Top SEC Rivalries
We broke this post into two parts. First, we ranked the SEC’s best in-conference rivalry games, and then we ranked the best out-of conference rivalry games.
Sometimes, it feels like every conference game is a rivalry game (just kidding – nobody in their right mind can get fired up for a Missouri-Vandy game). But some rivalries are simply better than others.
Top 5 In-Conference Rivalries:
Just missed the cut: Florida-Tennessee, The Egg Bowl (Ole Miss-Mississippi State).
5. Auburn vs. Georgia (The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry): This game has been played longer than Florida-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee, or Alabama-Auburn. Played since 1892, part of the mystique of this rivalry is the civility between the two fanbases and the familiarity of the two rivals. It is also very competitive – Georgia leads the series with 56 wins to Auburn’s 55.
4. Florida vs. Georgia (The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party) : Unlike number five in our countdown, Florida vs. Georgia is a rivalry game that is passionate and intense. The reason this rivalry deserves to be on the list is not necessarily because of the history, or the memorable games, or season-defining moments, which of course it has. Instead it is noteworthy because of the fans. Once a season, Jacksonville, Florida (the home of this great rivalry), is filled with fans decked out in orange and blue or red and black. The stadium is almost always split right down the middle, with Georgia fans on one side and Florida fans on the other. The environment of this game is always intense, with the fans not only feeding off the energy on the field but off the intensity of the other team’s fans as well. And as this rivalry’s nickname alludes to, there is the occasional consumption of a beverage, which allows for even more of a raucous stadium at kickoff.
3. Ole Miss vs. LSU (The Magnolia Bowl): This rivalry is definitely the most underrated rivalry in SEC football. While this game never gets the same attention as the other rivalries on this list, don’t mistake that national inattention for a lack of intensity or relevance. This rivalry means a whole lot to the players, the fans, and the two states. Whether deciding SEC titles in the 1950s and 1960s or featuring two decidedly middle-of-the-road teams (parts of the 1990s come to mind), this game is always fun to watch and always great for the SEC.
2. Alabama vs. Tennessee (The Third Saturday in October): To some, this is the greatest rivalry in college football. It certainly was for Bear Bryant, who relished a win over Tennessee even more than one over Auburn. For Tennessee fans, to beat Alabama is to beat the one program that can claim superiority over you. And must we never forget this Alabama fan who had one of the best reasons for hating Tennessee -“they’re snitches”. In all seriousness, this is one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football. This year’s game is already highly anticipated. After last year’s epic ending, the Vols have Alabama coming to Neyland for what could be the first victory Tennessee gets over the Crimson Tide since 2007.
1. Alabama vs. Auburn (The Iron Bowl): Was there any doubt who would be number one? It has to be the Iron Bowl. Not only is it the greatest rivalry in SEC football, it is one of the best rivalries in all of college athletics. While it has always been a fierce rivalry – both on and off the field – these past few years have been the best, with the winner either playing for an SEC or a National Title every year since 2009. There are no rivalries that beat the Iron Bowl in college football, and few even compare. What? Do you disagree? Has your rivalry been featured in a 30 for 30 film?
Out-of-conference rivalries are just as good, in my opinion. While they may not determine conference rankings, they often determine something just as important: bragging rights. Trust me, nothing is worse than losing to your bitter rival five straight years (right, Clemson fans?) or being your rival’s doormat for over a century (right, South Carolina fans?).
Top 5 Out of Conference Rivalries:
Just missed the cut: The Governor’s Cup (Kentucky-Louisville), Ole Miss-Memphis, North Carolina-South Carolina, Battle for the Rag (LSU-Tulane)
5. Texas vs. Arkansas: This is one of those rivalries that was destroyed by the dissipation of the Southwest Conference. Arkansas and Texas were the cornerstone of the SWC, especially in its glory days of the 1950s and 1960s. Between 1960 and 1970, the two programs won nine of eleven conference championships, along with winning four national titles. With Texas now in the Big 12 and Arkansas in the SEC, the two old rivals rarely play each other, but the passion and disdain these two fanbases have for each other are as undiminished as their memories of the games themselves.
4. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Starting in 1908, Alabama and Auburn took a break that wound up lasting for four decades. Unfortunately, by the time the rivalry was renewed in 1948, it just wasn’t the same. With time, it came back even stronger and developed into one of the best rivalries in football, but the resurrection didn’t happen overnight. I hope that doesn’t happen with Texas and A&M, which remains one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football. But it only ranks at number four on this list due to the mere fact that they haven’t played each other since 2011, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get together anytime soon. Still, while we all agree this rivalry is better settled on the gridiron, the rivalry still exists between Aggies and Longhorns living intermingled in the state of Texas.
3. Georgia vs. Georgia Tech (Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate): The significance for this game is different for each fan base. For Georgia Tech, it is the chance to beat your most hated rival. For Georgia fans, it is the opportunity to remind Tech that they are little brother in football. Since Bobby Dodd left the Yellow Jackets in 1966, Georgia has won 36 of the 50 match-ups. While it has been lopsided lately, the game is always highly anticipated between the two rivals and normally ends in thrilling fashion. Just like the final two rivalries on this list, Georgia and Georgia Tech finish their seasons with this game every year.
2. Florida vs. Florida State : The state of Florida arguably has the most football talent in the country. It make sense, then, that when these rivals meet, the game is usually competitive. This game is the final regular season game for both teams. Both of these teams are usually ranked in the top 25, and often a win or a loss can alter the national College Football landscape. While the rivalry has been good as of late, the best time for this rivalry was in the 1990s, when Steve Spurrier was at Florida and Bobby Bowden was at Florida State. These games were often classics, with the two schools combining for three national titles and 19 AP/BCS Top 10 Rankings (for you keeping score at home, that means there was only one AP/BCS Postseason Ranking in which only one school ranked in the top 10; in 1990, Florida finished ranked 13th).
1. Clemson vs. South Carolina (The Palmetto Bowl/ The Battle for the Palmetto State): This is by far the best rivalry on the non-conference list, and it has been especially good of late. Not only are both teams consistently ranked in the top 25, but it is also the last game of the year for both schools. And these two rivals don’t tiptoe around the fact that they absolutely hate each other. In 2004, the game ended in a full-on, benches-clearing brawl. From 2009-2013, South Carolina won five straight games, and Steve Spurrier reminded Clemson fans every chance he had. Whether it was his jab at Clemson’s “Death Valley” or his constant reminding of South Carolina being “state champions,” Spurrier let all of South Carolina, and all of America, know his Gamecocks owned Clemson. But now the tables have turned. The Tigers have answered back with two quick victories over the Gamecocks in the past two years, including an exciting win last year, when Clemson held off an upset-minded South Carolina squad with only three wins on the season. The win allowed Clemson to continue on their march to the National Title game and to establish themselves as a national power for what looks to be years to come. Deshaun Watson promised Clemson fans that he will never lose to South Carolina while he is quarterback for the Tigers. With Muschamp now in Columbia, this rivalry has the potential to be as good as ever.