TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 26: Quarterback Cam Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers rushes upfield away from Will Lowery #29 and Marcell Dareus #57 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 26, 2010 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
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The All-Time Greatest College Football Rivalries

There is nothing like college football rivalries, but these 10 matchups have produced some of the most iconic moments in CFB history.

College football rivalries are at the heart of what make the sport so special.

Rooting for your school is a unique, loyal and personal way to follow sports — and the rivalries are all the more intense due to this passionate brand of fandom. Some of the rivalries in the sport are newer or due to circumstance — look at Alabama and Clemson running into each other in just about every postseason for half a decade — but others have been going on for over a century and have a deep, rich history of competition. Let's take a look at the 10 best that the sport has to offer.

10. BYU vs. Utah

The Holy War

PROVO, UT - AUGUST 29: Jaylen Dixon #25 of the Utah Utes gets the ball into the end zone for a touchdown  as Dayan Ghanwoloku #5 of the BYU Cougars tries to strip the ball during their game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on August 29, in Provo, Utah.

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This one might only be 10th on the list — due in part to the scale of the two individual programs — but it might top the list of best rivalry nicknames: The Holy War. As the name suggests, there is a definite religious component to the rivalry; Utah as a state has a unique connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU and also encompasses a major proportion of the Utah student population.

The two teams aren't in the same conference right now, as Utah is in the soon-to-be defunct Pac-12 while BYU is now in the Big 12 after spending the last decade or so as an independent. But they did play in the same conference from 1922 to 2010, and they will again very soon when Utah's move to the Big 12 takes effect. In the two teams' most recent meeting in 2021, the Cougars snapped a nine-game Utah winning streak in the rivalry, so the playing field may be more level than it has been in years past. It will be very exciting to see these two teams compete in an annual, in-conference capacity once more.

The origin of this long-standing rivalry is disputed to some degree; BYU does not recognize the first six games of the series, which were split evenly between the two teams. As such, they consider the all-time record to be 59-32-4 in favor of Utah, while the Utes consider it to be 62-35-4.

9. Stanford vs. Cal

The Big Game

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 23: California Golden Bears offense against the Stanford Cardinal defense during the college football game between the California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Palo Alto, CA.

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This game has lost some of its luster in recent years as both programs, which are attached to top academic institutions, have fallen on tough times in the NIL (name/image/likeness) era. But that doesn't begin to diminish the history of what many consider to be the oldest college football rivalry in the West. The rivalry between the Golden Bears of Cal and the Stanford Cardinal dates back to the 1800s, as the first of 125 meetings between these Bay Area competitors took place in 1892. Stanford won that game 14-10 and leads the series 65-49-11, due in large part to the team nearly sweeping the decade of the 2010s.

Cal has won the most recent matchup, though, giving them ownership of the Stanford Axe, the trophy for the rivalry. They also earned the most memorable win in the rivalry — indeed, one of the most iconic in any college football game. That is the finish known simply as "The Play" — or, in its longer form, "The Play to Beat the Band." It took place in 1982, as Stanford took a late lead and kicked the ball off with just seconds to go. The Stanford marching band took the field prematurely, thinking the game was won, but Cal used five laterals to score a kick return touchdown, which involved dodging and even knocking over band members en route to the end zone.

Stanford got revenge of sorts by way of a dramatic finish in the 1990 game, amid some crazy special teams shenanigans once again. With the Pac-12 crumbling, it's worth noting that these two teams are among the four remaining, but it's hard to say where either will end up. Let's just hope they stay together and keep The Big Game alive for years to come.

8. Miami vs. Florida State

A Sunshine State Battle

MIAMI - JANUARY 1:  Sean Taylor #26 of the Miami Hurricanes tries to elude P.K. Sam #4 of the Florida State Seminoles after making an interception during the Orange Bowl January 1, 2004 at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida.

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This series has been active every season since 1969 and is one of the most closely contested on this list, with Miami leading by a tally of just 35-32 overall. Both teams have gone on streaks, but things have remained relatively even in the long run. The rivalry between these two sides isn't as ancient as some others on this list, as it originated in just 1951, but it's very intense. The two teams have met just about every year since then, often with conference and national titles on the line, as well as competing for recruits within a very serious football state.

Both sides have definitely been known to produce some absolute superstars, with Pro Football Hall of Famers such as Ravens legends Ray Lewis and Ed Reed coming from Miami, and one of the biggest stars of them all — Deion "Prime Time" Sanders — hailing from FSU.

FSU has won the past two meetings after a four-year run by Miami; but with conference realignment on the minds of many, it's hard to know the future of this rivalry. Both squads currently play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but there have been rumors of one or both heading to the Big Ten or Southeastern Conference. If the two move to the SEC together, the Florida Cup — contested between these two teams and Florida, one of the only three-way trophy rivalries in the sport — could become an annual event. But whatever happens next, these two squads staying together and fighting it out each season is an absolute must in the eyes of fans on both sides.

7. Florida vs. Georgia

The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 27:  Wide receiver Percy Harvin #1 of the Florida Gators is tackled by Reshad Jones #9 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on October 27, 2007 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This rivalry is so intense that it can't be contained by a college campus; it's held on a relatively neutral NFL field in Jacksonville — located just below the Florida-Georgia line — so both fan bases can easily attend each year. The SEC defines football country, and this rivalry is one of the ones that defines the SEC. And for now, before conference realignments take place, it's the best interstate rivalry in the conference. While the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" moniker has been dropped in an official capacity, it lives on in spirit and is a great way to capture the essence of what goes down one Saturday in Jacksonville each fall.

The series has been contested most years since the second meeting in 1915, which Georgia won 37-0. The Bulldogs also won in a blowout in 1904, which they consider to be the first edition of this matchup, although Florida does not acknowledge the existence of that game. Since the series became a regular one, it's been relatively even with a record of 55-44-2 in favor of Georgia, although both teams have definitely been dominant for stretches.

While there have surely been superstars on both sides, this rivalry is defined more by the teams themselves, including some of the most dominant squads in college football history. Florida had the Urban Meyer/Tim Tebow Gators of the late 2000s, which were absolutely dominant and pulled in multiple Bowl Championship Series national championships; and Kirby Smart's 'Dawgs are about to start a push for an unprecedented third consecutive national championship. With so much changing in college football these days, it's nice to know that one thing isn't going anywhere, and that's an intense, neutral site clash between Florida and Georgia every year.

6. Notre Dame vs. USC

The Fight for the Jeweled Shillelagh

15 Oct 2005: USC quarterback Matt Leinart (11) is pushed in to the endzone by teammate Reggie Bush (5) for a touchdown in the closing moments of the USC Trojans 34-31 victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Unlike most rivalries on this list, there's absolutely no physical proximity component to this rivalry; the two programs are bound by nothing more than history and mutual hatred. This game — which defies logic, geography and conference lines — has been played nearly every season since 1926, with the exceptions of 1943-45 for World War II and 2020 when the Pac-12 eliminated all non-conference clashes during the coronavirus pandemic.

The origin story of this matchup, which makes no sense other than the immense national impact of the two programs, is a fun one. Legend has it that USC athletic director Gwynn Wilson's wife headed out to the Notre Dame-Nebraska Thanksgiving Day matchup, and she was able to convince the wife of legendary Fighting Irish coach Knute Rockne that a trip to Southern California would be a nice change of pace from wintry Midwestern weather. The pitch was successful — and from that moment, the two teams have built one of the highest-profile rivalries in all of college sports.

Notre Dame leads the all time series 48-37-5, although since the introduction of the Jeweled Shillelagh trophy in 1952, the tally has been a lot closer — 33-30-3 — though still in favor of the Irish. With USC headed to the Big Ten, and college football condensing overall, there's a chance this becomes an in-conference rivalry: Notre Dame might finally be forced to join a league, and the Big Ten is a natural fit. Regardless of conference affiliation, hopefully this rivalry is in no jeopardy, as both schools will continue to prioritize it in their scheduling going forward.

5. Texas vs. Oklahoma

The Red River Rivalry

DALLAS - OCTOBER 7: Running back Selvin Young #22 of the Texas Longhorns runs for a touchdown against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl on October 7, 2006 in Dallas, Texas.

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This rivalry is a really fun one, as it has also been a neutral-field matchup between interstate opponents since 1929. To be fair, it's easy to wonder how "neutral" Dallas is, although it's right around a three-hour drive from each campus. The venue is also the massive, 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys — the only arena in either state that could possibly hope to accommodate this matchup — so there isn't much of a choice.

Regardless of location, Oklahoma has at the very least held its own in this old-West rivalry, which dates back to 1900. Texas only leads the all-time series by a count of 63-50-5, and the Sooners have absolutely owned the series in this century. Texas hasn't won back-to-back games since 2008-09; and since 2000, Oklahoma has an edge of 16-8 including winning streaks of five and four years. 2018 in particular was a banner year for the rivalry, as Texas took the regular season matchup while Oklahoma won a rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game en route to a Heisman Trophy for quarterback Kyler Murray and a spot in the College Football Playoff. With both of these teams moving together to the new-look SEC, it's exciting to think about more matchups between these rivals with conference titles on the line.

4. Harvard vs. Yale

The Varsity Matchup

Harvard vs Yale

Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

You might think about both of these schools for their academics rather than their sports, and that's probably what they would want — they both pride themselves on being among the most prestigious, venerable institutions in the United States. But for one weekend a year, football is absolutely king in New Haven, Connecticut, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. This rivalry is one of the most intense, historic and closely matched in the country, dating back to 1875 with 138 total meetings — and a very tight record of 69-61-8 in favor of Yale.

Yale claims 27 national championships, making it one of the winningest programs of all time. They've also secured two Heisman trophies, while Harvard had five players retroactively selected from the era before the award existed. This rivalry is not just extremely old and close; it also has had some incredibly memorable moments. In the 1968 game, Harvard pulled off a miracle comeback by scoring 16 points in the last 42 seconds, securing a tie between the undefeated squads and spurring amusing headlines such as "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29."

In addition to on-field drama, the two sides are known for participating in pranks against the other side. And MIT, a neighbor of Harvard but not a football competitor of either school, even gets involved with some so-called "hacks" in which they underscore Harvard's perceived haughtiness. This rivalry is the only one on the list that is not fought between FBS teams — meaning that as members of the Ivy League, Harvard and Yale are not subject to all of the madness of realignment at the sport's top level. So there should be no doubt that this game will live on, as it has for almost a century and a half.

3. Alabama vs. Auburn

The Iron Bowl

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 30:  The line of scrimmage as the Alabama Crimson Tide line up against the Auburn Tigers in the third quarter at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It's no small thing to be considered the best in-state rivalry in college football, or the biggest rivalry in the South, the truest "football country" we have. But Alabama and Auburn's Iron Bowl fairly comfortably holds both titles. Alabama surely holds the edge with a 49-37-1 record, but it hasn't won more than thrice consecutively since the early 1980s; no matter how much the Tide dominates the rest of the country, Auburn manages to hang in there. The first meeting was back in 1893, and there's been no love lost ever since.

The individual games have been incredibly memorable — perhaps most notably highlighted by Auburn's "Kick Six" miracle, where Chris Davis returned a missed field goal attempt 109 yards for a touchdown as time expired to secure a win over the No. 1 team in the country. 2010 featured another famous Auburn win, as the No. 2 Tigers shook off the poisoning of their famous Oak Trees — as well as a 24-0 deficit — to beat Alabama en route to a national championship and a Heisman Trophy for legendary quarterback Cam Newton. Of course, 'Bama has secured some memorable wins of their own, such as a 55-44 shootout in 2014, as well as the 1985 victory secured by "the kick," a 52-yard field goal that went through the uprights as time expired.

There have been times when this rivalry would have been ranked a spot higher, but Auburn is simply down right now; it's hard to get as excited about this year's contest compared to ones fought between two of the best teams in the country. Still, get ready to be shocked, as viewers were in 2021 when it took No. 3 Alabama four overtimes to dispatch unranked Auburn. Football is a way of life in the state of Alabama, and throughout the SEC; this game is undoubtedly the crown jewel of that lifestyle; and as long as both schools are fielding a team, it will be a must-watch event.

2. Michigan vs. Ohio State

The Game

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 27: Ohio State Buckeyes running back Miyan Williams (28) bulls forward for a first down during The Michigan Wolverines vs the Ohio State Buckeyes game on Saturday November 27, 2021 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, MI.

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The annual matchup between Michigan and Ohio State is referred to simply as "The Game," because in reality, it's the only one — for both sides, none of the previous 11 games matter if the one played on Thanksgiving Saturday goes poorly. This rivalry — which has its origins in an actual, physical war fought due to a dispute over ownership of Toledo, birthplace of current Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh — might involve the purest hatred between any two teams on this list. There's no sense of in-state community, or patriotic fraternity, as we'll see later on; it's just two teams in neighboring states that have unending distaste for each other.

The teams first met in 1897 and have been locked in a never-ending battle ever since, which Michigan narrowly leads by a count of 60-51-6. There is no trophy, although the winner very frequently goes on to win the Big Ten and sometimes even the national championship. There's no need for additional stakes, as just beating "The Team Up North" or "Ohio" — a moniker Michigan fans use to intentionally omit "State" from their rival's name — is reward enough.

This rivalry has far too many notable installments to count, many of which took place during the 20-year war between legendary coaches Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes — a war that was won by Schembechler's Wolverines 5-4-1. In this century, there's been the 2006 Game of the Century between undefeated teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 (won by No. 1 OSU); and, most recently, a matchup between 11-0 squads in 2022, where a shorthanded No. 3 Michigan routed No. 2 Ohio State on its own turf.

Recently, the Buckeyes had begun to make this a one-sided rivalry, but all of the competition is back. After Ohio State won 15 of 16 installments, including a vacated 2010 win, Michigan has won the last two, and the two squads are both ranked top four in this year's preseason polls. With the Big Ten set up to be the preeminent power of the next era of college football, this already-massive rivalry isn't leaving the spotlight anytime soon.

1. Army vs. Navy

America's Game

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 6:  Eddie Carthan #56 of the Navy shakes hands with Clint Woody #81 of the Army at the Lincoln Financial Field Stadium on December 6, 2003 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Navy defeated the Army 34-6.

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

More than any other rivalry, this one is bound by mutual respect off the field, although there is absolutely no shortage of intensity between the sidelines. Like Florida-Georgia and Texas-Oklahoma, it's always played at a neutral site — with the exception of 2020, when the contest took place in West Point amid the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike these other rivalries, this one rotates a bit; it has taken place in either Philadelphia or Landover, Maryland, in recent years, and it will soon come to venues such as Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and MetLife Stadium in northern New Jersey. In fact, the game is so big that it's always the only college football game played on the day it takes place.

Army-Navy dates back to 1890 — but, of course, it has an even deeper history than that. The game, often attended by the sitting U.S. president, is a celebration of the bond between all who have served their country in the U.S. armed forces. Both teams play Air Force, a three-way rivalry that determines the winner of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy; but, of course, the relative novelty of aviation compared to on-foot and naval combat means that there's just a bit less history in those matchups.

Of course, as much as soldiers respect each other, they're a competitive bunch, and have a lot of pride in their specific unit, as well as their branch overall relative to the others. That pride plays out on the field and of course in the stands, as well as across the nation and world; soldiers stationed in all places tune in whenever they're able and root for their branch's academy, as do so many of their family members and friends.

As for the actual football record, Navy holds a narrow lead of 62-54-7, due in large part to a massive win streak from 2002 through 2015. That being said, Army has made a recent surge; it won three straight after Navy's streak ended and has come out on top in five of the past seven matchups including the most recent edition, which took two overtimes to decide. This rivalry exists almost outside of the confines of college football; and even though the sport in general continues to look and feel different every year, this game — defined by a vintage triple-option rushing attack and a hard-nosed brand of football from both sides — absolutely never will.

MORE: College Football Records That Won't Be Touched