the Longhorns can renew hostilities with old rival Texas A&M. Until then, the Aggies land as the first entry on this list, which runs in inverse order.
15. Arkansas-Texas A&M
Series: Arkansas leads 42-33-3; Both ranked in AP poll: 10 times; Both in Top 10: 0 times
These teams met annually as members of the Southwest Conference from 1934 to 1991, then renewed their rivalry in 2009, even before A&M joined the SEC in 2012. Now the border skirmish gets a special boost because the teams have met at a neutral sire in Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
14. Michigan-Michigan State
Series: Michigan leads 71-38-5; Both ranked: 19 times; Both in Top 10: 5 times
Michigan State is perpetually annoyed by the “little brother” perception compared to Michigan, and the fact that the Wolverines consider another team (coming up later) their biggest rival. But MSU has gone 10-4 in the past 14 meetings including this year, when they met as top-10 teams for the fifth time.
Series: USC leads 51-33-7; Both ranked: 26 times; Both in Top 10: 12 times
The Trojans and Bruins have been waging the Battle for Los Angeles since UCLA launched its football program in 1919. USC won the first two meetings, 76-0 and 52-0, but UCLA has dented the dreams of its crosstown rival plenty of times. Last week UCLA scored its most points ever vs. USC in a 62-33 win.
12. Florida State-Miami
Series: Miami leads 35-31; Both ranked: 26 times; Both in Top 10: 14 times
Long before either joined the ACC, the rivals from opposite ends of the Sunshine State were both ranked in the top 10 for 7 consecutive meetings from 1987-1993. UM knocked off the Seminoles 3 times when FSU was ranked No. 1: In 1988, 1991 (Wide Right I) and 2000 (Wide Right III).
Series: Florida leads 31-20; Both ranked: 24 times; Both in Top 10: 11 times
They played each other irregularly until the SEC split into divisions in 1992, but then this quickly became an early-season league game to watch. Starting in 1990, both teams were ranked when they met 18 years in a row. Oddly, the Vols have never been ranked No. 1 the week when they met the Gators.
Series: Alabama leads 55-26-5; Both ranked: 29 times; Both in Top 10: 12 times
Three times since 2010, the Tigers and Crimson Tide gave us a No. 1 vs. No. 2 meeting. That alone makes this perhaps the best rivalry of the 2000s. The fact that Nick Saban coached in Baton Rouge, but returned to college football in Tuscaloosa, gave this rivalry an extra bit of Southern spice.
Series: Alabama leads 58-38-7; Both ranked: 21 times; Both in Top 10: 10 times
Bama leads the pack with 28 SEC championships either won or shared, and UT is tied for second at 13. The Crimson Tide has taken total control lately, winning the past 15 meetings by an average of 26 points per game. UT won 7 in a row from 1995-2001 but that must feel like a lifetime ago in Knoxville.
8. Florida-Florida State
Series: Florida leads 36-26-2; Both ranked: 23 times; Both in Top 10: 14 times
It took until 1984 before these state rivals met as ranked teams for the first time. But starting in 1990, they met with both teams ranked a remarkable 16 times in a row, including 1994 and 1996 when they played twice. UF’s first national title in ’96 came at FSU’s expense, still a source of pride in Gainesville.
Series: Georgia leads 62-56-8; Both ranked: 24 times; Both in Top 10: 6 times
The “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” has actually been played much more often than Auburn vs. Alabama –126 times in all dating to 1892. In fact that 1892 meeting was the inaugural game for the Auburn football program, and just the second game ever for the Dawgs.
Series: Navy leads 57-53-7; Both ranked: 5 times; Both in Top 10: 5 times
This game hasn’t had any national championship implications for either team since the 1960s, but c’mon, that’s not what you come here for, is it? All the stuff you hear about the pageantry, the pride, the fact that these kids are not going pro but doing something bigger after graduation? It’s all true.
Series: Georgia leads 54-43-2 (UF says 53-43-2); Both ranked: 23 times; Both in Top 10: 8 times
These teams have clashed in Jacksonville for “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” (or whatever watered-down name it goes by now) annually since 1933, when both were part of the SEC’s formation. One of these two programs has won the East Division 22 times since 1992, including UGA this year.
Series: Texas leads 62-50-5; Both ranked: 42 times; Both in Top 10: 17 times
This game was a very big deal on both sides of the Red River well before they were in the Big 12 together, or before both schools decided they would bolt for the SEC together. This game has featured the No. 1 team 12 times; 8 times it was the Sooners but the Longhorns beat No. 1 OU in 1963 and 2008.
3. Notre Dame-USC
Series: Notre Dame leads 49-37-5; Both ranked: 33 times; Both in Top 10: 18 times
If we’re talking just national title implications, this maybe could be No. 1. The Fighting Irish have gone into this game ranked No. 1 a total of 8 times (and lost to the Trojans twice); USC has topped the poll 5 times before playing Notre Dame and won them all including the famed “Bush Push” game in 2005.
Series: Alabama leads 47-37-1; Both ranked: 24 times; Both in Top 10: 8 times
Since 2002, Auburn has beaten Alabama 5 times when the Crimson Tide were higher ranked, including 2013 and 2017 when Bama went into the game at No. 1. Both of them were at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Nick Saban’s team has not won since 2015. Food for thought heading into Saturday on The Plains.
1. Michigan-Ohio State
Series: Michigan leads 58-52-6; Both ranked: 46 times; Both in Top 10: 23 times
These two lead all schools in most weeks all-time ranked in the AP Poll: OSU is No. 1 at 947 weeks, Michigan is No. 2 at 884. Their 24th meeting with both in the top 10 will happen Saturday week when No. 2 OSU meets No. 5 UM in Ann Arbor. And, as usual, the winner takes the Big Ten East Division.