By War Eagle Atlanta
Rivalries are what make college football--period. And unlike in pro sports, they're not manufactured or massaged or manipulated, they simply exist; usually falling on natural borders, or even better, within the same state. Taking care of your in-state rival is of prime importance and is a must to have a great season, but you pretty much want to kick butt across state lines, too. Kick it so bad that the FBI gets involved...
Everyone thinks that their inter-state rivalry is the toughest in all of college football and will gladly tell you. But what about some empirical evidence for a change? Enough of the hype and rah-rah, just give me some facts. What I think constitutes a great rivalry is as simple as the strength of the teams that play in it and how long they've been playing.
A good way to measure the greatness of the teams comes from our old friend, College Football Data Warehouse. Their rankings index attempts to measure teams throughout history primarily based on four categories: all-time winning percentage, strength of schedule percentage, number of national championships, and number of Big Four bowl appearances.
While I think that CFBDW does a great job with attempting to rank teams historically, I disagree slightly with their criteria used and their results. You already know that I think their MNC awards are far too generous, so I've altered that formula to reflect what I feel are more credible results. And I totally disallow their category for Big Four Bowl appearances in all-time team rankings.
Although I think that earning a slot in one of these bowls is a great hallmark for a team, I have a problem with historic bowl alliances that have not always paired the best teams available, leaving out a great number of teams due to conference alignments and regional preferences. If they were to only look at these bowl appearances during the BCS era, when most of the top teams at least had a chance of landing in any of the bowls, I might be more prone to consider it. But it still wouldn't be very representative of college football over its 140 year lifespan. So, as it is, I am not going to include this category in determining the single greatest programs in CFB history.
So I've used CFBDW's scores for winning percentage and strength of schedule, and have paired down the number of MNCs, but have still awarded the same number of points per title that they do. Then it's all a matter of adding up the historic points for each team, then adding the sum of two rivals and see who has the biggest total. To see my index of the top 25 all-time teams, click here.
And remember, only Division 1-A (FBS) teams are considered and only rivalries that have 70 or more games. I thought about limiting the number of rivalries for any team to one, but I thought that penalized them unfairly for their success. The first team listed in the rivalry has the winning record in the series.
10) Georgia-Florida, 46-37-2. The game formerly known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The game also formerly dominated by Georgia, who has only gone 3-15 the last 18 years. One of only two series on the list primarily played at a neutral site--Jacksonville.
9) Texas-Arkansas, 55-21. Former Southwest Conference mates who are just again starting to enjoy playing each other, especially after the drought following Arkansas' departure to the SEC in 1992. Of course, it's been Texas who normally puts the pig in the ground, dominating this series thoroughly.
8) Auburn-Georgia, 53-50-8. The oldest rivalry in our rankings, and the closest statistically. Arguably the most respectful rivalry around, probably owing to the fact that these two teams played the first football game ever in the deep south in 1891. They also played primarily on neutral sites until 1959, when they switched to a home and home. Curiously, in those almost 50 years of on-campus games, the visiting team has a winning record.
7) Notre Dame-Michigan State, 44-26-1. The Spartans are ND's most frequent Big 10(11) opponent, one of the few old Western Conference (pre-cursor to the Big 10) schools that didn't shun the Irish. The teams met in the alleged Game of the Century in 1966, both coming in undefeated. They stumbled to a 10-10 tie, sharing the AP and UPI national championships, and totally hosed undefeated Alabama, who was unfairly denied a third straight MNC. See? I can too say nice things about Bama...
6) Alabama-Tennessee, 45-38-7. Third Saturday in October. A battle between the two top historic teams in the SEC. Alabama has played most of it's home games at Legion Field, which was historically known as the Tide's other home field (except in the Iron Bowl, of course, where it was perfectly 'neutral')
5) Alabama-LSU, 43-23-5. What most Tide fans would consider their third most intense rivalry overall, this game sneaks up in the rankings past Bama-Tennessee. Curiously, LSU went 29 years in this series between home victories--the kind of futility that you probably would only find in Notre Dame-Navy. This match up is definitely in the spotlight now that Saban has returned to the SEC.
4) Michigan-Ohio State, 57-41-6. THE game. Bo versus Woody. Lloyd versus The Vest. What many people consider the top CFB rivalry of all time. Well, close, but not quite, according to my rankings. Michigan's weak actual MNC count is what prevents this one from being number two. With most Big 10(11) titles waiting around to be claimed by this game's winner, it's always a must-see. Hail to the victor, whoever he may be.
3) Oklahoma-Nebraska, 43-37-3. The former marquee match up of the old Big Two, Little Six Conference. Switzer versus Osborne. One of two games in our rankings that is no longer played every year, resulting from both teams being placed in separate divisions when the Big 12 was formed. And since teams in the Big 12 do not permanently play one team from the opposite division each year, this clash has been relegated to two years on, two years off, barring a meeting in Kansas City. Doesn't really seem fair for the rest of CFB...
2) Texas-Oklahoma, 57-40-5. The Red River Shoot-Out. One of the oldest rivalries on our list and the oldest neutral-site game in college football history--the last 79 games have been played in Dallas. This game was the great clash of the old Big 8 and Southwestern Conferences kings. Curiously, Texas has held a pretty solid lead in this series in spite of Oklahoma having better overall historic success. This one is played 365 days a year. If you doubt that, just hang out here on fanblogs for a while...
1) Notre Dame-Southern California, 42-32-5. The biggest all-time interstate rivalry in all of college football, and the only one on our list where the two teams aren't in the same region. Yes, this one is quite an oddball. There's a few stories around about how it came to be organized. The one I believe is that the teams became acquainted after Notre Dame came out and played in the 1925 Rose Bowl against Stanford and was looking for a permanent opponent from the West Coast. Regardless of how it got started, it's still the one you can't miss. I'm a little surprised this series isn't a little closer, but anything can happen when the two teams with the most MNCs meet.
So there we have it, the greatest inter-state CFB rivalries ranked by the teams' historical significances in the record books. Special note should be given to Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Alabama, Texas, and Georgia, who all had two rivalries reflected. I've laid out the formula that I've used to gather my data, but like all statistics, they can be manipulated or misconstrued. I think mine as being the fairest considering the circumstances, but if you think you've got a better system, let me know. Maybe we can fine tune it in the future.