Rivalries are part of the fabric and make-up of college football. The memories of the biggest games pass on from generation to generation as fans from several eras can relate to one another through the common bond of a hatred for their arch-enemy. But rivalries are fluid, and while some have roots tracing back to the 1800’s, longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. Minnesota beat Wisconsin 32-4 in 1892, and they have played 116 times since, but it’s not like this year’s game for Paul Bunyan’s Axe gripped a nation. These are the 10 rivalries about to take over college football. Some will be bigger than others, but over the next decade they’ll be the ones you’ll care about.
Baylor vs. TCU
As long as Art Briles is the head coach at Baylor and Gary Patterson is at TCU, these two programs should put together some Big 12 classics over the next several years. Before there was Case Keenum at Houston, there was Kevin Kolb, who set numerous passing records with Briles as the head man. Now, Briles has set the wheels in motion for the Baylor offense to be a Houston-like perennial juggernaut with or without Robert Griffin at the helm. Meanwhile, Patterson has created something special in Fort Worth with double-digit win seasons the norm and BCS appearances an attainable goal on a yearly basis. The two small schools – only about an hour apart - will be in the same Big 12 boat, diving in the same recruiting pool and facing the same restraints and restrictions as they try to battle with Texas, Oklahoma and the other giant conference schools. Along the way, expect more classics like this year’s 50-48 Baylor win, and expect this to matter even more to the fan bases than it did in the old days of the Southwest Conference.
Virginia vs. Virginia Tech
Virginia head coach Mike London is turning the program into an ACC power in a hurry. With a few good recruiting classes, the talent base is quickly improving as he’s making it one of the hot ACC programs to play for. According to the latest Scout.com 2012 recruiting rankings, Virginia is 16th while Virginia Tech is 19th; they’re each fighting for many of the same players. It’s hardly been an interesting rivalry lately with Virginia Tech winning eight in a row, but the Cavs have a chance to win the Coastal with a win over the Hokies on Saturday to take the longtime rivalry to a new level. Miami is in hot water with the NCAA, North Carolina is in transition, and Duke is Duke, so at the very least the Coastal should be decided by the Cavs and Hokies – with Georgia Tech in the equation - for several years to come.
Oregon vs. Washington
Give this another two years and it should be one of the Pac-12’s premier showdowns. There’s a nice foundation at Stanford, but as soon as Andrew Luck is off holding up an Indianapolis Colt jersey, life on the Farm will go back to normal. Cal doesn’t appear able to go to another level under Jeff Tedford, and Oregon State and Washington State have a hard ceiling on the talents they can bring in. That means the Pac-12 North should soon come down to the Dawgs and Ducks. At least that’s the hope in Seattle. Head coach Steve Sarkisian has made strides to make Washington respectable again, and he appears to be a few linemen away from turning a corner. The infrastructure is in place and the tradition and history are there to build a winner again to finally pose more of a threat to Oregon, which has grown into a superpower among superpowers. Expect these two to fight it out for the North title on a regular basis.
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas
The two programs used to face off on a regular basis back in the days of the Southwest Conference, but the two stopped playing for a while when Arkansas took off for the SEC and A&M joined up with the Big 12. This was never the biggest of rivalries in the SWC, but now the two programs are going to wage a yearly battle in the SEC West, with the foundation set after playing over the last three seasons – with Arkansas winning them all – and now it should be fierce. There will always be LSU, Alabama, and Auburn to deal with in the West, meaning this will probably turn into an elimination game. It’ll be tough to lose this burgeoning rivalry battle and still go on to win the division. At the very least it’ll always be a shootout and it’ll always be a big deal when it comes to recruiting Texas.
Iowa vs. Nebraska
It’s about time these two started hooking up on a regular basis. They used to play non-conference games here and there, but they haven’t faced each other since 2000 and the Huskers owned the series after the 1940s. Things have changed, and starting Friday this is set up to be one of the fun new traditional showdowns in the Legends division. With the two schools only 300 miles apart and a straight shot on I-80, it’ll be an easy travel game for two rabid fan bases that love to go on the move. It’ll take a few games of Big Ten championship significance for the rivalry to gain any national traction, and the two will have to fight through a tough division with Michigan and Michigan State each getting stronger, but this could quickly grow into one of the Midwest’s most anticipated and interesting yearly showdowns. However …
Michigan vs. Michigan State
This might be the most important Legends rivalry for the next several years. Michigan vs. Ohio State will always be big and it’ll always define the two programs, but Michigan-Michigan State is meaner, nastier and now, more important. It’s already a good Big Ten rivalry, but it’s about to get a whole lot bigger and a whole lot better. Michigan’s date with MSU is a division battle, while the Ohio State game is just as important as facing Indiana or Purdue. Think of it like Oklahoma vs. Nebraska when the Big 12 was formed. There was plenty of excitement when the two played, but the OU vs. Texas rivalry became far more important because of the significance to the South. Michigan is No. 1 in the 2012 Scout.com recruiting rankings and on the verge of being a superpower again under Brady Hoke, while Michigan State has established itself as a star over the last few seasons after winning a piece of the 2010 Big Ten championship and with an appearance coming in the 2011 Big Ten championship game.
Clemson vs. Florida State
Based on sheer talent level and athleticism, these two Atlantic rivals are going to blow the doors off the rest of the ACC. Last year, Florida State came up with the No. 2-ranked recruiting class in the country, while Clemson, led by the pickup of Sammy Watkins, was 11th. It’s still early, but so far this year Clemson is seventh and Florida State is ninth. The Bowden Bowls of a few years back were cute gimmicks, but both programs were okay, not special. Over the next several years, the two teams should wage a war for the Atlantic title, with each showing national title potential in the near future. At the very least, consider it a shocker if one of the two isn’t in the ACC championship over the next decade.
Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State
This isn’t going to get less interesting. Oklahoma has won the last eight games in the Bedlam battle, but all of a sudden Oklahoma State has gotten a lot better in big hurry. Still in the national championship chase, the Cowboys have to beat their hated big brother if Alabama loses to Auburn and, at worst, they need to win to get to the Fiesta Bowl to close out one of the school’s greatest seasons ever. A factor for top-shelf wide receivers, OSU has more top targets on the way, highlighted by flash-of-lightning prospect Kendall Sanders, and the offense is going to keep on humming. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is still Oklahoma and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. With Missouri and Texas A&M taking off, and with Texas trying to regroup and reload, OU-OSU is going to take on even more significance over the next few seasons. These will be two of the top three programs in the new Big 12, if not the top two, and the end-of-year hype will get crazier and crazier.
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin
With Penn State sinking into the abyss, all of a sudden, the Leaders looks likes it’ll be the Big 2, Little 4 for a long, long time. Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue aren’t without their charm, but they’re not within 27 miles of being any sort of a consistent threat to win the Big Ten title. That leaves Wisconsin and Ohio State to fight it out in what will quickly become the Big Ten’s most interesting and important rivalry. The Braxton Miller late touchdown pass to screw up any Wisconsin national title hopes set the tone for the new world of a new rivalry that’s been on the verge of being special for a while. It was Wisconsin that stopped the Buckeyes’ 19-game winning streak in 2003. The Badgers also beat No. 1 ranked OSU last year with the whole world watching to spark a run for the Rose Bowl. Bret Bielema is one of college football’s newest superstar head coaches, while Ohio State might get Urban Meyer once the season plays out and Luke Fickell can be politely kicked to the curb. Over the next decade, one of these two teams will almost certainly play in the Big Ten championship game, and considering how strong the two have been lately, they should come up with a few season-defining classics along the way.
Alabama vs. LSU
Auburn came up with one of the best recruiting classes in the country last year and will always be a part of the SEC West race. Arkansas has proven to be good enough to be in the conference title hunt on a regular basis under Bobby Petrino, and Texas A&M will quickly be better than SEC fans think. LSU and Alabama are on the verge of playing each other in an unprecedented national championship showdown. The two programs have played 73 times and have their own history and their own sort of rivalry, but it’s not Auburn-Alabama. For decades, Alabama owned this series like it owned almost every series. LSU was good, but from around 1964 on it almost never got over the Bear Bryant hump. Fast forward to the last decade, and LSU is now shooting for its third national championship in nine years and Alabama is going for its second in three years. If everything goes to form and the two play for the national title, Nick Saban will be gunning for his third – putting him into a whole new legendary level - while Les Miles could join Saban and Dennis Erickson as the only coaches in college football right now with multiple national championships. In 2009, Alabama brought in the No. 2 ranked recruiting class and LSU was third. Alabama was No. 1 in 2008 and LSU No. 7, and the two have been in the top 10 every year since and will be again this year. This is the new Miami-Florida State, with two NFL factories at the height of their powers with more talent than everyone else, better coaches than everyone else – at least until Urban signs on in Columbus – and better résumés. — CollegeFootballNetwork.com.