College Football Rivalries: The Games We Wait for Each Year

Sports fans are naturally drawn to great rivalries, and no sport produces better matchups than college football. The programs on this list have played each other long before the National Football League was even a thought. Here are some of the games we wait to see every year.

Michigan v. Ohio State

Other rivalries may be more intense for a time, but no rivalry is as consistently fierce as Michigan v. Ohio State. The game takes place each year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, making it one of the most watched football games — college or professional — each year, and it sure has given us some iconic moments from players destined for an NFL roster.

In Ann Arbor, beating Ohio State is almost more important than winning the national championship. Since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach at Michigan, the program has seen tremendous success, unlike anything they have experienced since the Lloyd Carr days. They have been ranked in the top 10 at some point in every season but one during the Harbaugh reign, but he had been unable to beat Ohio State, and that’s all that matters. 

That, of course, ended in 2021, when the former Wolverine finally beat the Buckeyes on a rainy day in Ann Arbor. The 42-27 win broke Harbaugh’s 0-5 mark against Ohio State and snapped an eight-game skid overall. The atmosphere was electric, as is always true of this rivalry. 

Alabama v. Auburn

There are a lot of great rivalries in the Southeastern Conference, but none carry more tradition than the Iron Bowl. The battle of Alabama’s two primary college football schools has occurred 87 times since 1893, making it one of the oldest rivalries in college sports. Despite this, it has always felt like a big brother-little brother rivalry, as Alabama leads the series 49-37 and has almost always had the upper hand.

Auburn won seven of the first nine games. Since then, the Crimson Tide are 47-30 against the Tigers. Aside from brief stretches in the 1950s, 1980s, and 2000s, Alabama has largely dominated. However, the most epic win goes to the 2013 Auburn squad. After number-one-ranked Alabama’s game-winning field goal attempt fell short as time expired, it fell into the arms of Chris Davis in the back of the endzone. He returned it more than 100 yards for a game-winning touchdown in what is now known as the Kick Six.

Texas v. Oklahoma

Known as the Red River Rivalry, Texas and Oklahoma have played each other every year since 1934. The Big 12, but soon-to-be SEC, rivals have a long history of dominating each other. That is, the two teams have rarely gone back and forth and have most commonly had long periods where one team dominated the other.

Most recently, Oklahoma has had the edge, but Texas’ 49-0 defeat of the Sooners in 2022 stopped a four-game losing streak. The Red River rivalry is among the best in college sports because both teams are often ranked highly when facing each other. When Oklahoma and Texas play, the Big 12 is almost always in the balance, and often, so are national title hopes. 

The two squads have played many iconic games, but none more thrilling than the 2020 game that saw four overtimes. Now a South Carolina Gamecock, Spencer Rattler got benched in the second quarter for the Sooners after his second turnover of the game. Rattler returned to the field in the second half and quickly led two touchdown drives to put Oklahoma up 31-17. 

Then, Texas made a furious comeback. Down two touchdowns with under five minutes to play, Sam Ehlinger led the Longhorns down the field to make it a 31-24 game with just under four minutes to play. After a three-and-out, he got the ball back and marched Texas down the field again, throwing a game-tying touchdown with 14 seconds left to play. 

What followed was madness. Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the first two overtime periods. Then, Texas missed a field goal, setting up an Oklahoma win, only to see their kicker miss the game-winning field goal. Oklahoma started the fourth overtime period with a touchdown and sealed the victory by intercepting Ehlinger at the goal line.

Army v. Navy

There are a lot of great rivalries in sports, but none include more pride and patriotism than the Army against the Navy. The two academies have played yearly since 1890, with ten sitting presidents attending the rivalry game. While this rivalry is friendlier than the average college rivalry, it is still massively intense. These academies are not only competing on the football field, but the “Beat Army!” and “Beat Navy!” mantras carry into their service. Navy upheld that mantra when they beat Army 14 consecutive times from 2002 to 2015.

USC v. Notre Dame

Far from a traditional rivalry, USC and Notre Dame aren’t in the same conference but have still played annually. What makes this annual game different is that the two teams represent some of the best college football programs in the country. The schools have combined for 24 national championships and 14 Heisman Trophy winners. Arguably, the greatest game of this tradition came in 2005, when Notre Dame’s first-year head coach, Charlie Weis, tried to knock off the defending national champion Trojans. 

Known by many as the greatest college football game ever, Matt Leinart led USC down the field to take a 28-24 lead late in the fourth quarter before Brady Quinn responded with an 82-yard touchdown drive himself. Down three with less than two minutes to go, Leinart drove the Trojans down the field again, finding themselves at the one-yard line with just three seconds remaining. Head coach Pete Carroll chose to go for the win instead of kicking a game-tying field goal, opting for a quarterback sneak. Leinart was stopped short, but Reggie Bush pushed him in to controversially secure the win.

What Is To Come

College rivalries are what make the sport different from the professional game. Each year, entire communities are brought together, united behind their programs. These rivalries will only continue to grow as the sport grows, and surely more great moments will follow.