In case you forgot in the midst of the constant barrage of legal rumors and "news" about Jameis, this week is actually the best week of the college football season. Rivalry week. Any coach can drastically change the way his fanbase sees him by how he performs at the end of this week. Because this is the week that will give those fans bragging rights over coworkers, friends, and in some cases even family. This week gives one group of fans the right to run their mouthes for 365 days, and sentences the other group to having to listen with no respone that matters to come back with.
But college is really a regional sport. And each region has a rivalry that it thinks is the best. With the explosion of the internet these views bump into each other more often than ever. And since college fans love to argue, of course people argue over which rivalry is actually the best. So of course ours is better than theirs. And this will tell you why. Disclaimer, for the most part I'm going to put the most weight on 1991 until now.Why '91? Because that is the first year of the USA Today coaches poll. Yes it was a name change so we could follow the poll back to when it first started, but then we are just getting into ancient history. If someone wants to say their rivalry is great because of something from the 70s they might as well bring up Red Grange.UCLA-USC
This is the battle for Los Angeles, and since L.A. is the major city on the West Coast you might run into a left coaster who thinks this is a big deal. If you do they are probably one of the few Bruins who are really into college football. But UCLA is a hoops school, and the Men of Troy put much more stock into their rivalry with the Irish. In the history of the USA Today Coaches' Poll these two teams have finished in the top 25 at the same time twice. Anyone who tries to say this rivalry is the best in the land really doesn't have a leg to stand on.USC-NOTRE DAME
This is the one rivalry that isn't regional, but it is THE rivalry for two historically powerful programs so we'll take a look at it. This is one of the rivalries that you need a ride from Mr Peabody or Doc Brown to really see why it is such a big deal. Part of Notre Dame's master plan to become a national brand, this game took Notre Dame's massive fan base and USC's hold on the West and made ratings gold. From the 60s to early 80s the only rivalry that might have held a candle to this was Woody and Bo going at it in the Midwest. And as late as 1988 the teams met in a match up of #1 vs #2. But in modern times it has lost a bit of luster. By the time the 90s hit USC was wandering the wilderness of poor coaching hires, with a few spikes back into the land of the ranked, while Notre was about to lose Holtz.
USC would find it's footing with Pete Carroll and go on a legendary run dotted with National Titles and Heisman Trophies. Willingham would give Notre Dame a speak before being shown the door, and Weiss would add a nice
run jog couple of steps before crashing and burning. The jury is out on Kelly still, but USC is about to change coaches so who knows how that plays out. But with that being saide these two teams have finished in the top 25 together five times.
This is one of the rivalries with a lot of history. A LOT. These two schools first played each other when the team that would become the New York Yankees not only had a different name, but were based out of Baltimore. A lot of the heat comes from Bo and Woody. Guys who wouldn't even same the name of the other school. Who wouldn't even buy gas in the other state. The history is worth googling. But so is the history of the Roman Empire, and that history doesn't make Italy a major player on the international stage. When the USA Today Coaches Poll came around the Buckeyes were "stuck" with John Cooper. I say "stuck" because his record overall really wasn't that bad. He just couldn't beat Michigan, going 2-10-1 in his 13 years as head coach of Ohio State. From 91-00 OSU would only beat Michigan twice.
In comes Jim "The Vest" Tressell. Typing his name like that actually makes him sound kind of cool. He wasn't. But he whipped Michigan so consistenly you could set your calendar by it. From 01-07 the Wolverines would only beat him once and would lose the last truly big Big 10 game. A #1 vs #2 matchup in '06 between the two that had people thinking about putting them back together for a rematch. But Florida got the call instead of Michigan, smashed OSU, and things haven't been the same for the Big 10 since. Still since 1991 the two have finished together in the top 25 11 times, including 6 straight seasons from 92-97.Iron Bowl
Let me start off by saying there are a lot of things about these rivalries that I will say FSU-UF tops. The one thing I would ever think to argue is the amount of crazy coming anywhere close to Iron Bown levels. Everyone knows about Harvey Treekiller, but if you wait a day or two and then google Bama on Auburn violence you will always find at least one set of friends who sit down to watch the game and end up fighting, stabbing or shooting it out. The insanity is one step away from gang violence. And it is historically crazy as well. It started in 1893 but took a 40+ year break because the schools couldn't agree on enough to keep it going. There is a legend that when Bear Bryant, the legendary Alabama football coach, died that Auburn fans rolled Toomer's Corner to celebrate. Most Auburn fans deny it every happened, but just the fact that is sounds plausible shows how crazy this thing is.
But on the field? Well the two have had some tight match ups. But the two have finished in the top 25 together 3 times since 1991.The hate keeps this rivalry white hot locally, but for the most part these schools have alternated being good, falling short of the type of major clashes USC-Notre Dame and Michigan- Ohio State have produced.The Sunshine Showdown
Because of the way changes in student body over the early years, FSU-UF doesn't have the ancient history of some of the other games. FSU wouldn't be co-ed again until 1947 and wouldn't play UF until 1958. Florida had a major head start and hosted the first 6 games in the series. When you see the series record and wonder how UF has so many wins it is because of the first 19 meetings FSU only won 2 of them. In the 38 match ups since then FSU has won 19 and tied one of them. 19-18-1 since 1977 is a pretty good series, but lets look at modern times.
Even with their head start, Florida was still beaten to the land of the eltie by Bobby Bowden's Seminoles. In the mid to late 80s the Gators were cheating their tails off, resulting in two coaches being fired and the team being placed on probation. While in 1987 Bowden started his dynasty run that would change the perception of FSU football and cement him as one of the best coaches ever. The Gators would hire Steve Spurrier, get on the right track and take us to the USA Today Coaches Poll era. From 1991-2000 every single meeting was between two top 10 teams. Every year from 1991 to 2006 both teams finished in the top 25. All together the two schools finished together in the top 25 seventeen out of twenty two times. The cherry on top of the rivalry is probably 1997. The two teams met as #1 and #2 in the poll in the regular season, with FSU coming out on top. The bowl game to decide the champion that year? FSU vs Florida in a rematch in the Sugar Bowl. Nobody else has pulled that off.
Why is The Sunshine Showdown the best modern rivalry on the college gridiron? All those consistent finishes in the top 25 shows that no other rivalry put two programs that were that good that often against each other like that. That string of top 10 meetings shows that no other rivalry played as big a part in the chase for the title. And that consistent level of play with those consistently impactful matchups means people knew what rivalry to watch when they wanted to see the biggest games. Even with the current dip in stakes, the people who came of age during that dominant run don't have memories of Bo and Woody. They don't remember OJ running past Irish defenders. The big games of their childhoods had garnet and gold on one side, with orange and blue on the other.