Intense rivalries are one of the things that make college football worth watching each fall. Nothing can beat the excitement and passion poured into each rivalry game. The outcome of a rivalry game defines an entire season for countless teams and gives the winning fans a year's worth of bragging rights.
These 25 rivalries rank among the best in college football:
1. Alabama vs Auburn: There is no middle ground in the state of Alabama. Your battle cry is either "War Eagle" or "Roll Tide" on Saturdays. All rivalries are nasty. The Iron Bowl has a special degree of nastiness. It was so bad from the beginning that Alabama and Auburn did not actually play for 41 years. Then, when the series resumed, it was held at Legion Field in Birmingham for several decades.
2. Ohio State vs Michigan: The game has featured some of the most closely contested games of any rivalry in the country. When Michigan and Ohio State play, the winner typically goes on to win a Big 10 championship. Losing consistently in the rivalry -- even amid overall success -- can get a coach fired. Former Buckeyes head coach John Cooper can attest to that fact. Cooper was shown the door after going 2-10-1 against the Wolverines.
3. Oklahoma vs Texas: There is no love lost between Texas and Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout. It is one of the few neutral-site rivalries left in college football. The two teams play each season in Dallas as part of the Texas State Fair and split the tickets 50 percent. Texas leads the all-time series 59-42-5. Each team considers the other its biggest rival ahead of instate opponents like Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
4. Army vs Navy: While Navy has dominated Army over the past decade, this still ranks as one of the nation's top rivalries because of the history and tradition associated with both service academies. It is a respectful rivalry and one that grabs the attention of the entire nation because both teams go on to serve in the nation's armed forces.
5. USC vs Notre Dame: As both teams developed into national powers, this became one of the best intersectional rivalries in the nation. It began in 1926 and since that time USC and Notre Dame have combined to win 22 national titles and produce 14 Heisman Trophy winners. The Fighting Irish lead the all-time series 43-34-5.
6. Miami vs Florida State: This rivalry really heated up when both schools emerged as national powers in the 1980s. Many future NFL stars had a hand in these games in the '80s and '90s. The winner often went on to win national championships during that era. Many classics between Miami and Florida State are noted for missed game-winning field goals.
7. Utah vs BYU: The Holy War has emerged as one of the nation's most competitive rivalries. Although Utah has won seven of the last 10 games in the series, the outcome in 13 of the last 16 games has been decided by a touchdown or less. The actual record of the rivalry is in dispute because Utah counts six games played against BYU when it was Brigham Young Academy. BYU does not recognize those games.
8. California vs Stanford: No other rivalry offers a crazier ending to a game than the famous "Stanford Band" game in 1982. California beat the Cardinal with five laterals on the final play, even as the Stanford band came onto the field to celebrate the victory.
9. Georgia vs Florida: The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party was slanted in Florida's favor during the Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer years. Since 1990, Florida has gone 18-4 against Georgia. One highlight of the series for both teams is some world-class tailgating in Jackonsville.
10. Oregon vs Oregon State: Oregon has risen to dominant heights in the Pac-12, but Oregon State manages to remain a thorn in the side of the Ducks. Oregon leads the series 59-46-10, which was first played in 1894. The Beavers have only won nine games since 1974, but six of those victories have come since the program's revival under Dennis Erickson and Mike Riley. The series is notable for featuring the last scoreless tie in NCAA Division I football in 1983.
11. USC vs UCLA: The crosstown rivalry has lost some luster with UCLA's recent struggles, but there is no denying these two schools are bitter rivals. Their annual battles have decided Rose Bowls and, in 1967, a national championship. That year, No. 4 USC -- which featured O.J. Simpson -- knocked off No. 1 UCLA 21-20 and went on to win the Rose Bowl and a national title.
12. Florida vs Florida State: Clashes between teams coached by Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden pushed this in-state rivalry into national prominence. The Seminoles and the Gators have played on equal terms since Bowden built the Florida State program into a national powerhouse. Florida has won at least six straight games in the series three different times since the two teams began playing in 1958.
13. Pittsburgh vs West Virginia: Realignment has destroyed the Backyard Brawl. Until both schools left the Big East, it was one of the oldest rivalries in the nation. Pittsburgh and West Virginia first played in 1895. Major upsets have been a staple of the series in the past decade. Pitt ruined West Virginia's chance to reach the BCS national championship game with a 13-9 upset win in 2007. The Mountaineers returned the favor by knocking off the No. 8 Panthers 19-16 in 2009.
14. Texas vs Texas A&M: There is no love lost between these Lone Star Showdown rivals. Texas and Texas A&M traditionally battled for supremacy in the Southwest Conference. The Longhorns always seemed to overshadow the Aggies in the SWC and the Big 12. Texas A&M made a move to escape that shadow by bolting to the SEC. The Aggies' departure brought an end to this longstanding rivalry.
15. TCU vs Baylor: Old SWC rivals are reunited again in the Big 12. The hatred runs deep in this rivalry that started in 1899. TCU fans remain convinced Baylor kept it out of the Big 12 when the conference originally formed. Baylor fans have looked down on TCU's success as a product of playing in mid-major conferences. The series is a dead heat. Each team has won 50 games.
16. Kansas vs Missouri: How many rivalry games have roots in the Civil War? The Border War became one of the most heated games each fall while Kansas and Missouri battled for 12 decades. A move to the SEC for the Tigers brought the series to a halt, with Missouri leading 57-54-9, and it is unlikely to restart anytime soon.
17. Clemson vs South Carolina: Things get heated enough between these in-state rivals to bring on postseason bans. A fourth-quarter brawl in 2004 led to both Clemson and South Carolina implementing self-imposed bowl bans at the end of the season.
18. Michigan vs Michigan State: Wild swings in dominance have defined this in-state matchup. Michgan State won 14 games over Michigan from 1950 to 1969. The Wolverines turned the tide, winning 30 games from 1970 to 2007. The Spartans regained control and have won four straight over Michigan heading into the 2012 season.
19. Auburn vs Georgia: Known as Deep South's Oldest Rivalry, these two teams first met in 1892. Auburn holds a slim 54-53-8 edge over Georgia. This rivalry retained its importance even after the two teams went into separate divisions in 1992.
20. Georgia vs Georgia Tech: You got to love a rivalry that is known as "Clean Old-fashioned Hate." The Bulldogs have had the upper hand on the Yellow Jackets as of late, winning 10 of the last 11 games in the series. It is one of the oldest college football rivalries, with the first game played in 1893.
21. Washington vs Washington State: The Apple Cup has featured some unusual quirks. Washington State has never won more than two in a row in the series. Washington, on the other hand, has won eight in a row twice and leads the series 67-31-6. It will become more competitive with Mike Leach taking over as the Cougars' head coach.
22. Minnesota vs Wisconsin: The oldest continuous FBS rivalry can be found in Big Ten country. Minnesota and Wisconsin have played annually since 1890. The Badgers have won eight straight, but the Golden Gophers still lead the overall series 59-54-8. The winner receives a cool traveling trophy -- The Paul Bunyan Axe.
23. Arizona vs Arizona State: This game features the oldest rivalry trophy in NCAA Division I. The Territorial Cup was first awarded in 1899 to Arizona State after beating Arizona in its first game against the Wildcats. Arizona dominated the series in the Border Conference years and Arizona State returned the favor during the WAC years. The Wildcats lead all-time 47-37-1.
24. Mississippi State vs Mississippi: Odd name, but it's still a good game. The Egg Bowl counts as the major highlight for a pair of SEC programs that traditionally finish near the bottom of the SEC West each season. Ole Miss leads 60-42-6.
25. LSU vs Arkansas: This SEC West rivalry has really taken off in recent seasons with both programs becoming annual fixtures in the top 25. The last six meetings have been decided by a total of 21 points. Two of those games were upset victories for the Razorbacks over LSU when the Tigers were ranked in the top 5.
All rivalry records can be found online at the College Football Data Warehouse.
John Coon is a graduate of the University of Utah and has covered the Utes in multiple sports as a sports reporter based in Salt Lake City.
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