Skip to main content

Ranking The 5 Best Rivalries In College Sports In 2016

The best college sports has to offer will be on display tonight at 9 p.m. E.T. on ESPN. 

I'm talking about rivalries. And we've got a great one to witness this evening. 

North Carolina (20-5) is set to host Duke (19-6) at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill. 

Everything that's great about college sports - the raw emotion, the fans, the pageantry - is at its peak during a rivalry game.

Where does Duke-UNC rank in the current rivalry landscape? 

A couple years ago, we had the rivalry tabbed the fourth-best. 

A decent amount has changed since then, though. It's time to rank the rivalries (college football and basketball only) again. 

So, placing an extreme emphasis on what's happening right now in 2016, here are the five best rivalries in college sports. 

Start With No. 5 ??? >>>

5. Michigan-Michigan State (football)

There's the Jim Harbaugh factor, of course. There was that insane ending to the 2015 game, too. 

But mostly, what makes this rivalry great right now is that you've got a program dubbed "Little Brother" reaching elite status. Michigan State has won 10-plus games in three straight seasons. The Spartans have won the Big Ten twice during that time. And, this past season, they made the College Football Playoff. 

Enter: Michigan. 

The Wolverines, who struggled in the latter part of the 2000s and the first couple years of the 2010s, appear to be a sleeping giant awoken. Harbaugh has come to Ann Arbor, won 10 games in his first season and just reeled in a top-five recruiting class. 

To reach that supreme level they're shooting for, the Wolverines will first have to supplant the Spartans as the best program in their own state. 

Can Little Brother hold off Big Brother? 

It's going to be ridiculously entertaining to watch. 

Next: No. 4 ??? >>>

4. Kentucky-Louisville (basketball)

Louisville's postseason ban has lessened the importance of this rivalry on a national scale, but locally, it appears to be as fierce as ever. 

Basically, the Cardinals' off-the-court screw-ups have added more fuel to the already scorching hot fire. There isn't a more entertaining back-and-forth between fans online than the one currently going on between Kentucky and Louisville's fan bases. 

There was that incident at the end of this year's game, too. 

Rick Pitino "allegedly" flipped off some Kentucky fans after his team's loss to the Wildcats. 


— Seiver Tandy (@Fine_and_Tandy)

I got Rick flipping off UK fans on video ?

— Seiver Tandy (@Fine_and_Tandy) December 26, 2015

">December 26, 2015

Pitino denied making a vulgar gesture, but it doesn't really matter. The fact that it's entirely believable that he did it perfectly sums up the intensity of this rivalry. 

Next: No. 3 ??? >>>

3. Alabama-Auburn (football)

When we ranked the five best rivalries in college sports in 2014, this one was No. 1. The best Iron Bowl ever was just one year old. Auburn was coming off a national championship appearance. Alabama was looking to get back there. 

Everything was clicking for the Alabama-Auburn rivalry. 

Since then, Auburn's taken a step back. The Tigers followed up an 8-5 season in 2014 with a Zoolander 2-level disappointing 2015. Gus Malzahn's program went 7-6 after starting the year in the top-five with College Football Playoff hopes. 

Meanwhile, Alabama has reasserted its dominance, winning its fourth national championship in seven years this past season. 

The rivalry remains one of college sports' best, though. Just look at what Auburn did to its library windows in November. 


— The Auburn Plainsman (@TheAUPlainsman)

Windows display "00:01" on the side of Haley Center in reference to the 2013 Kick Six.

— The Auburn Plainsman (@TheAUPlainsman) November 28, 2015

">November 28, 2015

If Auburn can re-find its prowess on the gridiron, this rivalry could re-claim the top spot in the ranking in a year or two. 

Next: No. 2 ??? >>>

2. Duke-North Carolina (basketball)

The rivalry we get to watch tonight. 

We've got the Blue Devils coming off a national championship season in 2015 and the Tar Heels looking to get one this season. 

If North Carolina can get it done this year, this rivalry will reach an Alabama-Auburn 2012-13 level (when the two programs went to national title games in back-to-back seasons). 

It's not crazy to imagine that happening, either. The Tar Heels are one of the best teams in the country and currently have the best odds to win it all, per Bovada. 

Duke is surging lately, though, beating Louisville and Virginia. And you can count on the Blue Devils making it as tough as possible for UNC to take home a championship this season.

Make sure to tune it tonight. 

Next: No. 1 ??? >>>

1. Michigan-Ohio State (football)

I don't think this one needs much justification for its ranking. 

There's Urban Meyer. There's Jim Harbaugh. There are two college football programs who hate each other more than anything competing for conference champions, national titles and recruiting supremacy (both Michigan and Ohio State had top-five recruiting classes in 2016).

Both teams will start the '16 season ranked in the top 10 with College Football Playoff hopes.

Mark Nov. 26 on your calendars - it's when they play this season.

Until then, you can just watch this.

Predicting Next Season's College Football Playoff Field >>>