There are dozens, if not hundreds of intense rivalries in the sports world, but perhaps none are as fiercely competitive and intimate as the ones in college football.
Because of the NCAA landscape, student-athletes often take the field full of pride and hope. Ultimately, a precious few move on to the next level, meaning many play the game because they love it. That sort of passion makes the games all that much more intense and meaningful.
Accordingly, college football features some of the best rivalries in all of sports. Here’s our look at the 10 best.
The Holy War between BYU and Utah may not be the most nationally recognized rivalry in college football, but for those involved, nothing compares.
Due to their close proximity and differences, the battle between BYU and Utah burns hot. In total, the two have met 97 times since 1896, with Utah leading the all-time series 59-34-4. However, there is a dispute over the all-time series record as BYU doesn’t have records prior to 1922 and therefore does not count the first six games between the two schools.
In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, BYU dominated the rivalry, but Utah has turned things back around since. They’ve won six consecutive games against the Cougars, seven of the last eight, and 11 of the last 14.
Despite the unbalanced nature of this rivalry, it remains one of the most anticipated games of the college football season and continues to be considered among the best rivalries in the sport.
9. Clemson-South Carolina
Although Clemson and South Carolina are part of two different conferences, the ACC and SEC respectively, it hasn’t exactly put a damper on their long-standing rivalry.
With their campuses remarkably close and a tense history between the two schools dating back to the Civil War, it’s no surprise their football teams have become such fierce rivals. And since the first game between the schools was played in 1896, The Palmetto Bowl has rarely disappointed.
Clemson leads the all-time series 68-42-4 and currently has a four-game winning streak against the Gamecocks. However, it had been Carolina’s show from 2006-2013, where they had won six of the eight matchups. And through 2015, things had gotten even more heated thanks in large part to Steve Spurrier (South Carolina) and Dabo Swinney (Clemson) trading seemingly endless potshots.
Although Spurrier has departed, the rivalry remains strong. The Tigers have had the last laugh more recently, winning two national championships, but that will only serve to motivate South Carolina moving forward.
Proximity often determines the quality of a rivalry, and few universities are located closer to each other than UCLA and USC — only 10 miles apart in distance and 12 miles by freeway.
Although not as intense as some of the upcoming rivalries, the line between UCLA and USC has been known to divide neighbors, co-workers and even families. And when the two sides are that close together, it’s easy to understand why. It’s also why bragging rights are so sought-after.
The two teams first met in 1929, but the Victory Bell trophy wasn’t established until 1941. USC leads the all-time series 46-31-7 and the trophy series 40-31-4. UCLA can stake claim to the longest winning streak however, knocking USC off eight consecutive times from 1991-1998.
USC has won the last two meetings and seven of the last 10, but the Bruins have kept things interesting with their aforementioned winning streak in the 1990s and a three-game win streak between 2012-2014. But as it often tends to be, the victor wins big — one of the few reasons this rivalry game isn’t ranked higher.
7. Florida-Florida State
This could have been Florida-Georgia or Florida-Miami because the Gators have so many rivals, but if you were to ask the fans and players, few would go against Florida State checking in at No. 1 on the enemy list.
The Florida-Florida State rivalry is somewhat new compared to others on this list, which is odd considering the two public universities are the oldest in the United States. The first game wasn’t played until 1958, but it didn’t take very long to establish itself as one of college football’s most intense rivalries.
The level of play between the SEC’s Gators and the ACC’s Seminoles is what really makes this an exciting game for college football fans. The two teams are often in the thick of the national championship race and the game, appropriately nicknamed the Sunshine Showdown, even once determined the national champion (1996).
Things have become a bit unbalanced in recent years with Florida State winning six of the last seven, but the Gators still lead the all-time series 34-25-2.
Florida will eventually turn things around, and when they do, it will make for an even more intense on-field battle between two of college football’s best.
The Red River Showdown (also called the Red River Shootout or Red River Rivalry) is one of the more interesting college football games of the year based solely on atmosphere.
Not only do the Longhorns and Sooners share quite a disdain for each other based on state boundaries and the Big 12 implications, but the game itself is held at the Cotton Bowl with the Texas State Fair as its backdrop. The crowd is split down the middle at the 50-yard line, so the entire feel of the game is unique.
On the field, the rivalry dates back to 1900 with Texas leading the all-time series 61-45-5. However, with Texas’ recent decline, Oklahoma has won five of the last seven and 11 of the last 17, giving the rivalry far more balance than it had previously.
And make no mistake about it — the Sooners hate the Longhorns and the Longhorns hate the Sooners. That sort of passion is encompassed by every game on this list, which makes it fun for everyone. And when Texas returns itself to prominence, this rivalry game will climb back up lists like this where it belongs.
California-Stanford is one of the oldest college football rivalry games in the nation, dating back to 1892 when the Cardinal took home a 14-10 victory. It also featured one of the most memorable plays of all-time when in 1982, on the final play of the game, four Golden Bears players lateraled their way through Stanford’s coaching staff and band en route to the miraculous game-winning touchdown.
Some may stick their nose up at this rivalry game because academics tend to come first for each university, and the fact that Stanford is a private school only adds to that feeling, but there’s no denying how badly these two teams want to beat each other.
Stanford has dominated “The Big Game” in recent years, however. They’ve won seven straight since 2010, and the vast majority of the wins have come in dominating fashion thanks to the program’s resurgence under Jim Harbaugh and then David Shaw.
Still, the intensity never dies down when these two teams take the field, and it’s only a matter of time before the Golden Bears get back in the win column.
4. Notre Dame-USC
The rivalry between Notre Dame and USC is both star-studded and rich in championship pedigree. Each team has claimed 11 national championships and they have produced a combined 13 Heisman Trophy winners — seven for Notre Dame and six for USC.
But their rivalry is about much more than history, and is often referred to as the greatest inter-sectional rivalry in college football. And rightfully so.
The Fighting Irish and Trojans have met 87 times since 1926, with Notre Dame leading the all-time series 46-37-5. They have also won four of the last seven after USC had reeled off eight straight from 2002-2009.
More often than not, the Jeweled Shillelagh Trophy is won by the team that goes on to compete in a major bowl game or, in several instances, the National Championship Game. But even when the stakes aren’t high for the oft-ranked teams, the other tends to play a key role as spoiler.
The two sides want nothing more than to defeat the other, which is why five of the 10 highest-ranked college football games of all-time were between Notre Dame and USC.
Source: Yard Barker