We're just over forty days from the official start of the college football season.
In the meantime, we thought we'd take a look at ten of the closest rivalry games in football, many of which will be renewed this year. Just a few notes:
1. These are some of the closest rivalries in football, not necessarily the best. You don't see Texas-Oklahoma or Ohio State-Michigan? Sorry, but those series are too lopsided overall to make this list.
2. This isn't JUST about the closest series records. While those certainly are a deciding factor, there's going to be a greater margin between teams that have played a hundred games compared to twenty -so often we had to compare series and go with our gut.
3. While we tried to go through just about every series, there remains the slightest possibility that we missed a real gem. If so, feel free to let us know.
Enjoy the list!
Closest Rivalries #10-8 >
10. California-Stanford: "The Big Game"
Not only did we rate this the tenth closest rivalry game in college football, it is also the tenth oldest rivalry, with the first game being played in 1892. Future President Herbert Hoover was a team manager for the Cardinal.
In even-numbered years, the game is played at Berkeley, while in odd-numbered years, it is played at Stanford. Stanford leads the all-time series 57-46-11. The 115th Big Game will take place at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley on Saturday, October 20, 2012.
This series also boasts what is generally considered the greatest play in college football history:
9. Notre Dame-Boston College: "The Holy War"
This is actually one of three "Holy Wars" in college football, but it is by far the most prominent. These two are the only Roman Catholic institutions left in the Football Bowl Subdvision, and there is no love lost between them. They have faced off twenty-one times, with Notre Dame leading the series 12-9.
The series has had plenty of fantastic moments, one of the most famous being the Irish's 19-18 defeat of the Doug Flutie-led BC team in the 1983 Liberty Bowl.
The final crowd scenes from the 1993 epic film Rudy were actually shot at a Boston College game as well.
8. Penn State-Pittsburgh
The Battle for Pennsylvania used to be one of the greatest rivalries in college football, as the intra-state game was the biggest event of the year. Though the two haven't faced off since 2000, they still tend to stand as a measuring stick for each other, as they are only a few hours apart down the road. The two teams always seem to favor smashmouth, ground-and-pound football; and even their mascots are pretty similar.
Ninety-six games have been played between the two, with Penn State leading the series 50-42-4, mainly due to Joe Paterno's recent dominance of the Panthers.
This rivalry is scheduled to resume at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in 2016.
Closest Rivalries #7-5 >
7. Florida State-Miami
Two of college footballs most storied programs are both located in the Sunshine State. The two traditional powerhouses have played fifty-six times, with Miami boasting a 31-25 edge on the Seminoles. One or both of these teams is ranked almost every time they play, which means there are always huge implications.
There have been many historical moments between these two, including the 2006 game, which stands as the most-watched college football game of all time, regular or postseason.
6. Alabama-Auburn: "The Iron Bowl"
Yeah, it was about time that some SEC teams showed up on this list (although admittedly, there are a bunch of awesome series that ended up not making the cut). The Iron Bowl features the two largest universities in Alabama - they've been squaring off against each other since 1893.
This rivalry has always been a heated one. In 1907, the series was discontinued for 41 years (!!) after former coaches Mike Donahue and "Doc" Pollard feuded over officiating, petty disagreements, and just general dislike for the other guy. However, the universities did calm down and decide to resume the series as a yearly event. The game always takes place on the Friday following Thanksgiving.
It also seems that lately, at least one of the teams is in the BCS race every year, so it isn't an overstatement to say that a championship is often at stake when they play.
In 2009, it took an unbelievable drive by Alabame QB Greg McElroy in the waning minutes to beat Auburn, as the Tide went on to win the SEC and BCS Championships. Alabama leads the all-time series 41-34-1.
OU-Nebraska is a great rivalry that college football fans have to hope will resurface in the future. Originally part of the Big 8 Conference and then later the Big 12, this game features two of college football's greatest programs and largest fanbases.
Ever heard of the Game of the Century? Yeah, it occurred between these two schools. Definitely one to catch on ESPN Classic sometime.
Since Nebraska's departure from the Big 12 last year, the two teams have not played and have nothing scheduled in the foreseeable future. However, there have been discussions about rekindling the flames for a home-and-home series in 2020-2021. Hopefully, for college football fans everywhere, that gets done.
Oklahoma leads this series 45-38-1.
Closest Rivalries #4-2 >
4. Kansas-Missouri: "The Border War"
The Border War, or the M&I Bank Border Showdown technically (damn sponsors), is a heated rivalry built on violence, as its name actually came about from guerrilla warfare between the two states during the Civil War. There were literally brutal raids and town burnings occurring between the two, and to this day, the two states and schools still aren't particularly fond of each other.
This is the second-oldest rivalry game in the United States, and the oldest one west of the Mississippi River. However, Missouri's departure for the SEC has thrown this series' future into doubt. While Mizzou intends to keep it going as a non-conference game each year, Kansas has no intention of playing the Tigers again.
Just how much do these schools disagree on? Well, even the series record is up for debate. According to Missouri, the Tigers lead the series 57-54-9. According to the Jayhawks, Missouri only leads 56-55-9. The source of the controversy occurred in 1960, when Kansas won the matchup on the field, but later had a key player ruled ineligible. The Big 8 awarded the win to Missouri, but NCAA record books still have Kansas down as the winner. Regardless, this series couldn't be much tighter after 120 total games played.
While we didn't really want any team to make multiples appearances on the list, it was going to happen eventually. And we don't feel bad about the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry making that happen.
Here's what former Georgia-grad, but Auburn coach Pat Dye had to say about the game:
"It's a unique thing. It's like playing against your brother. I don't think anybody who plays in that game can ever forget it. It just doesn't matter much where it's played or what somebody's record is. It's so intense and tough, but at the same time, it's family" - Pat Dye
This rivalry is unique because the two schools don't actually hate each other; rather it's a nice friendly rivalry that is simply about competition. It's great for the sport, and interesting to see the inter-connectedness between the two schools.
Auburn leads the series 54-53-8 all time. Hard to get much tighter than that.
This game is played to see who gets to take home the legendary Seminole War Canoe Trophy. Or it least it used to be, since the teams stopped technically passing the trophy back-and-forth in the 1970s. But the honor still lives on.
This series used to be played every year, but that's changed since the SEC screwed things up required teams to play an eight-game conference schedule instead of seven. However, the series will still be played intermittently going forward.
The Florida-Miami matchup was also the first college football game ever televised by ESPN, which shows how revered this battle is.
The legendary Florida Flop is one of the most notable moments in this series' great history. The end of the 1971 game would spark anger in Hurricanes fans for years to come. Florida QB John Reaves entered the game with the intent to break Jim Plunkett's NCAA record for all-time passing yardage. It was his last regular season game, and therefore his last chance. The Gators dominated the game, and were up by the score of 45-8 when Reaves threw an interception to the Hurricanes' defense with little time left in the game. The problem is, Reaves was still 14 yards short of the record.
After calling timeouts to prevent Miami from simply killing the clock, nearly the entire defense dropped down in unison and allowed Hurricanes back John Hornibrook to score. Dubbed the "Florida Flop" or "Gator Flop", the play allowed the Gators to get the ball back so Reaves could break the record. On the next drive Reaves would do so, and after the game the entire Florida team jumped into the fountain at the Miami Orange Bowl. Hurricanes coach Fran Curci refused to shake the hand of Gators coach Doug Dickey after the game for pulling "a bush league stunt", though Dickey denied knowledge the flop was coming.
Miami leads this series 28-26 over the long haul.
There is no doubt that this is one of the best, most exciting, and most honored traditions in college football. It embodies the spirit of the two service academies at West Point and Annapolis, and captivates the nation on CBS every year. The game is hard-hitting, as some of the most loyal, hard-working men in the country face off in a battle that they absolutely do not want to lose. This is a rivalry where few, if any, players go on to the NFL, so they give everything they've got to the game while they are still able to play.
This game was where the first football helmet was worn. It was where instant replay was first instituted. And it has been home to numerous #1 vs #2 matchups over the years (although most of those were a long time ago).
But not only is this a feel-good game, it is an exceptionally close series. Navy holds all-time bragging rights currently, 56-49-7.
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