The Best College Football Rivalries in America

Some college football games mean more than others, especially when a rivalry is involved. College football rivalries extend far beyond the field, with fans, students, and alums coming together once a year for the big game. Rivalries may involve troublesome conference foes, an intrastate school vying for dominance, or regional schools with a long competitive history.

Many college football rivalries are long-standing, while others developed more recently. Either way, winning the big game over a rival gives a school bragging rights for an entire year. The trash talking, taunting, pranks, and occasional fist fights that accompany college football rivalries highlight their emotion and intensity. Rivalries may have unique names that developed over time or references to a key event, person, or location. Battles, brawls, bowls, and classics throughout the college football season keep audiences riveted. Many college football rivalries even include a cup or trophy, a symbol of victory that the winning team gets to take home.

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Rank School Name Description
1 United States Military Academy vs. United States Naval Academy

Played in several locations over the years, the Army-Navy game between the United States Military Academy and United States Naval Academy began in 1890. The rivalry began when the Navy challenged the Army to a game, and they have met 118 times since. The game was suspended during the 1890s when a duel almost broke out, in 1909 for an untimely death, again during World War One, and in the late 1920s for eligibility issues. Annual games began in 1930. Overall, Navy has 60 victories, while Army has 51. Seven games ended in tie scores.

The two teams initially met on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, but now play on the first Saturday in December. Over the years, both teams have sent students to the opposing school to gather information about the opposition. Army has also stolen Navy's mascot, Billy the Goat, on several occasions. During the game, both Army and Navy "March On," with Army cadets in grey and Navy Midshipmen in blue entering onto the field before filling the stands.

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2 The Ohio State University vs. University of Michigan

The rivalry between the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State University Buckeyes began in 1897, although annual meetings between the two teams did not begin until 1918. The game alternates between Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor and Ohio Stadium in Columbus, with odd years in Michigan and even years in Ohio. As members of the Big Ten Conference, their meeting has decided the conference championship on 22 occasions, and the outcome often influences bowl games and national championships.

The University of Michigan has 58 victories so far, while Ohio has 49. There were six tie games throughout the years, most recently in 1992. Each school and its fans consider the matchup "The Game" and count down until it happens.

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3 University of Alabama vs. Auburn University

As intrastate rivals, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn University Tigers meet each other on the football field in what is known as the Iron Bowl. The feud between the two Southeastern Conference schools began with a debate in the Alabama State legislature during the late 19th century. The University of Alabama fought to control land grants in the post-Civil War south but ultimately lost to the establishment of a new land-grant institution at Auburn in 1872.

By 1893, the University of Alabama and Auburn University (then called the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama) met on the football field. Auburn won the February matchup and again when the teams played in November of the same year. After a break in the rivalry between 1896 and 1900 and again from 1907 to 1948, the teams started playing annually.

Called the Iron Bowl because more than 50 of the matchups between Alabama and Auburn were played in Birmingham, AL, a city known for its metal production, it now alternates between Tuscaloosa and Auburn. Alabama leads the series 45-36-1.

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4 University of Texas Austin vs. University of Oklahoma

In what is known as the Red River Showdown (or Classic, Shootout, Revelry, Rivalry depending on who you ask), the University of Texas Austin Longhorns and the University of Oklahoma Sooners play each other in Dallas, Texas on the third Saturday of October each year. The river the rivalry is named after divides Texas and Oklahoma; a contested boundary at numerous times throughout history. The game coincides with the Texas State Fair, adding to the excitement and the crowds.

The Longhorn and Sooner contest began in 1900, and several awards are issued to the winner: The Golden Hat, a gold, ten-gallon cowboy hat, goes to the winning school's athletic department; the student government association at the victorious institution gets the Red River Showdown trophy; and the governor from the winning state gets the Governor's Trophy and, often, a side of beef from the loser.

Texas has won 61 out of 112 matchups, and there have been six tie games.

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5 University of Southern California vs. Notre Dame University

The University of Southern California Trojans and the Notre Dame University Fighting Irish play each other in late October or mid-November, depending on the location, in a rivalry that began in 1926. The two teams have met 89 times in what has been called the "greatest intersectional rivalry" in college football.

According to tradition, the rivalry between the Trojans and the Fighting Irish came out of a "conversation between wives." When USC sought out a national rival, athletic director Gwynn Wilson and his wife made a trip to see Notre Dame play the University of Nebraska. Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne was opposed to the idea of such extensive travel, but Wilson's wife convinced Rockne's wife that a trip to California every two years would be nice. Mrs. Rockne managed to get her husband on board and the rivalry was born.

With a large number of Heisman Trophy winners between USC and Notre Dame, the stakes for the game remain high each year. The winner gets to take home the coveted Jeweled Shillelagh, an Irish club. Notre Dame currently leads the series 47-37-1 and maintains possession of the Shillelagh.

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6 Florida State University vs. University of Miami

Over the course of its 62 meetings, the rivalry between the Florida State University Seminoles and University of Miami Hurricanes has become as fun as it is intense. Games between the Seminoles and the Hurricanes began in 1951, but during the 1980s, the annual meetings became increasingly important, contributing to national championship outcomes. The game has been decided by missed field goals several times, heightening the heartbreak for the losing team. Currently, the University of Miami has a slight edge over Florida State, leading the series 32-30.

On occasion, the meetings of the Seminoles and the Hurricanes have resulted in some dramatic, entertaining scenes. In 1989, the University of Miami mascot, Sebastian the Ibis, tried to douse the Seminole mascot, Chief Osceola riding atop his horse Renegade, with water. The police prevented it from happening, but the incident prompted one of the Miami players to consider grabbing Chief's spear and break it into pieces. He balked when he realized he was afraid of horses.

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7 University of Georgia vs. University of Florida

The meeting between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Florida Gators takes place in Jacksonville, Florida, each year. With the game at a neutral site, the location provides convenience for fans throughout the region.

The rivalry's nickname as "The World's Largest Cocktail Party," which dates back to the 1950s, was derived from the elaborate tailgating and excessive drinking that accompanies the game. However, the rivalry between the Bulldogs and the Gators began early in the 20th century. Georgia says it started in 1904; Florida claims the rivalry began in 1906. The teams first met in Jacksonville in 1915.

Each year, the winning team takes home the Okefenokee Oar, a trophy first presented in 2009. Previous calls for a trophy prompted the city of Jacksonville to offer the winning team a goal post, but both schools declined.

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8 Harvard University vs. Yale University

When Harvard and Yale play "The Game" each year, the matchup of two Ivy League football teams speaks to a much deeper rivalry between the schools. The Harvard Crimsons and Yale Bulldogs end their season playing one another, a game preceded by rival "houses" on Harvard's campus competing against sister residential colleges from Yale.

The intercollegiate contest between Harvard and Yale began with crew in 1852 and soon after branched out to include hockey, soccer, and basketball. The football rivalry began in 1875. The two teams have played 134 times, mostly alternating back and forth between campuses. This year, the game takes place at Fenway Park in Boston. Currently, Yale leads the series 67-59-8.

The pranks that accompany the Harvard-Yale football game range from mock university newspaper headlines to elaborate tricks, such as when Yale impersonated Harvard spirit squad leaders and got Harvard fans to hold up signs that said: "we suck."

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9 Clemson University vs. University of South Carolina

Each year, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina meet on the football field for the Palmetto Bowl. The Clemson Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks currently take turns hosting the contest, which is the longest uninterrupted rivalry in the south. Clemson leads the series 69-42-4.

As an intrastate rivalry, the contest between Clemson and South Carolina began amid tension in the state's government. After the agrarian contingent in the South Carolina legislature founded Clemson Agriculture College in 1889, enrollment at the University of South Carolina, perceived as subpar when it came to agricultural education, immediately declined and funding decreased. Competition between the two schools carried over to the football field soon after.

Clemson and South Carolina first played each other in 1896 and, until 1959, the Palmetto Bowl was held in Columbia, South Carolina, on "Big Thursday." The two schools began alternating in 1960, when the game shifted to late November. The winner takes home the Palmetto Bowl Trophy. In 2015, the two schools extended the football rivalry to the Palmetto Series, which keeps score between athletic departments and student academic performance.

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10 University of Southern California vs. Stanford University

The University of Southern California Trojans and the Stanford University Cardinals play each other in a game that previews how the teams will fare in the Pac-12 Conference. The Trojans and the Cardinals first played each other in 1905 and began regular games in 1919. With a few interruptions in the 1920s and during World War Two, USC and Stanford have played most years since. The rivalry escalated in 1932 when Stanford vowed to bring an end to USC's undefeated seasons. To Stanford's credit, they defeated USC for the subsequent three years. Overall, The Trojans lead the matchup, 63-33-3.

USC dominated Stanford for most of the 20th century, losing only three times between 1958 and 1990. More recently, the games between USC and Stanford have been incredibly close and rife with upsets. A come-from-behind win by Stanford in 2007 and triple overtime in 2011 highlight the intensity of the matchup. The action between the teams is not the only field of play as trash talking between coaches gets pretty heated.

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11 University of Wisconsin vs. University of Minnesota

The rivalry between the University of Wisconsin Madison Badgers and the University of Minnesota Gophers dates back to 1890 and, with only one interruption in 1906, the series is the most-played rivalry in Division I football. In 1930, the two teams added a trophy to the contest, the Slab of Bacon that was awarded by the losers to the winners annually. The Slab was actually a piece of wood carved with a football and game scores added each year. During the 1940s, the Slab vanished. In 1948, the two teams began exchanging Paul Bunyan's axe instead, a six-foot wooden axe with a gold and red blade. In 1994, an intern found the Slab of Bacon stashed away in a storage room at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. Despite being "lost," it had the scores to the 1970 game engraved on the back.

The back and forth between the Badgers and Gophers, with 127 games total, remains close. Currently, Wisconsin leads 60-59-8.

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12 University of Florida vs. Florida State University

Called the Sunshine Showdown, the annual meeting of the University of Florida Gators and the Florida State University Seminoles began in 1958, but competition between the two schools dates back to the early 20th century. The intrastate rivals regularly compete for football recruits, and the game pits families, friends, and coworkers against each other annually.

For the first six contests, all in Gainesville, the Gators won, but when the game shifted to Tallahassee in 1964, FSU got its first win. In 1966, a controversial last-second call ruled a touchdown out of bounds, depriving FSU of a last-minute victory. The Gator-Seminole rivalry took the national stage during the 1990s when they were both ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation. FSU led the decade's games 7-4-1, but both UF and FSU touted Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks. The two teams met twice in 1994 and 1996, once during the regular season and once in postseason play at the Sugar Bowl. UF leads the series 34-36-2.

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13 Texas A&M University vs. University of Texas Austin

The University of Texas Austin Longhorns and the Texas A&M University Aggies first met on the football field in 1894 and played 118 times until their annual meetings ended in 2011. Both UT and Texas A&M took the rivalry seriously, each mentioning the other in their fight songs and holding pre-game pep rallies for the occasion. Their meetings constitute the third-longest running college football rivalry in history.

Alternating between UT's Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin and Kyle Field at Texas A&M, the matchup between Texas rivals often took place on Thanksgiving. In 2006, the rivalry was featured on Wheaties boxes, with helmets from UT and Texas A&M on opposite sides of the box. Football games between the two schools ended when Texas A&M left the Big 12 Conference in 2011. At that point, UT led the series 76-37-5. Calls to reinstate the series have been unsuccessful.

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14 Pennsylvania State University vs. University of Pittsburg

The college football rivalry between Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) began in 1893. The Penn State Nittany Lions and Pitt Panthers played each other every year between 1893 and 1931 and again between 1935 and 1992 before a hiatus until 1997. When Penn State and Pitt met at Pitt Stadium in 2016, they played the first annual Keystone Classic.

Historically, the game between Penn State and Pitt factored into national championships on numerous occasions. In 1976, Pitt maintained its undefeated season by defeating Penn State and securing a place in the Sugar Bowl. Pitt went on to earn its first national championship in almost 40 years. In 1981, Pitt, again undefeated, lost to Penn State, ending its chance for another national championship.

The Nittany Lions and Panthers have met on the football field 99 times. Penn State leads 52-43-4.

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15 Brigham Young University vs. University of Utah

The college football rivalry between Brigham Young University and the University of Utah began with basketball and baseball, but spread to the football field in 1922. Dubbed the Holy War, the BYU Cougars and the Utah Utes played each other every year until 2013, except during World War Two. After a brief interruption between 2014 and 2015, the Holy War began again in 2016.

The Holy War highlights the stark contrasts in social and cultural makeups of Utah's two biggest higher education institutions. BYU's Mormon foundations and Utah's state-owned status likely factor into the contrasts.

Until 2010, BYU and Utah played in the Pac-12 Conference, and their game often determined the conference championship. Over the course of their 98 meetings, Utah has won 60 games; BYU claimed victory in 34, and the teams tied on four occasions.

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16 University of Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia University

Between 1895 and 2011, the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) Panthers and the West Virginia University Mountaineers met on the football field 104 times for the Backyard Brawl. The schools, only about 70 miles apart, played the Backyard Brawl in a variety of locations, including Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia; Pitt Stadium in Pittsburgh; and Three Rivers Stadium and its successor, Heinz Field. The rivalry ended in 2011, but the Panthers and the Mountaineers revisit the rivalry for their college football season openers in 2022. Pitt leads the rivalry 61-40-3.

The proximity of Pitt and WVU established the rivalry between the two schools, but the game itself has a lot of history. In 1921, the Backyard Brawl was the first college football game to broadcast over the radio. When the Panthers upset number two-ranked WVU in 2007, they ended the Mountaineers chance to play the Bowl Championship Series game in what ESPNU fans considered the game of the year.

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17 University of Oregon vs. Oregon State University

The Civil War between the University of Oregon Ducks and Oregon State University Beavers began in 1894 with no interruptions since 1945. Only 50 miles separate the University of Oregon, located in Eugene, and Oregon State University, in Corvallis, with the intrastate rivals alternating hosting the game each year. Originally called the Oregon Classic, the term Civil War was first used in 1929.

Currently, the Ducks and the Beavers play an entire Civil War series that includes contests in nine sports. The football teams have met 124 times and compete for the Platypus Trophy. The trophy was first awarded to the winner in 1959, was lost in 1961, found in 2005, and reinstated in 2007.

The Civil War determines Pac-12 Conference division champions and bowl game berths, but the actions of the fans set it apart. A riot broke out in 1910 and in 1972, and, in 1998, it took 15 minutes to clear the field after fans stormed it during the first overtime. The University of Oregon leads the series, 64-47-10.

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18 University of Washington vs. Washington State University

When the University of Washington Huskies play the Washington State University Cougars, the winner gets bragging rights in addition to the coveted Apple Cup. Named for Washington state's best-known commodity, the Apple Cup began in 1900. UW and WSU played for the Governor's Cup from 1934 to 1961, but the trophy was renamed in 1962.

The Huskies and the Cougars alternate home games each year, although between 1933 and 1980, WSU hosted the game in Spokane rather than in Pullman, WA. The game is currently held on Thanksgiving weekend. Although both schools are part of the Pac-12, the game between the Huskies and Cougars is more about rural vs. urban Washington than conference titles; the two teams have only played each other for the division title on two occasions. Over the course of 110 meetings, UW leads the series 72-32-6.

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19 Notre Dame University vs. University of Michigan

When Notre Dame University played its first football game in 1887, the school lost to the University of Michigan, 8-0. Since then, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Michigan Wolverines have only met 42 times, with numerous hiatuses, including a 35-year gap between 1943 and 1968.

According to tradition, Michigan taught Notre Dame how to play football, and the Fighting Irish did not win their first game against the Wolverines until 1909. Frequent games between the two schools did not begin until 1978 when number five Michigan played defending national champion and 14-ranked Notre Dame. Michigan won what was called the "Reunion Game" and, over the next two decades, games between the teams factored heavily into determining the national champion. The schools have one contested national championship between them. In 1947, a year Notre Dame and Michigan did not play each other, both teams claim to have won the national title.

In 2012, Notre Dame proposed suspending games with Michigan. Despite criticism for "chickening out," Notre Dame decided not to play Michigan after the 2014 season. However, the two teams have since renewed their games. With Notre Dame's 2018 victory, Michigan still leads the rivalry 24-17-1.

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20 University of Southern California vs. University of California Los Angeles

Cross-town rivals, the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, symbolize their college football rivalry with the Victory Bell. The rivalry between the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans began in 1929 and the two Pac-12 Conference powerhouses have met 87 times since. Often playing for the conference championship, the competition between the Bruins and the Trojans extends across both campuses in the week leading up to the big game. "Rivalry Week" includes contests between UCLA and USC's marching bands, team managers, and other student groups.

The winner of the UCLA and USC game receives the 295-pound Victory Bell for a year. The Victory Bell, introduced as a trophy in 1942, typically sits in a vault, only making an appearance for the big game and for one additional day following a victory. After the 2017 season, USC maintained a 47-31-7 lead in the football series.

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21 Oklahoma State University vs. University of Oklahoma

The University of Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys meet each year as part of the Bedlam Series. OU and OSU first played football against each other in 1904 in Guthrie, OK.

The Sooners and Cowboys have met 112 times, usually alternating between Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman and Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater. As the longest-running rivalry between public institutions in Division 1 college football, the Bedlam Series football game holds a distinct place in college football history.

Lore surrounds the game, especially after a theory emerged that the mob rigged the 1954 game by poisoning the OSU team. OU leads the series 87-18-7, holding a 19-game winning streak between 1946 and 1964 and a 15-game streak between 1977 and 1991. Despite the lopsided record, what started as a heated contest has transitioned to a spirited game that elevated Oklahoma football as a whole.

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22 University of Alabama vs. University of Tennessee

On the third Sunday in October, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and the University of Tennessee Volunteers meet for one of the biggest rivalry games in the south. The rivalry between the Crimson Tide and the Volunteers began in 1901 with a tie, but Alabama went on to win eight out of nine of their next meetings. From 1914 to 1928, Alabama and Tennessee did not play each other, but they renewed the games after the Volunteers' coach Robert Neyland reinstated them.

The competition between the two teams took on a life of its own under Neyland's leadership, notably during the 1935 game when Paul "Bear" Bryant played on a broken leg. Tennessee dominated the series until Bryant became Alabama's coach in 1958. Under Bryant, the Crimson Tide controlled the rivalry's momentum, winning 16 out of 25 games against the Volunteers.

As Southeastern Conference rivals, stakes are high. In over 100 meetings, Alabama leads the series 55-38-7 and has won the last 11 games.

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23 University of Georgia vs. Georgia Institute of Technology

Labeled "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate," the rivalry between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the Georgia Institute of Technology Yellow Jackets started with school colors, a dispute that carried over to the football field in 1893.

The animosity between the two schools influenced the creation of the Yellow Jackets' fight song, "Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech," after UGA fans harassed Georgia Tech fans during football games.

The Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets have met 112 times. With only 70 miles separating the schools, fans easily make the trip to alternating schools each year. The football rivalry remained close until the 1960s when UGA coach Vince Dooley took over the Bulldog program and began to dominate. Currently, UGA leads the series 66-41-5, but it does not acknowledge two of the games won by Georgia Tech during World War Two, because many of the team's players were serving in the military.

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24 Mississippi State University vs. University of Mississippi

The Egg Bowl, the annual matchup between Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi, better known as Ole Miss, got its name after a fight broke out among fans at a 1926 game. After the Ole Miss Rebels won, ending a 13-game losing streak, fans stormed the field and tore down the goalposts. MSU Bulldogs did not appreciate it and fights broke out as they defended their field. To prevent fights after future games, the schools decided to present a trophy to keep fans occupied. In 1927, Ole Miss received the first Golden Egg trophy.

MSU and Ole Miss began playing college football against each other in 1901. The game has been played at various locations in Mississippi, including Jackson's Mississippi Memorial Stadium. More recently, the Egg Bowl alternates between MSU's campus in Starkville and Ole Miss's home in Oxford. Ole Miss has won 64 out of 114 meetings between the teams. There have been six tie games.

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25 Michigan State University vs. University of Michigan

When the Michigan State University Spartans and the University of Michigan Wolverines play each other, the winner takes home intrastate bragging rights and the Paul Bunyan-Governor of Michigan Trophy. The Spartans and the Wolverines met for the first time in 1898, but the trophy only appeared on the scene in 1953 when MSU began playing in the Big Ten Conference alongside the University of Michigan. The trophy features a four-foot Paul Bunyan straddling an axe while standing on a map of Michigan.

Hosted by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor all but six times during its first 50 years, the game between the Spartans and the Wolverines now alternates between Ann Arbor and East Lansing. Once MSU entered the Big Ten, the contest became even more heated. Overall, Michigan leads the series 69-36-5. In spite of the records, MSU currently has the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

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