What makes for a great rivalry?
Opinions vary but the bottom line is that fans like ’em
NCAA.com writers weigh in on rivalries and the perceptions -- real or imagined -- surrounding those games:
1. Which is the top college football rivalry today?
Lee Feinswog: This year right now is LSU-Alabama. Winner wins the national championship, when it’s over the loser will know it should have been in the title game but wasn’t, and you’ve got the whole Nick Saban thing still in Baton Rouge.
Doug Kroll: I grew up on the Miami-Florida State rivalry having gone to school at UM, but now that I’ve seen others and attended others I’ll go with Oklahoma-Texas. Cotton Bowl split right down the middle and the schools met this year for the 25th time with both of them being undefeated. Seems like every year, the winner makes it to the title game. Or at least close.
Jerry Trickie: Well, it would easy to say one like Ohio State-Michigan because of the history, but I think for today, it’s ‘What have you done for me lately?’ and it makes for an interesting pick in the SEC. LSU-Alabama is going to take a shot at the title like Lee said, so that’s gotta be there. Then Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, that winner too should be in New Orleans. I’d go with the one from the league that’s won the last five titles.
Lee Feinswog: Any of you old enough to remember Bill Cosby’s routine about Temple playing Hofstra? Now that was a rivalry!
Jerry Trickie: I was still eating Jello when he did that routine.
Doug Kroll: I was a twinkle in daddy’s eye. … I think that’s the great thing about rivalries. A kid at Lehigh will think Lehigh-Lafayette is the biggest rivalry in sports. And that’s OK. I don’t think there’s a right answer.
Lee Feinswog: Seriously, I think the ones with the longest and most respected traditions are the best. Harvard-Yale. Oregon-Oregon State. Auburn-Alabama. There are handfuls of them more than 100 years old, some of them small schools, which is pretty remarkable.
Doug Kroll: Exactly. And when you’re in one of those, whether it’s on the field or in the stands, there’s nothing better.
Jerry Trickie: OU-Texas is a good rivalry, but it doesn’t have the significance or relevance like one that every year will determine the national title participant. It’s almost like the SEC in general is one big rivalry, and makes the rest pale in modern day terms.
Lee Feinswog: I always like Oklahoma-Texas, but it seems awful lopsided right now. Most rivalries go in cycles. Like USC-Notre Dame had decades where one team dominated the other. Michigan-Ohio State is a good one, but made more famous by the HBO documentary a few years ago than the reality of the recent past. Although you have Les Miles, who grew up a diehard Ohio State fan but went to Michigan and always refers to OSU as Ohio.
Jerry Trickie: I think Doug was right though that there are no wrong answers. My rivalries may be based on personal experience and that’s different from midwest to south to west. Border Wars go on everywhere. But the SEC has to be in mix for the most currently relevant, which puts the grass-eating coach’s team and Bama right up there.
2. Does Notre Dame-USC still matter to a majority of college football fans?
Lee Feinswog: I think less than historical rivalries fans are concerned with the top programs beating up on each other when both are good at the time, which is why I mentioned LSU-Alabama first instead of Alabama-Auburn, even though those two schools won the last two BCS titles.
Doug Kroll: No, I don’t think that game matters. Someone mentioned rivalries being cyclical, well, I think this is one of them. Yeah it has a lot of history but neither has done much lately, especially with the sanctions against USC.
Jerry Trickie: Absolutely. They want to see the score, watch the game, root for the one they like or if they don’t have a pony in the rodeo, they want to pick which one they least like and root against it. To me, that’s what relevant is -- being noted by everyone. And USC-Notre Dame will always be relevant.
Doug Kroll: Does Joe Fan know they are rivals or care?
Lee Feinswog: No. Too many other good choices and games for fans to focus on that have meaning toward the national championship. Gone are the days of the Subway Catholics (or something like that). People like to point at Notre Dame having its own network and how important that is but the recruits don’t watch NBC on a Saturday afternoon.
Jerry Trickie: Still, even with the sanctions, fans want to see them for that reason. Will they be any good? Is former power USC now an underdog not compelling? I think so. I think a lot of fans think so.
Doug Kroll: I will admit the “Bush Push” game a few years ago was compelling and entertaining. But that’s about the only one in the last few years that I remember without looking it up.
Lee Feinswog: The Bush Push was six years ago, which backs up your point.
Doug Kroll: Right now, this rivalry wouldn’t make my top 10. Could that change? Sure. But even six years ago for that game, it doesn’t scream rivalry to me.
Jerry Trickie: I’m all for following whichever teams are in the title hunt, but that doesn’t preclude me from following other games. I think a lot of fans would say that, especially ones that go to Vegas. USC-Notre Dame has a pull, which is what makes it still a rivalry even if you know the teams won’t be playing for a title.
Doug Kroll: It goes without saying that becuase of ND’s TV deal, that every year is ‘its year.’ It’s fitting since a lot of ND fans are Cubs fans.
Lee Feinswog: USC has some star power because its USC and Lane Kiffin is must-watch TV, but ND feels like yesterday’s news. … I must say, however, when I finally covered a game at Notre Dame, which was in 1998 or 99, I couldn’t believe how nice it was there and how nice everyone was. Although I did freeze my ass off.
Jerry Trickie: It’s an iconic game. Maybe you prefer the Sweater Girls and the golden dome, but it still holds true and has a pull.
3. As a college football fan, does a win against a rival make up for a bad season?
Jerry Trickie: No way, but it makes it not a terrible season.
Doug Kroll: I think for the true fan of a school -- no.
Lee Feinswog: Some fans say yes. I think they’re delusional, that one game outweighs others. Again, back to LSU after Saban went to Alabama, you had LSU fans saying they could lose all the other games but if they beat Bama the season was made. Dopes.
Doug Kroll: For the fans that go to the games to be seen and only care about taunting the opponent -- yes.
Jerry Trickie: A bad season is a bad season is a bad season. Beating a true rival makes it worth the next 364 days of the year being a fan of that team, but it doesn’t take away what that season was -- bad.
Doug Kroll: Exactly. That winning feeling for a true fan lasts a week, then you have to move on and face reality that you’re team’s not very good. I’ve never been big on consolation prizes -- even if it’s your rival.
Lee Feinswog: It is weird, though, how often a bad team wins that last big rivalry game of the season when the other team is pretty good. It’s also amazing how those end-of-season rivalry games Thanksgiving weekend normally determine the BCS rankings and have vaulted some teams and eliminated others.
Doug Kroll: I guess it’s the one game they circle once they’ve ‘packed it in’?
Jerry Trickie: If it’s the last game of the season and it’s an upset like that, then it makes people think the year wasn’t so bad because it ended on a good note. But that doesn’t take away the rest of the losses.
Doug Kroll: Amazing that we could have a de facto playoff with two of the better rivalries around right now. But why does it never work out that way? Something will happen along the way.
Jerry Trickie: Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs? Could you imagine a playoff with a rivalry game like OU-OSU this year?
Lee Feinswog: Beware Arkansas-LSU the day after Thanksgiving. Behold the Boot.
4. All-time, what is the greatest moment from a traditional rivalry game?
Jerry Trickie: I’m guessing Doug will tossing out some kicking comments here?
Doug Kroll: Wide Right I, Wide Right II, Wide Right III, Wide Left I.
Lee Feinswog: Navy’s Roger Staubach jump pass against Army? … There has to be great USC-ND moment from the old days. Gotta be.
Jerry Trickie: I’m going to go a little out of my era here, but something that is right in my background. Johnny Rodgers and the punt return in the Game of the Century between Nebraska-Oklahoma in 1971. Go to YouTube and find it. Incredible set up, execution by every Husker on the field and was a prominent game in history. As NU radio man Lyle Bremser said, “Man, woman and child, did that ever put them in the aisles.”
Doug Kroll: Yes. Before my time too but a classic.
Lee Feinswog: Billy Cannon’s punt return? Back in the day that LSU-Ole Miss rivalry was huge.
Jerry Trickie: And the Bush Push mentioned was actually the first one that came to my mind.
Lee Feinswog: There was a great comeback by Harvard against Yale when Brian Dowling was QB and Calvin Hill was the star RB (see them even today in Doonesbury). Boola, boola ...
Doug Kroll: Memories in rivalry games will stick out to me more than any others. Again, going to draw from personal experience, but nine years ago this week was Wide Left I. If Miami had beaten Syracuse that day, would I remember it – yeah, but the fact it was FSU is going to make it etched in my memory for a long, long time.
5. If you could pick two schools to start an annual series, which two?
Doug Kroll: Texas-TCU. … Oh wait, that is going to be one!
Lee Feinswog: Selfishly, LSU and Washington -- but they play every game at Washington. Next choice: LSU-Colorado -- and they play every game in Boulder!
Jerry Trickie: I’d like to say Oklahoma and Ohio State because it’s got that feel that you’d want, but I’m going to go with another, more out of the box matchup that I think Lee would like. … I’m going to say LSU and Boise State. Play the games in Denver and Kansas City. LSU fans travel like wolves and Boise fans showed some seriousness earlier this year coming all the way to Georgia. I think Boise has also shed the little school image like Gonzaga dumped its mid-major tag in hoops. It’d be a matchup that could hold for a while.
Doug Kroll: I’m going to go Penn State-Pitt. Pennsylvania is an underrated football state, and it would be split nicely for a series. I have to give my northern brethren some love. I like that neutral site idea. Nice one.
Jerry Trickie: Boulder is beautiful, Lee. But would anyone pay attention to the game?
Lee Feinswog: I would like to see more cross-country matchups where it’s all new for the schools and their fans. Instead of a one-on-one rivalry, a conference deal kind of like what the basketball leagues have in the preseason. So like the Pac 16 against the SEC for 2 of your non-conference games every year for x amount years, and then a Big 10-SEC matchup like that as well. With drawings for the games like they do for the World Cup. “The BCS Group of Death this year has ...”
Doug Kroll: I like that. Kind of like ACC-Big Ten Challenge in hoops.
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Lee Feinswog: Imagine if all the leagues bought into that and all the BCS schools had to play two of their games against non-conference rivals from the same league. None of these big schools games against Western Carolina or McNeese State.
Jerry Trickie: That’d be a good filler early in the year and fans let up on the people who schedule the games. It’s hard to get name teams to play other name teams a lot of time unless it’s neutral site, set up ahead of time and includes a lot of cache.
Doug Kroll: That’s the thing. Get rid of those cupcakes and let’s create rivalries.
Lee Feinswog: Besides, and we haven’t said this yet, but with expansion/realignment, traditional rivalries are being eliminated or re-defined every year. So make new traditions.
Jerry Trickie: Even if it’s not a rivalry, putting the good teams together once in a while is not a bad thing. It’s sports. Not everyone gets a ribbon in the real world.
Doug Kroll: Alabama can still play a game against Kent State. But let’s get them playing Penn State even more. That was great the last two years even though PSU was down a bit.
Lee Feinswog: Take LSU for example, playing Oregon to open the season -- or Boise State-Georgia. Those games are great for the fans, the respective schools and the sport overall. Especially for the winning teams.
Opinions expressed are those of the writer.