With each new college football season, we find ourselves asking new questions. Who are the title contenders? Who’s going to win the Heisman? Who is the dark horse that will surprise everyone? But the one thing that can be counted on year in and year out are exciting rivalry games. Almost every team has a chief rival, a team they want to beat so bad that they’d trade a bowl win for a chance to stomp out the school they hate the most.
Not all rivalries are created equal, and several rivalries stand as the best of the best when it comes to rivalries in the 21st century. The Game. Bedlam. The Iron Bowl. Georgia-Florida and of course, Miami-FSU. All of these count among some of the most important, exciting and atmosphere-shifting games that are played every season. A few didn’t make the cut like Notre Dame-USC (very lopsided most of the last 17 years) and Army-Navy (neither are ever championship contenders). And while the five listed here are generally the best of the best, only one can call itself the best college football rivalry.
The tables below charts the scores and rankings of these rivalries from 2000-2018 and averages them into what a typical game between the two teams would look like. The results speak for themselves.
Quick note before breaking down these numbers, the rankings were flipped so a team ranked 25 on the chart was ranked 1 at the time of the game (I’m not a math major so apologies to those who are and want to tell me I made it harder on myself).
It’s obvious from the charts which rivalry is the best, a matchup that, regardless of rank and record, pits two evenly matched teams against each other in a brawling battle. When it comes to the Miami Huricanes and Florida State Seminoles, the games don’t get much closer than that. Since 2000 the average score is 25-24 in favor of FSU. When they meet, both teams are on averaged ranked at the exact same position. Even while Miami has been average for the better part of this 18 year period, these games have still been white-knuckle thrillers.
The only game that compares is UGA-UF, though even those have gotten more lopsided as the years have passed. The other three can’t compare, with the margin of victory around a touchdown or more. The Iron Bowl is within one score and have produced some amazing games and moments, but The Game and Bedlam fail to live up to the hype. Bedlam is on average an 11 point Oklahoma win while Ohio State has dominated The Game with 15 wins out of 18 match ups.
So no matter how often any of the four letter networks try to tell you that The Game or Iron Bowl is the premier college football rivalry and worthy of being in primetime, don’t feel like a homer by countering that Miami and Florida State is the best rivalry in college football. And the proof is in the numbers.