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Top 5 Greatest College Football Rivalries Of All Time

It’s rivalry week, and we are looking at the greatest ones in college football.

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One of the best things that make the sport of college football unique is the rivalry aspect of it. Many teams have a rival throughout the sport, and some of the rivalries might not be big nationally, but they are huge in the area they are in.

Thanksgiving weekend is a great week to watch the rivalry games. We start with the egg bowl on Thanksgiving night between Ole Miss and Mississippi, and then we get into a handful of great games on the weekend. Ohio State vs. Michigan, Alabama vs. Auburn, USC vs. Notre Dame, Florida vs. Florida State, Oregon vs. Oregon State, and many more. It is one of the best weekends of the year, and there are many in-state arguments and houses divided.

Rivalries have helped make the college football game so unique and different, and these are the top five rivalries in the history of college football.

5. Harvard VS. Yale

Harvard vs. Yale comes in at number five. I know what you think; who cares about this little rivalry between two IVY League Schools that aren’t even in FBS?

It is the second oldest rivalry in all of college football, going back to 1875, and it is referred to as THE GAME even though we all know Ohio State vs. Michigan is referred to that now. 

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The 138th meeting was played last week, where Yale won 19-14 and gave Yale the all-time series lead of 69-61-8. The rivalry is close in record and that helps the rivalry out every season.

There might not have been many college football teams back in 1869 when the sport started, but Yale and Harvard helped get the sport off the ground.

Yale won 18 championships, their first coming in 1874 and their last coming in 1927. Yale also had two of the first three Heisman trophy winners in 1936; the tight Larry Keller won the award, and the year after the half, back Clinton Frank won it.

Harvard is not afraid of the championship game, either. They won eight championships starting in 1875 and ending in 1919.

This rivalry might not be seen by 90% of the country, and probably nobody even cares about it anymore, but the sport started 153 years ago, and if it wasn’t for Yale and Harvard, rivalries might not be the same as they are today.

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4. Texas VS. Oklahoma

The fourth rivalry, Texas vs. Oklahoma, known as the Red River Showdown, is a must-watch every year. The rivalry started in 1900 and would rotate between Austin, Texas; Norman, Oklahoma; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Dallas, Texas; and Houston, Texas. 

The game was moved to Dallas in 1929, where they would be played every year from here on out. The game is played at the Dallas State Fair and the Cotton Bowl. 

The game is always played early in October, so it is over in the early part of the season, and it doesn’t get built up like a bunch of rivalries you see the last week of the year, but it is still one of the best.

Texas leads the series 63-50-5, and they just saw their biggest win in this game last month when they beat Oklahoma 49-0.

Texas has won four championships and has had two Heisman winners, while Oklahoma has won seven titles and has had seven Heisman winners.

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Even though Texas hasn’t been great over the past decade and Oklahoma has been the class of Big-12, Texas still puts up a good fight in those games and, even pulls off a few huge wins. 

Both teams will be jumping ship and leaving for the SEC in a few years, so we will have to see what happens with this game, but I’m assuming this game will not be touched, and this game will still be played every single season.

3. Army VS. Navy

Army vs. Navy comes in at number three, and this game screams America. This game, for many players, is their last football game ever played, and they will continue to serve their country. So, for one day only Army and Navy are not fighting for one other but against each other.   

This game could be higher on the list of how meaningful it is to the country and many players, students, fans, and service members. Without all those people fighting for this country, we would not have the freedom to play this game, and this game seems like a thank-you for everything they do.

This is the only game played in the FBS on Saturday after conference championship week; the entire country can tune in and watch.

The game is a little hard to watch, which is why it is lower on the list. First, this game does not impact the playoffs or big-time bowl games. Many times, now, both teams aren’t even bowl-eligible when they play this game.

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There isn’t much passing in this game, which is hard to watch when you’re used to watching college quarterbacks throw the ball all over the yard every week.

This game first happened in 1890, and Navy holds the series lead 61-53-7. Back in the 1940s Army and Navy met twice, being ranked number one and two in the country, and Army won both games and went on to win the national championship.

There have been five Heisman winners in this game, with Army having three Felix Blanchard, Glenn Davis, and Pete Dawkins, and Navy had Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach. 

This game is a treat to watch every holiday season, and it doesn’t matter if both teams come into play with zero wins; it will always be a top-five rivalry because it does mean more than football.  

2. Ohio State VS. Michigan

Ohio State vs. Michigan, known as The Game, comes in at number two. Ohio State and Michigan are both historical programs and could not survive without each other. In addition, this game has featured a lot of great coaches, with Michigan and Fielding H. Yost, Bo Schembechler, and Llyod Carr, while Ohio State has had Woody Hayes, Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, and Earle Bruce.

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The rivalry started in 1897 and was so great that it only took Ohio State 22 years to win their first game. Michigan won the first 13 meetings and tied twice. Michigan outscored Ohio State 384-21 in those meetings.

A legendary quote that may or may not be true was given during this rivalry game back in 1968 when Ohio State was blowing out Michigan, and coach Woody Hayes decided to go for two; he said he went for two because he couldn’t go for three.

A huge turning point in this rivalry happened in 1969 when Michigan hired Miami, OH, head coach Bo Schembechler. He just wasn’t a Miami Oh coach, but he served time as an Ohio State assistant coach for several years.

That sparked the Ten-Year War between Schembechler and Hayes from 1969-1978, and Michigan led that span with a record of 5-4-1. However, the war came to an end in 1978 because Hayes decided he wanted to punch Clemson’s player Charlie Baumann in the neck in the Gator Bowl, and that ended Hayes’s Ohio State coaching career.

The game of 2006 was the best in the history of the rivalry, and it might even be the best regular season game in college football. Ohio State came in as number one, and Michigan came in as number two in the country. The winner of that game was going to get a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.

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The game was one of many things to happen that week. Legendary head coach Bo Schembechler died the eve of the game, and it set a heartache through the entire team and fan base. Michigan was going to Columbus to play the number-one team in the country, and one of the most significant figures in Michigan football passed away.

Ohio State would go on to win that game 42-39 and play Florida in the championship game, where they got destroyed.

The rivalry hasn’t been precisely great outside a few games in the 21st century. Ohio State has won 17 games and has lost four since 2000. They did not play in 2020 due to Covid, but everyone knows Michigan wanted no part of that game.

Ohio State has had two big winning streaks since 2000, with one going to seven games and the other going to eight games which ended last year when Michigan beat them and went to their first-ever playoff.

Michigan leads the series 59-51-6. The teams have combined for 17 championships, with Michigan winning nine and Ohio State winning eight. There have been ten Heisman winners, with Ohio State having seven Les Horvath, Vic Janowicz, Howard Cassady, Archie Griffin winning twice, Eddie George, and Troy Smith. Michigan has won three with Tom Harmon, Desmond Howard, and Charles Woodson.

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This game was put at number two on the list because it was not an in-state rivalry. We see a lot of in-state rivalries throughout the sport, and this is not one of them. Only a few houses are divided into these two states, and for many, this isn’t a war that goes on for 365 days.

Let’s be honest; the hype is one weeklong, and there are grown people in the world who will cross out M’s and O’s when writing out words for that week.

Ohio State’s dominance over the past two decades has hurt this rivalry. Outside of Michigan’s win last year, and going to the playoff, they haven’t even sniffed a championship this century.

We will see these two face off on Saturday in Columbus. Both are undefeated and ranked number two and three in the country, and the winner of the game is most likely heading to the playoff.

1. Alabama VS. Auburn

The number one rivalry is the Iron Bowl, Alabama vs. Auburn. So, anything with Alabama and college football is probably number one, and it is.

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Both schools are from Alabama, so this is not a one-week thing; see you next year. You could walk down the street in little towns in Alabama and find a handful of Alabama and Auburn fans living in the same place.

The state of Alabama has nothing else but college football. They have no pro sports teams in the major four sports, which is what the people of Alabama live and breathe every day.

Alabama has also had the two best coaches in the sport coach in this game, Paul Bear Bryant, and Nick Saban, which is helpful, and Auburn has had guys like Pat Dye and Ralph Jordan.

Alabama leads the series 48-37-1, and both teams have combined for 18 championships and Alabama winning 16 of those. They have also combined seven Heisman winners, with Alabama winning four Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry, DeVonta Smith, and Bryce Young. Auburn has three with Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson, and Cam Newton.

One of the most iconic plays in the history of sports happened in this game back in 2013 when it was, in its final seconds, tied at 28 apiece. Alabama was number one in the country, and Auburn was number four. One second left and Alabama sent out their kicker to kick a 57-yard field goal and try to win the game.

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Auburn knew that this kick might not make it, so they had the returner back in Chris Davis the kick came up short, and Davis had a chance to win the game. But, instead, he returned the kickback 109 yards for a touchdown, and Auburn was heading to the SEC Championship Game and then the National Championship, where they would lose to Florida State.

That game was important because Alabama had just won back-to-back championships, and they were on the verge of winning three in a row, and Auburn took that from them. Saban has never won three in a row; that was the best chance he would ever get. 

This rivalry is so crazy that in 2011, an Alabama fan Harvey Updyke Jr. poisoned iconic oak trees at Toomer’s Corners on the Auburn campus, killing the trees. Then, he called in on the Paul Finebaum show, which is an SEC-based show committing crimes. 

This rivalry is intense, so it comes in as number one on the list. There has been a handful of great games over the years, and hopefully, there is more to come. 

Check out our latest college football coverage!

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Written By

My name is Danny Fisher and I'm a writer for Browns Brawl. I am a Cleveland native and I'm a fan of the Browns, Cavs, Guardians, Blue Jackets and Ohio State. I enjoy playing golf and doing other outdoor activities.

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