Oklahoma-Texas, Oct. 10: Texas is all about college football, but there are just too many big-time college teams in Texas to pick one intrastate rivalry, and conference realignment deprived fans of the best of the bunch, Texas-Texas A&M. Anyhow, Texans would rather pound on someone else as opposed to beating up other Texans, which is the real reason God make Oklahoma. The Oklahoma-Texas game, a/k/a/ the Red River Rivalry, is famous for its carnival atmosphere, which it comes by naturally; a real carnival, the Texas State Fair, is just down the road. The RRR is always held in Dallas early in October, making it one of the first rivalry games to be played; the Cotton Bowl is split down the middle for the game, with OU crimson on one side and UT orange on the other, and then they go at it. The winner, in true Texas fashion, gets not one but three trophies: the Golden Hat, the Red River Rivalry trophy and the Governor’s Trophy. But with Texas and Oklahoma, it’s really about bragging rights. And beating-up rights.
Georgia-Florida, Oct. 31: The world’s largest cocktail party. Southern hospitality, southern cooking, and glorious Jacksonville weather. ‘Nuff said.
Michigan-Ohio State, Nov. 28: There are rivalries, there are blood wars driven by unadulterated hatred, and then there’s Michigan-Ohio State. To say that these teams dislike each other is a colossal understatement. In the 1960s, when Ohio State was coached by the unfiltered Woody Hayes, he went for a two-point conversion late in the game with the Buckeyes more than comfortably ahead. When asked after the game why he went for two in a situation where chivalry (and probabilities) suggest going for one, Hayes growled, “Because I couldn’t go for three.” Whether the game is in Columbus or Ann Arbor, expect cold in the air and on the field, because this is a game where even the tailgating takes on a special intensity.
USC-UCLA, Nov. 28: Talk all you want about the great venues for college football, the Death Valleys and Big Houses. The best places to watch college football are the traditional sites of the USC-UCLA game, the Rose Bowl and the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Battle for L.A. is SoCal mellow compared to other college rivalries, but the spectacle is straight outta Hollywood, from the USC band and their gladiator-movie costumes to UCLA’s made-for-TV powder blue and gold to Traveler, the white steed that celebrates a USC score. The teams play for the Victory Bell, but that’s almost an afterthought compared to the way the game looks to the casual observer: sun-drenched and glorious, the golden rivalry to end all golden rivalries. The fact that both teams are usually playing for something doesn’t hurt, either.
Alabama-Auburn, Nov. 28: Vic Knight, who for many years was the PR director for the Senior Bowl all-star football game in Mobile, Ala., has a unique perspective on the game known as the Iron Bowl. As a transplanted northerner, an Ole Miss grad, and someone who spent most of his autumns watching college-football games around the country, he’s seen just about every college-football rivalry there is, and to him, nothing tops Auburn-Alabama. “There’s no escaping it anywhere in Alabama, because all there is for major college football in the state is Auburn and Alabama,” Knight says. “Everyone shows their colors, and everyone has to choose a side. Auburn-Alabama cuts across families, divides neighbors, separates friends. It’s everything.” Like many of these intense rivalries where home-field advantage is just too much of an advantage, the Iron Bowl is played on a semi-neutral site, in Birmingham. But neutral in no ways implies quiet or sedate. Get your hearing protection on, come early for the eats, and be prepared to choose a side – because you will be asked.
Army-Navy, Dec. 12: From an intrastate war that requires choosing of sides we take a 180-degree turn, to the game that celebrates America and the other Great American Pastime, college football. The days of this game meaning something in terms of dominance in the sport is long gone (though this game counted in the standings into the 1960s). However, the spectacle is something to behold, from the entries of the two corps of cadets to the flyovers to the presidential appearances. The game is a vagabond, floating from Washington to Baltimore to Philadelphia, where it will be held this December, but the intensity is eternal. Freshmen at Army get treated like semi-normal (yet still inferior) people if the Black Knights win, the plates in the Navy weight room are stamped “Beat Army,” and Rangers and SEALs in training get to hone their skills on the opposing team’s mascot. What other game …? No other game.
Notre Dame-Michigan State, 2016: Notre Dame is a religious school, but you can be forgiven if sometimes the religion appears to be the Church of Football. Ever since Knute Rockne Notre Dame football has captivated fans and sportswriters like Grantland Rice, who built a career around the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” otherwise known as the Notre Dame backfield. Attending a Notre Dame game is a spiritual experience, especially when the opponent is just up the road and relentlessly hard-nosed, as is the case with Michigan State. While the Spartans are not Notre Dame’s oldest or most storied rivalry, there’s a special intensity and some history that dates back to 1966 and one of the greatest college-football games ever. The bad news: The next battle for the Golden Megaphone won’t be played until 2016. The good news: It’ll be in South Bend. Get your tickets now.
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