Most great rivalries are timeless.
Ohio State-Michigan. Army-Navy. Alabama-Auburn.
But even great series like these have their ups and downs, and when one team becomes too dominant (see: Ohio State's recent success against Michigan, or USC's ownership of Notre Dame) rivalries lose some of their luster.
Here, we rank the top 10 rivalries in college football right now, taking into account both historical significance and current relevance. We also list the date for each game this season.
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Texas. Oklahoma. The Texas State Fair. The Cotton Bowl. The Red River Rivalry (formerly known as the Red River Shootout) has always been huge. But the game has reached new heights in recent years, as both Texas and Oklahoma have enjoyed lengthy runs among the nation's elite. Last year's 45-35 Texas win was not only the best game of the 2008 season, but also one of the greatest games ever played. This year's showdown figures to be just as good, as both Texas' Colt McCoy and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford return to lead teams likely to open the season ranked in the Top 5. This might be the most highly anticipated Oklahoma-Texas matchup ever. And that's saying something.
(Doug Benc/Getty Images)
It's not called The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party any longer, but Georgia-Florida has become the most important game, each and every year, in the SEC East. With Tennessee in rebuilding mode for several years now, the Dawgs and Gators have been battling for supremacy in the East, and these games have proven to be entertaining, hard-hitting and even a bit controversial. Who can forget Georgia's full-team touchdown celebration in 2007—or Florida's payback beatdown in 2008?
(Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Like Ohio State-Michigan, this game is here for one reason and one reason alone: Historically, it's been almost unmatched by any rivalry in American sports. Others may make the same claim, but in Alabama, it's actually true: This rivalry is a 365-day obsession. Auburn enjoyed a lengthy run of success under coach Tommy Tuberville, winning six straight between 2002 and 2007, but now that Nick Saban is running things up at 'Bama (and now that Auburn is struggling to rebuild under new coach Gene Chizik), it's easy to envision the Tide dominating this one for years to come. They crushed Auburn last season, 36-0.
4. The Game: Ohio State vs. Michigan (Nov. 21)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Once the greatest rivalry in all of college football (and all of sports, for that matter), Ohio State-Michigan has lost its luster in recent years. The reasons are obvious: First, Jim Tressel's complete dominance of the Wolverines has robbed the series of its drama; second, Michigan's fall from grace has robbed the game of its relevance. Last year's matchup was utterly meaningless. And Michigan played like it, too, getting absolutely crushed by the Buckeyes, 42-7. Ohio State has won five straight and seven of its last eight against Michigan. Suddenly, Penn State looks like a much bigger rival to the Buckeyes than Michigan does.
5. The Big Ten Border War: Ohio State vs. Penn State (Nov. 7)
(Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
It makes sense in so many ways. Border states. Massive schools. Great football traditions. Woody Hayes. Joe Paterno. Ohio Stadium. Beaver Stadium. Big city vs. college town. Ohio State and Penn State are, it seems, perfect rivals. And while both fan bases have understood for years how important this game has become, only in the past few years has it ascended to national prominence. These teams have now claimed the past four Big Ten championships. Ohio State won the outright Big Ten crown in 2006 and 2007. Penn State shared the title with the Bucks in 2005 and 2008. With Michigan struggling, this game has become "the" game in the Big Ten.
6. The Saban Bowl: Alabama vs. LSU (Nov. 7)
(Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
It wasn't too long ago that the SEC West was seen in the same light as the Big 12 North—the decidedly weaker division of a very strong conference. LSU coach Les Miles and Alabama coach Nick Saban have changed that. Today, LSU and 'Bama are considered two of the best programs in the country, and annually find themselves in the midst of the race for SEC West superiority. You've got two of the best coaches in the game. Two of the most passionate fan bases. Two of the most talented recruiting states in the country. Oh, and then there's the fact that Saban used to run the show at LSU. Add it all up and you've got a fantastic football game—and a truly great rivalry.
7. Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate: Georgia Tech vs. Georgia (Nov. 28)
(Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
First off, let's go ahead and say that this rivalry has the greatest name of any rivalry. Ever. "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." That's genius. The hate is back, too, thanks to the arrival of coach Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. Last season, Johnson and his Yellow Jackets stunned the Bulldogs with a 45-42 win in Athens, and Tech has turned up the recruiting heat in talent-rich Georgia, too. So it seems as though the Dawgs' days of dominance in this series may be numbered. This is a rivalry to watch in years to come. Even though Georgia fans may not want to admit it.
8. Battle for the Victory Bell: USC vs. UCLA (Nov. 28)
(Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
Yes, this is a reach. USC has dominated its rivalry with UCLA of late, winning nine of the last 10 in the series. But I've included this game here for one reason. And that reason is Rick Neuheisel. The UCLA grad has returned to his alma mater with two goals: Returning the Bruins to national prominence. And beating USC. Neuheisel has already proven to be a savvy recruiter. Indeed, if anyone can keep up with USC's Pete Carroll, it's Neuheisel. Whether or not Neuheisel can get his team to be competitive with the Trojans on the field remains to be seen. But I like his chances.
9. The Backyard Brawl: Pitt vs. West Virginia (Nov. 27)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Big East is a conference starving for relevance. Each season, the Backyard Brawl delivers just that. The annual showdown between the Mountaineers and Panthers has proven to be one of the most entertaining rivalry games in the country. Pitt fans will long savor their team's stunning upset of the 'Eers at the conclusion of the 2007 season—a win that robbed West Virginia of a shot at the national title. It was, all at once, one of the great moments in the history of Pitt football and the lowest moment in the history of Mountaineer football. It also took the Brawl to a whole new level. This game may not always have huge national significance. But it's always worth watching.
10. Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy: Michigan vs. Michigan State (Oct. 3)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Folks in Big Ten country have always known Michigan-Michigan State to be a great rivalry. The only thing keeping the game from attaining national prominence was the idea that Michigan State was never quite as good as that school over in Ann Arbor. Well, that's no longer an issue. Sparty has enjoyed a renaissance under coach Mark Dantonio while the Wolverines are struggling under Rich Rodriguez. Michigan has dominated this series for years, beating their in-state rival even in years when the Spartans were the better team. But last year's 35-21 win may have signaled a turning of the tide in this hate-fueled series. Indeed, the Spartans enter 2009 with a better shot at the Big Ten title than the Wolverines.