Top 10 College Football Rivalries of All Time
American College Football, managed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), is one of the most lucrative sports in the Western Hemisphere, bringing in over $4 billion annually and resulting in an average revenue of $27.5 million for each university involved in the sport. College football fans are intensely loyal, and as many of them are students at their respective schools, it is only natural that rivalries will form between certain colleges. Below are the top 10 college football rivalries of all time.
What are the biggest College Football rivalries of all time?
- Michigan Wolverines vs Ohio State Buckeyes
- Alabama Crimson Tide vs Auburn Tigers
- Oklahoma Sooners vs Texas Longhorns
- Army Black Knights vs Navy Midshipmen
- Clemson Tigers vs South Carolina Gamecocks
- Florida Gators vs Florida State Seminoles
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs USC Trojans
- Harvard Crimson vs Yale Bulldogs
- California Golden Bears vs Stanford Cardinal
- Oklahoma Sooners vs Oklahoma State Cowboys
1. Michigan Wolverines vs Ohio State Buckeyes
Of all the NCAA college football rivalries, one of the biggest is the rivalry between the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes, colloquially referred to as “The Game.” Each year, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes face off in the final week of the Big Ten season, and oftentimes both teams are aiming for the Big Ten Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff. This storied rivalry began with the schools’ first meeting in 1897, after which they met every year from 1900-1912. After a five-year break, the rivalry resumed, and from 1918-2019, the two teams met each year until the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 forced that year’s game to be canceled. “The Game” has always been played in the final week of the season, except for three occasions. Naturally, the rivalry is quite heated, with Ohio State fans refusing to even call Michigan by name and instead referring to them either as “That Team Up North” (TTUN) or “That State up North” (TSUN). The rivalry has produced some incredible moments, including a thrilling Buckeyes double-overtime win in 2016 and a 40-34 win for Michigan in 2011. Their greatest matchup was dubbed “the Game of the Century.” This game took place in 2006 and resulted in a 42-39 victory for the No. 1 Buckeyes.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide vs Auburn Tigers
Known as the “Iron Bowl,” the rivalry between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers is another one of the great feuds in college football, drawing close to the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry in intensity. The rivalry’s name stems from its original playing location in Birmingham, Alabama, an iron-and-steel-producing city that hosted the first Alabama-Auburn matchup in 1893, where Auburn won 32-22. The series continued until it was suspended in 1907, after which the rivalry did not resume until decades later, in 1948. Iron Bowl games are known for their extreme animosity. Unlike many other college football rivals, Alabama and Auburn both hail from the same state, so their fans are often neighbors and coworkers. The intense rivalry is often known to shut down the state of Alabama in the week leading up to the game, with shops and stores putting up signs that read, “Closed for the Iron Bowl.” The rivalry has produced a number of notable people, among them Paul "Bear" Bryant, Shug Jordan, Joe Namath, and Bo Jackson.
3. Oklahoma Sooners vs Texas Longhorns
Another well-known rivalry is the “Red River Rivalry” between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns. Since its inception in the early 1900s, the rivalry has become one of college football’s best, with a notable animosity between the two schools. This has led to some wild and interesting games, as well as allegations of cheating and malice. 1976 saw an outlandish spat between the two teams’ head coaches, Texas’ Darrell Royal (a former Oklahoma quarterback) and Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer. Royal accused Switzer and his assistant coach of spying on the Longhorns while they were practicing, offering the men $10,000 each to charities of their choice if they took a lie detector test to prove or disprove the allegations. It ended up being proven that the Sooners were in fact spying, but four years prior to Royal’s allegation. Another notable moment in the rivalry occurred in 1984 when Oklahoma secured a crucial interception to prevent a Texas score near the end of a close game but was stripped of the turnover when it was ruled an incomplete pass. This allowed Texas to end the game in a 15-15 tie, infuriating Coach Switzer.
4. Army Black Knights vs Navy Midshipmen
A traditional and formal rivalry that is well-known across the United States, the feud between the Black Knights and the Midshipmen pits the teams of two U.S. Military Colleges against each other: the Army cadets of West Point and the Navy recruits of the United States Naval Academy. This storied rivalry began in 1894 when an incident between a Rear Admiral and a Brigadier General nearly led to a duel after the 1893 victory of the Navy team. The dispute had to be settled by U.S. President Grover Cleveland, whose cabinet officials met and later declared that the two academies could only meet for football games and could not engage in any other games elsewhere. Since 1909, the Army-Navy game has been held almost every year, with current and former military members paying close attention to its outcome. The series is known for its formal tradition of having each team join their opponents after the game to sing their Alma Mater song while facing their fans, a sign of kinship and brotherhood between the two divisions of the armed forces.
5. Clemson Tigers vs South Carolina Gamecocks
Dating to 1896, the first game of this well-known rivalry occurred in Clemson’s first-ever football season and South Carolina’s fourth. Since then, the Clemson Tigers have slowly but surely made a huge name for themselves in college football history, all while continuing to foster their rivalry with the Gamecocks. The back-and-forth series between these two teams has led to some memorable and coincidental moments. For example, the winner of the Clemson-South Carolina game has achieved victory with a score of 29 points four times since 1981, despite the fact that 29 is an extremely unusual score in football. Additionally, in both 1948 and 1981, Clemson went on to secure an undefeated season after playing and beating the Gamecocks. Both of those rivalry games were won by a blocked punt which Clemson returned for a touchdown. Both punts also had their original line of scrimmage on the South Carolina 28-yard line. The winner of the annual matchup receives the Palmetto Bowl Trophy, an award in the shape of a palm tree that replaced the Hardee’s Trophy in 2015.
6. Florida Gators vs Florida State Seminoles
Known as the “Sunshine State Rivalry,” the feud between the Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles dates back to 1958 when their first game was played at Florida Field, the Gators’ home stadium. The Gators successfully won that game 21-7 and three years later went on to become one of the most prominent teams in college football. Over the years, the Gators and the Seminoles have boasted some exciting and interesting moments. After a contentious 1961 tie-game, in which a fight broke out after the 3-3 decision, the teams’ two new head coaches (Bill Peterson of Florida State and Ray Graves of Florida) added some heat to the rivalry when Graves commented that tying FSU felt like “a death in the family,” inflaming the hostility between the two schools. The rivalry was also known for its “Golden Years” period, which spanned the decade from 1990-2000. In that decade, every time Florida and Florida State met, both teams ranked in the Top 10, and every matchup was a game with championship stakes. A final memorable moment, known as “the Choke at Doak,” occurred at Doak Campbell Stadium in 1994. Going into the fourth quarter, the Gators had a commanding 31-3 lead, causing many Seminoles fans to leave the stadium early. This was a decision they would later regret, as FSU mounted an astonishing comeback by scoring 28 unanswered points to end the game in a 31-31 tie.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs USC Trojans
The rivalry between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans, which began in 1926, has disputed origins. One story claims that the two teams decided to begin playing each other after their coaches’ wives met up at a social event and became friends, while another suggests that the decision was made to benefit college football, as few teams in the Midwest wanted to play Notre Dame. Either way, the rivalry between the two schools quickly became fierce. The first game occurred on December 4th, 1926, and resulted in a 13-12 Notre Dame victory. Since then, the two teams have played each other every year, save for a three-year hiatus during World War II and a one-year break in 2020 due to COVID-19. The teams are known for their unique rivalry trophy, the Jeweled Shillelagh. A shillelagh (pronounced “shuh-LAY-lee”) is a form of war club used by the Gaelic warriors, the ancestors of the modern Irish people, whom Notre Dame is named after. Each year, depending upon who wins the teams’ matchup, the Jeweled Shillelagh is exchanged. The club is covered in golden medallions, each representing the victory of one of the teams and being engraved with the date and score of the game. Notre Dame’s victories are marked by emerald-encrusted shamrocks, while USC’s are signified by ruby-adorned Trojan heads. A memorable game in the rivalry’s history was the infamous “Green Jersey Game” of October 1977, where Notre Dame coach Dan Devine boosted his team’s morale by giving them all new, green jerseys, inspiring a crushing victory over USC.
8. Harvard Crimson vs Yale Bulldogs
A famed Ivy-League matchup, the rivalry between the Harvard Crimson and the Yale Bulldogs, reaches back to 1875, where 2,500 fans paid a fee of 50 cents to watch the first-ever football game between the two colleges. Harvard won this first matchup by a rousing score of 4-0. The rivalry was known for its camaraderie, with opposing fans routinely partying together, and its hostility. In 1894, nine players had to be removed for injury or fighting, and one student-athlete was comatose for hours by the brawl. In the decades that have followed, the rivalry has only gained intensity. Its annual matchup has only been canceled twice, during 1917-18 and again in 1943-44. Harvard-Yale games draw many prominent figures into the stands as observers. Multiple U.S. Presidents have attended, including Teddy Roosevelt, William H. Taft, and John F. Kennedy. President Gerald Ford was even an assistant coach for Yale in 1935, years before assuming office. Famed baseball player Babe Ruth, a Harvard fan, was also present at a Harvard-Yale game in 1932, which Yale won 13-0.
9. California Golden Bears vs Stanford Cardinal
The oldest college rivalry on the West Coast of the United States, the Stanford-California feud, has a long history. It began on March 18th, 1892, with Stanford beating California 14-10. One of the principal organizers of the game was Herbert Hoover, the future 31st President of the United States, who was then a Stanford undergraduate. By 1900, the Stanford-California game was the biggest sporting event in San Francisco and had been dubbed “The Big Game” by its fans. Unfortunately, the rivalry has experienced its share of tragedy, as it became the site of one of the deadliest spectator disasters in U.S. history, when 22 people were killed and 78 were injured after dozens of observers watching the game fell through the roof of the San Francisco and Pacific Glass Works factory in 1900. The Golden Age of The Big Game lasted from the 1920s to the 1940s, with both Stanford and California frequently playing for championships. However, both teams also had lows, bottoming out in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the most legendary events in the rivalry came in 1982; at the end of a contentious game, the Golden Bears returned a Cardinal kickoff to the endzone in a stunning series of laterals that went past the expiration of time but resulted in a winning touchdown.
10. Oklahoma Sooners vs Oklahoma State Cowboys
Known by the name “Bedlam,” the rivalry between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys is somewhat one-sided, but still exciting. The Sooners have an undoubted winning streak in the rivalry and rarely lose to the Cowboys. Still, the inter-state competition between the schools nonetheless gives the rivalry a special flavor. One of its more unique facets is its trademark name of “Bedlam.” No one quite knows the exact story behind the title, which can first be found as “the Bedlam Series” in a 1943 issue of The Oklahoman. Though many fans, coaches, and players have tried to determine the origin of the name, the mystery remains unsolved. However, it is a fitting name for the rivalry, which has been marked by many crazy games over the year, including a classic 1988 matchup where Oklahoma scraped out a 31-28 win on a mistake-ridden final drive that miraculously resulted in a winning touchdown. After Oklahoma scored, the Cowboys blew a near-comeback with an incomplete end zone pass in the final seconds.
What is the biggest college football rivalry?
The biggest rivalry in college football is the feud between the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Both Big Ten teams have an infamous feud that began in 1897 and has only grown in hostility over the years. The animosity between the two schools is so intense that Ohio State students refuse to refer to Michigan by name, calling them only “That Team Up North” or “That State Up North.”
What is the oldest college football rivalry?
The oldest college football rivalry is Yale vs. Princeton, followed closely by Yale vs. Harvard. Yale and Princeton began playing each other back in 1873, less than ten years after the American Civil War, while Harvard and Yale began their feud in 1875. Both rivalries are well-known, but the rivalry between Harvard and Yale is one of the more popular and has seen many famous figures attending its games, including Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, as well as famous athletes from other sports, such as baseball’s Babe Ruth.
Which college football rivalry has been featured in the most FBS Championship games?
The college football rivalry most often featured in FBS Championship games is between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans. The two teams have 22 National Championships between them and have met over 90 times overall. One of the most memorable games between the two teams occurred in 1988, when No. 1 Notre Dame defeated No. 2 USC in a game that set up the National Championship that year.