Born of proximity, history and downright disgust, rivalries are part of what make college football so much fun to watch each fall. Whether it’s for in-state bragging rights or conference or national superiority, there’s nothing quite like watching two bitter rivals take the field. Every team has a rivalry game on its schedule, and each rivalry game is special in its own way, but these are the top 15 rivalries in college football. — Sam Gardner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The annual rivalry game between Lafayette and Lehigh, two Eastern Pennsylvania neighbors about 90 minutes north of Philadelphia, doesn’t usually register a blip on the national radar, but it’s the most-played rivalry in college football history. Known simply as The Rivalry, the annual game between the Mountain Hawks and Leopards has been played a stunning 147 times since 1884, with Lafayette leading the series 76-67-5. Lehigh has won the past five meetings, including a 38-21 victory at Lafayette on Nov. 17.
The Red River Rivalry between the Longhorns and Sooners is always one of the most competitive and highly anticipated matchups in all of college football, and for good reason: In addition to their shared hate of each other, these teams are usually really, really good when they make the annual trek to Dallas to play. Both teams have been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 coming into 12 of the past 13 meetings, and the matchup has taken place with both teams ranked in the top five four times in that span. Overall, Texas and Oklahoma have played 107 times, with the Longhorns leading the all-time series 59-43-5, but Oklahoma clobbered Texas 63-21 in this year’s showdown.
Each fall, the Ducks and Beavers compete for the Platypus Trophy when Oregon and Oregon State meet in the Civil War. Originally played in 1894, the schools have met 115 times, with Oregon holding a 59-46-10 lead. Oregon has largely dominated the series since the mid-1970s, with a 27-9-1 record since 1975. That one tie occurred in 1983, when the teams played the last scoreless tie in Division I history in a game since dubbed the “Toilet Bowl.”
You’ll have to forgive Florida State fans for cringing when they hear the phrase “Wide Right,” but missed field goals are something of a sore subject, given the pain the Seminoles have endured in the 61 years since this in-state rivalry began. Miami leads the series 31-26 but that might not be the case had Gerry Thomas, Dan Mowrey, Matt Munyon and Xavier Beitia not all missed right (and, in Beitia's case, also left) on game-winning or game-tying field goals for Florida State over the years.
Heated rivalries aren’t just for big schools, as Harvard and Yale show each year when they meet for The Game. The Ivy League rivalry between the Crimson and the Bulldogs dates to 1875, making it the second-oldest continuing rivalry in college football (behind Yale-Princeton, which was first played in 1873), and with 128 meetings, it’s the third-most-played game in college football history. Yale leads the series 65-56-8, but Harvard has won 11 of the past 12, including a 34-24 victory this season on Nov. 17.
The Cougars and Huskies have met for the Apple Cup 104 times since 1900, with Washington leading the all-time series 67-31-6. In 1997, Washington State’s 41-35 win in Seattle propelled the Cougars to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years, but in the six years that followed, Washington dominated, winning all six meetings. The teams have split their past eight games, but Washington has won each of the past three. The teams will meet for the 105th time on the Friday after Thanksgiving in Pullman, as new Wazzu coach Mike Leach gets his first taste of the rivalry.
There’s no love lost between Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan, who have met 108 times since 1897, with the Wolverines holding a 58-44-6 edge (Note: Ohio State's 2010 win was forfeited). From Woody Hayes to Bo Schembechler to Earle Bruce and beyond, this rivalry is defined by its coaches as much as anything else, and a poor showing in the biggest game of the season is unacceptable in this rivalry, especially given that a trip to the Rose Bowl is often at stake. Just ask John Cooper, who lost only 43 games in 13 years in Columbus but was fired after the 2000 season in part because 10 of those losses came against Michigan.
There was once a time when the annual meeting with Florida State was the most anticipated game on Florida’s schedule, but these days, the Gators’ yearly showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville takes the cake. The teams have met since 1915 in what was formerly known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, with Georgia holding a 48-40-2 edge, and for the past four seasons, the winner, in addition to earning a leg up in the SEC race — as Georgia did with its 17-9 win earlier in 2012 — has also taken home the 10-foot long Okefenokee Oar.
Former conference mates BYU and Utah have met since 1922 (or 1896, if you ask Utah), and the annual game often decides the winner of the Beehive Boot, which is awarded to the Utah school with the best record against in-state schools each year. Utah leads the all-time series 53-31-4, with the most recent win coming in September, when BYU missed two last-second field goal attempts in the Utes’ 24-21 victory. The Holy War, so named for BYU’s affiliation with the LDS church, will continue next year in Provo, but the teams won’t play again after that until 2016, the first break in the series since World War II.
The most iconic image in the 115-meeting history of The Big Game is undoubtedly The Play, when Cal defensive back Kevin Moen took the fifth lateral on a last-second kick return and ran over a Stanford trombone player en route to a game-winning touchdown in 1982. But it’s Stanford that leads the all-time series between the teams 58-46-11, despite losing the Stanford Axe trophy to the cross-town Bears in seven of the past 10 meetings.
The teams’ records mean little when Army and Navy play for the Thompson Cup. This one is all about pride and bragging rights, especially for the seniors on both sides, most of whom are playing in their final competitive football game when the teams meet each December. The Army-Navy game was first played in 1890 and has been played every year since 1930, with the Midshipmen holding a 56-49-7 series edge. The teams will meet for the 113th time on Dec. 8 in Philadelphia, as Army looks for its first win over Navy since 2001.
The Jeweled Shillelagh is on the line when the Trojans and Fighting Irish play each fall in a game between two of the country’s most high-profile programs. The 86-year rivalry has been marked by stretches of supremacy by both teams, with Notre Dame dominating most of the first few decades, USC going 11-2 from 1970-82, the Irish going 11-0-1 from 1983-95 and the Trojans having the upper hand since, including nine wins in the past 10 meetings. Overall, Notre Dame leads the series 43-35-5, though USC’s 2005 win has since been vacated.
Clemson and South Carolina have met for Palmetto State superiority 109 times since 1896, with the Tigers owning a 65-40-4 series lead. But perhaps no game is more memorable than the 2004 “Brawl” game in Lou Holtz’s final game as South Carolina's coach. With Clemson leading 29-7 in the fourth quarter, a fight broke out between the teams, who had also scuffled before the kickoff. In the end, both programs self-imposed bowl bans that season for their roles in the fight.
With a nickname like Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate, the annual Governor’s Cup rivalry between Georgia and Georgia Tech has to be good. The Bulldogs-Yellow Jackets rivalry started in 1893, with Georgia going 62-39-5 since, and the Bulldogs have cruised lately, winning 26 of the past 34 games between the teams, including 10 of the past 11. There’s nothing but state pride at stake when these interconference foes meet each season, but that doesn’t make the games any less riveting.
There are ugly, nasty rivalries and then there is the Iron Bowl, which annually divides the state of Alabama into sects of “Roll Tide” and “War Eagle.” The teams have played 76 times since 1893, including every year since 1948, when Alabama legislature forced the teams to start playing again after a 41-year spat. From Kenny Stabler to Bo Jackson to Cam Newton, this game has featured some of the biggest names — and most exciting games — in college football. Alabama, which leads the overall series 41-34-1, will look for a third straight win when the teams meet in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 24.