The college football regular season builds to one crowning every year, and it’s likely going to spoil a few Thanksgiving Day dinners in the process. I’m talking about Rivalry Week in college football, when schools that are separated by just a few hundred miles, and others that simply cringe at the sight of an opponent’s colors, square off for 365 days of bragging rights.
Some rivalries in modern college football date back to the late 1800s and have more than 100 meetings between two programs. They’re schools that typically recruit the same players, so while university bragging rights are on the line, College Football Playoff berths are on the table and bad blood between potential teammates fuels the fire even more. There are a ton of rivalry games across the country, but it’s time to rank the 25 best rivalries in all of college football.
25. Civil War: Oregon State vs. Oregon
All-Time Record: Oregon leads 64-47-10
Separated by less than 50 miles, the Oregon State Beavers and Oregon Ducks have faced each other 121 times since 1894. There are a lot of points and a lot of bad blood between these two Pac-12 teams, each of which have had win streaks of eight games at different times during this rivalry. Whether the game is in Corvallis or Eugene, the Ducks have owned this rivalry in recent years, but nothing’s guaranteed when the Civil War breaks out.
24. War on I-4: South Florida vs. UCF
All-Time Record: South Florida leads 6-3
While this rivalry is relatively new to the football field, the South Florida Bulls and UCF Knights absolutely despise each other. With the two campuses about 80 miles apart, this basketball rivalry has spilled onto the football field. Now that both programs are trending upwards in the American Athletic Conference, this rivalry is going to be a major swing game in the AAC for years to come.
23. Battle of L.A.: UCLA vs. USC
All-Time Record: USC leads 47-32-7
This game barely edged out Notre Dame-USC, but these are two of the most decorated athletic programs in college sports history, and they happen to have one of the most hotly contested football rivalries in the country. Boasting more than 200 total NCAA championships combined across all sports, when the Bruins and Trojans face off, it’s about more than national pride. These campuses are about half an hour from each other, and you better be careful who you’re rooting for when these programs collide with The Victory Bell on the line.
22. Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt
All-Time Record: Tennessee leads 75-32-5
Take a trip on I-40 in either direction and you’ll run into one of The Volunteer State’s most heated in-state rivalry. These two programs, while they’re not known widely for their rivalry, have played each other 112 times in their long history. Vanderbilt started by winning 19 of the first 24 games, but then UT legend Robert Neyland was hired, and the Volunteers took over this rivalry and have not let go since.
21. Backyard Brawl: West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh
All-Time Record: Pittsburgh leads 61-40-3
Growing up in Pittsburgh and seeing the absolute disgust between these two programs first-hand, you realize that Mountaineers and Panthers should never mix. Since they’re now playing in two different conferences — WVU in the Big 12 and Pitt in the ACC — this rivalry has cooled in recent years. Fear not though, because this rivalry is scheduled to restart in 2022 with WVU riding a three-game winning streak in this game.
20. The Game: Harvard vs. Yale
All-Time Record: Yale leads 67-60-8
While academics is the name of the game when you attend an Ivy League program, the Harvard Crimson and Yale Bulldogs have one of the oldest rivalries in all of college football. Since 1875, when Harvard won a barn-burner by the final score of 4-0, “The Game” is always the climax of the season for these schools. This rivalry runs deep, and while it usually never shifts the balance of power in major college football, there’s no other rivalry quite like this one.
19. Texas A&M vs. LSU
All-Time Record: LSU leads 33-20-3
First meeting back in 1899, the Texas A&M-LSU rivalry was typically decided on who played with a home field advantage, but they’ve started to ramp up their rivalry in recent years. Now that both schools reside in the SEC, it’s back to mayhem when the Aggies and Tigers meet despite LSU winning all seven meetings since Texas A&M first joined the conference. Don’t expect that to last, though.
18. Florida State vs. Miami (FL)
All-Time Record: Miami leads 33-30
You’d be hard pressed to try and find a more closely contested rivalry across the country than this one. The 2006 matchup between these teams was one of the most watched college football games in history, and whether this rivalry is played in Tallahassee or Miami, there’s going to be a lot of trash talk and a ton of familiar faces as both these program fight for elite talents all across the state of Florida.
17. Bedlam: Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma
All-Time Record: Oklahoma leads 88-18-7
A rivalry dominated by the Sooners isn’t going to stop the Cowboys from showing up for this game year after year trying to knock off their neighbors to the south. Norman and Stillwater are less than 100 miles apart, and in a state where only the strong survive, this rivalry is always a shootout to the very end. While it’s usually played late in the year, this game typically defines how the offseason is going to go for both programs because bragging rights are king.
16. World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party: Florida vs. Georgia
All-Time Record (according to GA): Georgia leads 52-43-2
All-Time Record (according to FL): Georgia leads 51-43-2
All you need to know about this rivalry is the very first game, when Georgia rolled the predecessor to the University of Florida, the “Florida Agricultural College” 52-0. UF says that the game doesn’t count because the college was moved from Lake City to Gainesville where it became the university we know today. UGA historian Dan Magill said of that game, “That’s where Florida was back then. We can’t help it if they got run out of Lake City.” So yeah, when the Gators and Bulldogs meet, just know it’s been sour from the very start.
15. Apple Cup: Washington State vs. Washington
All-Time Record: Washington leads 72-32-6
The final game of every regular season in both Pullman and Seattle is the Apple Cup, and it’s becoming as good of a college football game as any in the country. Both programs have built national contenders in the Pac-12 Conference, and while the Washington Huskies have won the majority of these games, the Cougars are far from a pushover these days. Expect fireworks when these two programs collide.
14. North Carolina vs. NC State
All-Time Record: North Carolina leads 66-35-6
About 30 miles apart from each other, this in-state rivalry takes the place of the more well-known UNC-Duke basketball rivalry when it comes to football. The Tar Heels and Wolfpack regularly decide the other’s fate when it comes to the ACC standings, and with football talent at a premium in this area, they’re always fighting for the same players that come out of the Carolinas. This rivalry is built on streaks, but it’s been a coin flip in recent years when they meet in late November.
13. Commonwealth Cup: Virginia Tech vs. Virginia
All-Time Record: Virginia Tech leads 57-37-5
When the Hokies and Cavaliers collide, it’s state bragging rights and the Commonwealth Cup on the line. The two schools regularly compete in the “Commonwealth Clash,” which scores every athletic competition between these two schools all year, so you can imagine how big this game is for both football programs. They’re separated by two hours on I-81, and it’s been a long drive for Virginia, as VT has won 14-straight games from 2004-2017.
12. Palmetto Bowl: South Carolina vs. Clemson
All-Time Record: Clemson leads 69-42-4
The longest uninterrupted college football rivalry in the South pits the Gamecocks and Tigers against each other. While some rivalries come and go because the schools are in different conferences, that’s not going to stop SC and Clemson from playing each other year after year. It was five-straight wins for the Gamecocks from 2009 to 2013, and then four-straight for the Tigers from 2014 to 2017. There’s no better way to cap a regular season than to decide who’s taking home bragging rights in South Carolina.
11. Holy War: BYU vs. Utah
All-Time Record: Utah leads 60-34-4
Not only is this the rivalry with the best nickname, the BYU Cougars and Utah Utes regularly play an incredible game to end their season, though it’s been all Utah in the 21st Century, winning 12 of 17 games since 2000. The schools are less than a mile away from each other, and with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presiding over Brigham Young, and many attending Utah also members of the same church, it’s probably a good thing that they play this heated rivalry on Saturday…
10. Sunshine Showdown: Florida State vs. Florida
All-Time Record: Florida leads 34-26-2
The winner takes home the Makala Trophy, but it’s more about who takes home the win when the Gators and Seminoles meet. The pinnacle of this series was two meetings in the Sugar Bowl in 1995 and 1997, and, as you’d expect, each program won one game apiece. It’s all about bragging rights in this college football rivalry, and sometimes this game can swing where Florida’s top players actually play football the next season.
9. Governor’s Cup: Kentucky vs. Louisville
All-Time Record: Tied 15-15
After not playing each other in football from 70 years, one of the biggest in-state rivalries in the country restarted their feud in 1997, and they’ve played each other every season since then. While the Kentucky Wildcats won the first six meetings and allowed a total of zero points, the Cardinals have righted the ship and made this a must-watch game in the modern era.
8. The Big Game: California vs. Stanford
All-Time Record: Stanford leads 63-46-11
Known for one of the greatest finishes in college football history, the Cardinal and Golden Bears game in 2018 was postponed due to the California wild fires burning that year, so this game became a primetime matchup to kick off December in style. Stanford has dominated Cal in recent years, but there’s no such thing as a sure win — just ask the Stanford band…
7. Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate: Georgia Tech vs. Georgia
All-Time Record: Georgia leads 66-41-5
Nothing says Southern hospitality like some clean, old-fashioned hate, right? The Bulldogs program has been in a different stratosphere than the Yellow Jackets in recent years, but you can guarantee that Georgia Tech, who own the largest win (48-0 in 1943) and longest winning streak (8 games, 1949-56), are going to give Georgia all they can handle and more.
6. Egg Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State
All-Time Record: Ole Miss leads 62-46-6
They’ve met 114 times in their rivalry’s history, and every single one of them is more highly contested than the next. This Thanksgiving week rivalry throws that well-known Mississippi hospitality out the door for a few hours when the Bulldogs and Rebels take the football field, and with the Golden Egg on the line, this game is always the first circled on every football schedule year after year.
5. Battle for the Axe: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
All-Time Record: Wisconsin leads 60-59-8
The most-played rivalry in college football history (127 meetings) pits two Big Ten smash-mouth teams against each other for four hours of pure hate. It’s been all Wisconsin, which has won 14-straight games dating back to 2004, but the Golden Gophers never go down without a fight as this game is regularly decided by less than 10 points. It’s always cold up North in November, and there’s no better way to warm up than boiling the blood with this heated rivalry with Paul Bunyan’s Axe on the line.
4. Army vs. Navy
All-Time Record: Navy leads 60-51-7
We all know someone in a branch of the military, but if you know anybody in the Army or Navy, they all have one constant pattern: they “respectfully” hate one another. The Army-Navy game might as well be the only one that the Golden Knights and Midshipmen play every year because the pageantry of everyone getting together for this rivalry beats every other game. With the Commander in Chief’s Trophy up for grabs when Army, Navy and Air Force play each other, this game typically contains a little bit more juice than the rest.
3. The Game: Michigan vs. Ohio State
All-Time Record: Michigan leads 58-49-6
Want to know who won the Big Ten and was in contention for a national championship? You can usually check the results of Michigan-Ohio State and have a pretty good idea. There’s few games out there where teams legitimately hate each other, but this one definitely checks that box. And no, not like a joking kid brother kind of hate — If you’re a Wolverine, you actually hate Buckeyes, and vice versa. These colors don’t run, and The Game is always a must-watch across the country.
2. Red River Showdown: Texas vs. Oklahoma
All-Time Record: Texas leads 62-46-5
When you come to the Cotton Bowl for a Longhorns versus Sooners matchup, you better pick the right side, because you won’t be welcome very long if you’re wearing the wrong colors. The Red River separates Texas and Oklahoma, and while it caused disputes between the two states for years, this football game has reminded folks in the South that the rivalry is as real as ever. The Red River Showdown usually decides the Big 12 Conference, and it’s an electric factory every time these schools play.
1. Iron Bowl: Alabama vs. Auburn
All-Time Record: Alabama leads 45-36-1
If you ever pass through Alabama, you have one question you better be ready to answer: Roll Tide or War Eagle? Oh, and if you choose the wrong answer, you might not be allowed on that side of the state ever again. Alabama and Auburn are two of the most storied college football programs in the country, boasting Heisman winners and national championships, and this rivalry is as nasty as they come. The winner usually wins the SEC, and the loser sits around and thinks about the Iron Bowl the following year. When you’re in Alabama, almost nothing else matters on Thanksgiving weekend.