football-fbs flag | November 28, 2014

Greatest college football rivalries

army-navy 11-28 The Army-Navy rivalry is among the best that college football has to offer.

1. What's the best rivalry in college football?

♦ If we’re talking about the actual football being played, the Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama is tough to beat. But I’m going to take it a step further and go with Army and Navy because of the meaning behind the rivalry. Sure, neither team is competing for a national championship when the two sides meet, but the atmosphere is unlike any other. It’s a must-watch game because both sides are fighting strictly for that game, not what a win could mean beyond that for its playoff résumé, and that's what rivalry games should be all about. And watching on TV, you can still sense how special the game is for the fans. It’s a game I have to get to at some point in my lifetime.

♦ I believe the greatest rivalry that few people ever mention is Stanford and Oregon. The two squads have played since 1900 when the Cardinal beat the Ducks 34-0. Stanford also leads the all-time series 46-31-1. Marcus Mariota finally overcame his Stanford slump with a 45-16 victory at Autzen on Nov. 1. He’d lost his previous two against the Cardinal. I just love the chess match -- high-powered offense versus a no-nonsense defense. Now that Stanford is taken care of, looks like the No. 2 Ducks have a somewhat clear path to the CFP. They just need to take care of instate rival Oregon State this week.

♦ The important thing to remember about college football rivalries, to flip an old Rakim lyric on its head -- it is not where you are at; it is where you are from. So, using that logic, I’m going to say the greatest rivalry in sports is Michigan and Ohio State. While the wins side of the column is mostly been red this decade, it wasn’t always that way. UM actually leads the overall series 58-45-6. A great test of a rivalry's historical impact is if it features something on a first name basis. Ask any college football historian about “Woody and Bo.” You could write books about the Ten Year War, when Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes went at it from 1969 to 1978. The United States really changed during the Ten Year War -- somehow America didn’t need a football coach like Woody Hayes. He was the establishment. Bo was just a great coach; only two guys (Joe Peterno and Tom Osbourne) reached 200 wins faster. Do yourself a favor and watch Bo's "Team" speech. If you aren’t fired up and looking for some way to apply his words to your life, I question if you have a heartbeat. Schembechler died on the eve of the Michigan–Ohio State game in 2006. That’s like Thomas Jefferson dying on July 3.

Craig Thomas: I went to the Iron Bowl in 2010 -- it was the most amazing live football experience I've ever had.

Stephen Sellner: That must've been incredible. I think the stakes of that rivalry are unparalled at this point, considering the national relevance of both programs. It's too bad Michigan has fallen from grace so the Ohio St.-Michigan game has lost something, at least for fans on the outside of the rivalry.

Craig Thomas: It was the loudest place I've ever watched a game. It was like standing next to an airplane engine. But with more people yelling at one another.

Stephen Sellner: Do you guys give Michigan any shot this week?

Craig Thomas: No -- but I've thought Ohio State was going to win ever game since 1973.

Barrett 11-28Barrett gets his first shot in "The Game," Saturday.
Tesalon Felicien: I don't. I see J.T. Barrett rolling all over Michigan.

Craig Thomas: They call it "The Game" for a reason. That's why Jim Tressel will alway be loved in Columbus -- he knew the Michgan game was important. In his introdution to the school he said it's 351 days until Michgan. John Cooper always tried to play it like it was just another game.

Stephen Sellner: So Stanford-Oregon, Tesalon? That one took me a bit by surprise. I figured with your SEC allegiances that you would've gone with somewhere else with your answer.

Tesalon Felicien: Haha, I initially wanted to go with LSU-Florida but Oregon-Stanford won out.

Stephen Sellner: So no love for the Iron Bowl for you?

Craig Thomas: I'm just glad Tes can see they play football somewhere else besides the Southeast.

Tesalon Felicien: It's just the definition of a true rivalry. Any given Saturday, any team could win. For instance, there's no way Michigan is going to pull off an upset Saturday. I just don't see it.

Stephen Sellner: I guess that's where my pick falls short, with Navy winning 12 in a row against Army. But you dont think the same applies to the Iron Bowl? Seems like any team can win that one, too.

Tesalon Felicien: Yes the Iron Bowl is always a good one to watch. Cam Newton's heroics in 2010 took the rivalry to another level.

Craig Thomas: That's the game I went to!

Stephen Sellner: It's ridiculous to think that one was topped a few years later...

Tesalon Felicien: 28-27 in Tuscaloosa? Unreal. Yes and last year's game had to be one for the ages.

Stephen Sellner: If I were an Alabama fan, I'm not sure I would've been able to stand after Chris Davis' return for a touchdown.

Craig Thomas: When I was at the 2010 game, I met a nice older lady who said she's been attending this games since "Joe WIllie was the quarterback." I then said that phrase for like a week.

Stephen Sellner: That's the most SEC thing ever.

Tesalon Felicien: Oh and I’m not sure if you guys have ever heard about the Bayou Classic but that rivalry between Southern University and Grambling rivals anything the “big boys" have to offer. 

2. Is the Big Ten now stronger than the ACC?

Tesalon Felicien: The Big Ten is definitely on the come up. Urban Meyer has restored Ohio State to prominence and Wisconsin and Michigan State aren’t far behind. Even Minnesota! Where did they come from? After eight consecutive losing seasons (2005-2012) the Gophers have finally found their stride. Surprisingly only five (Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana and Michigan) out of 14 Big Ten teams have losing records. I really expected more. No disrespect, guys. As far as the ACC, outside of third-ranked Florida State, Georgia Tech and maybe Clemson, who else is making noise? The ACC has an edge for now but the Big Ten isn’t far behind.

Craig Thomas: So the guy who picked Ohio State and the team up north as the greatest rivalry has to go with the Big Ten! But -- as much as this annoys me -- 'That's a negative, Ghost Rider.' A couple of schools got to move up to the grownup table -- but Ohio State gets the best slice of turkey.

Stephen Sellner: I think the Big Ten's body of work is more impressive than the ACC's. Maybe this is just another avenue to explore Florida State's merit as a playoff team, but even with the Noles being unbeaten and No. 3 in the CFP rankings, I think going through the Big Ten schedule is far more difficult to do than the ACC. Call me crazy, but I think if we cancel out Ohio State and FSU and look at the rest of the conferences, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota is a far more difficult schedule than Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville.

Craig Thomas: Florida State hasn't lost a game in almost two years. People are making up stuff trying to find weaknesses. Last time I checked a win still a win.

Stephen Sellner: I will say, however, that the bottom half of the ACC is far better than the Big Ten. And it's not even close.

Craig Thomas: I like that -- the ACC's weak teams are better then the Big Ten's weak teams!

ACC Big Ten
No. 3 Florida State (11-0) No. 6 Ohio State (10-1)
No. 16 Georgia Tech (9-2) No. 10 Michigan State (9-2)
No. 21 Clemson (8-3) No. 14 Wisconsin (9-2)
No. 22 Louisville (8-3) No. 18 Minnesota (8-3)
Stephen Sellner: I think the top teams in the Big Ten, as a group, are better than the top teams in the ACC.

Tesalon Felicien: Yes, let's give Florida State a break. But as far as Minnesota goes, who have they beaten outside of Nebraska?

Stephen Sellner: The answer is nobody, Tesalon. But winning in Lincoln, despite Nebraska's recent struggles, is still worth something.

Craig Thomas: But they beat Northwestern. Who beat Notre Dame. Who -- wait -- that argument doesn't work anymore

Stephen Sellner: Craig, hypothetically if Ohio State and Florida State were to play this week at a neutral site, who would you take?

Craig Thomas: Come on -- Ohio State hands down. They only lost to VaTech so we would have something to yap about.

Tesalon Felicien: Ohio State must be paying this guy.

Stephen Sellner: Ok, now what about Michigan State vs. Georgia Tech? And Wisconsin vs. Clemson? The point I'm trying to make is the top teams in the Big Ten are better than the top teams in the ACC. Even if we call Florida State-Ohio State a toss-up, or FSU as a slight favorite, it still holds true.

Craig Thomas: I like your point -- but I think from national percpective the Big Ten is still not getting love.

3. Who wins the Iron Bowl?

Craig Thomas: I am a huge fan of chaos -- so I'm pulling for Auburn. When was the last time Auburn was favored in this game?

Stephen Sellner: I think there's about a three percent chance that Alabama lets this game be close. Nick Saban has been having nightmares of Chris Davis scampering down the sidelines in the most chaotic ending I've ever witnessed, and he won't let the Tigers derail his Tide. Not again. Give me Alabama 34-14.

Nick Saban 11-28Saban will try to avenge last year's loss.
Tesalon Felicien: Oh, I would love to see another “Kick Six” or that “I just dropped my pecan pie” look on Nick Saban’s face, but it won’t happen this time around. Saban won't let last year’s dramatic finish happen again. This time around Alabama will win. Enough said. Auburn may hang around with Gus Malzahn’s gadgets and misdirections but in the end a disciplined Alabama defense will lead the Tide to victory. And I see Auburn’s defense having its hands full with Amari Cooper. Have you seen that guy play? Seriously? He’s impressive.
Stephen Sellner: Tesalon has pie for the first time in his life on Thanksgiving and all of a sudden he's dropping pecan pie references in his answers.

Tesalon Felicien: Aye it was delicious. Pie references for the next week.

Craig Thomas: Remember when everyone was kicking dirt on Bama? They were always lurking -- ready to pounce into the top four.

Stephen Sellner: There's no denying they've found their groove now.

Tesalon Felicien: Auburn has struggled as of late and I just don't think they have enough to go into Tuscaloosa and pull out the win.

Craig Thomas: Either way, the cameras are going to find "sad frat guy." And that will be fun.

Stephen Sellner: The only chance Auburn has is if Alabama plays undisciplined defending the read-option game, which Saban had to be preaching this week in practice. 

Tesalon Felicien: Tide win 24-13.


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