The Spread, Week 2: Unrivaled

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly recently made comments that kind of made it seem like he didn’t think the school’s football rivalry with Michigan was as big a deal as some other rivalries the Irish are involved in (one assumes he means USC). ESPN decided this meant that Kelly doesn’t consider Michigan a rival at all, an interpretation that is certainly unrelated to the fact that they have a vested interest in getting eyeballs on this game. Mark May and Skip Bayless each wistfully recalled a childhood full of imaginary Wolverine/Irish battles that never actually happened (and in Bayless’ case, featured at least one player that never suited up for either school).

Personally, I find the game quite enjoyable, even though I generally hate both teams. There are a handful of games like that throughout the country, games that don’t require a major rooting interest to enjoy. Our Buckeyes are part of one, at times called the greatest rivalry in sports (although I doubt many outside the two fanbases still believe that). ESPN is currently conducting a survey on the topic, and The Game does indeed occupy the top spot (at least, as of this writing). I don’t think you’d get many unbiased arguments about the top seven or so on that list, order notwithstanding.

So instead of throwing out another list of what some idiot thinks are the best rivalries, I’m going to actually figure it out, at least in terms of competitiveness. Among the factors under consideration here are winning percentage of each team, recent average margin of victory, total number of games played and national championship relevance.

Here are the Top Five:

1. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party: Bonus points to Florida and Georgia for not even agreeing on how many games they’ve played. This matchup takes the top spot based on impressive numbers in recent competitiveness: The Gators lead over the past 10 years, but only 6-4. Average margin of victory over that span is just 11 points, despite a couple of Florida blowouts. The two teams have a combined 10 BCS bowl appearances, with 7 wins and 2 national titles.

2. The Game: Longevity helps the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry secure the second spot. The 109 editions of The Game are the most in the Top Five. OSU and Michigan also have the most BCS appearances (14) and wins (8) of any rivalry on this list, but just one national title. Despite recent dominance by Ohio State in this game, the average margin of victory over the past 10 years is just 14.

3. The Iron Bowl: Auburn and Alabama haven’t played as often as most of the other rivalries here, but their recent national dominance cannot be ignored. The two teams have won the last four national titles and have 5 wins in 7 BCS appearances. Surprisingly, Auburn actually leads 6-4 in the past ten years, and the average margin of victory in this game in that span is 16.

4. Florida State/Miami (FL): Despite the disappointing lack of a cool nickname and a relatively low 57 total games, the Seminole/Hurricane rivalry is a strong one, even if it hasn’t been as relevant lately as it used to be. FSU holds the slight 6-4 advantage over the past 10 years and the average margin of victory is a stunningly low 8 points. The teams have 11 BCS appearances with 5 wins and 2 national titles.

5. The Red River Shootout: Another long-running series at 107 games, Oklahoma leads Texas 6-4 over the past 10 years. Their relatively high average margin of victory (22) kept them down, as only a handful of recent games haven’t been complete blowouts. Still, the pair have a healthy 12 BCS appearances, with 6 wins and 2 national titles.

For the record, the Notre Dame/USC rivalry would have come in sixth, hindered mostly by Notre Dame’s lack of BCS success and the lopsidedness of the rivalry over the past ten years. USC owns all 6 of the two schools’ BCS wins out of 11 combined appearances and holds an 8-2 record over the past ten years.

And Brian Kelly is right, the Irish/Wolverine rivalry doesn’t compare. Despite a better average margin of victory, Michigan has two 38-0 victories over the past 10 years and the two have a combined 2 wins (both Michigan’s of course) out of 7 BCS appearances, with no national titles.

This should come as no surprise to real college football fans, which is why it escapes the grasp of ESPN. After all, you can only truly have one rival.


  1. When you have to go out of your way to say “their our rival” or the opposite, then they never were and never will be “your rival.”

    You sort of don’t get to choose those sorts of things. They just happen.

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