Today is the eve of the start of the 2009 College Football season! Yes, I am excited about it. I am working on a mini-season preview (in my head) and will probably post it manana, but today I was thinking I would give you my choice for the best Div. I (now FBS) rivalry this decade.
My choice is Texas-Oklahoma (Red River Rivalry), and not because I am a Longhorn, but because I think it is objectively true. Here is my criteria, which I think is fair: The teams must meet every year, the game must have conference and/or national championship implications, teams must be actual rivals, the teams should be fairly evenly matched, and the teams should be successful.
Based on this criteria, I do not see how any other rivalry can top UT-OU in the 00s (or, the Naughts). OU and UT rank one and two in wins this decade, respectively, each has won a national title and OU has played in three other title games. Texas has a bowl record of 7-2 and three of those wins have come in BCS bowls (OU has a Rose Bowl victory in the naughts, as well). OU has won six of the nine games the two teams have played, but aside from a few stinkers throughout the decade, the games have been very competitive. The worst record either team has had to end a season was Oklahoma’s 8-4 (6-2) season (Texas’s worst season record was 9-3 (7-1) in 2000). And one of these two teams has represented the Big XII South in the conference championship game every year. And finally, one of the best aspects of this rivalry is that it is played at a neutral site every year (Cotton Bowl in Dallas) with the crowd split 50-50 between fan bases. Having been to two of these games I can say without equivocation it was the most heated and electric atmosphere I had ever been a part of (and I went to the UT-Michigan Rose Bowl, too).
Let’s take a quick look at the other traditional rivalries. We can immediately disregard Army-Navy because though the game might have the most tradition and be the most competitive (I have not researched that last claim), it has not had any significance on the national FBS level. Michigan and Ohio State does not meet the criteria in large part because of UMs 3-9 season last year, and a couple of 5 loss seasons earlier in the decade. If UM had more consistent success, you could make an argument for this game because of the success of OSU. Notre Dame-USC is no good, either, because of the former’s struggle this decade. Florida-FSU would probably be the winner if this were the 90s, but FSU’s struggles cannot propel this rivalry to the top of the Naughts. Alabama-Auburn falls shorts because Alabama has has two sub-500 seasons and a few other mediocre seasons.
The only rivalries that could surpass the UT-OU rivalry this decade are the BYU-Utah, Georgia-Florida, and LSU-Florida rivalries. The BYU-Utah may actually be the best of the bunch, and the most competitive, but because of the BCS (B.S.) the game cannot reach the summit. The fact is no matter what the records of the two teams and how competitive the game, because these schools have been marginalized by the BCS the game does not have the same impact of UT-OU.
In the last 10 years, OU (109) and Texas (106) have the most wins in the FBS. Georgia is 5th on that list with 98, Florida is 7th with 96, and LSU is 8th with 93. Georgia and Florida play every season at a neutral site (like OU-UT) and both have had good teams this decade. Florida leads the series this decade, 7-2 but only one game was a blowout. Florida has won three SEC Championships and Georgia has won two. And Florida has won two national titles in the Naughts. The resume is quite good, but because OU and UT have both been more consistent year to year than both Georgia (3 years of 4 losses) and Florida (2002-04 seasons had five loses each year), the Red River Rivalry gets the nod over The World’s Largest Cocktail Party.
Finally, LSU and Florida have collectively been more successful on the national level, in terms of national championships, by winning a combined four this decade (LSU won in 2003 and 2007). Head-to-head, the series has been competitive in terms of wins and losses, but there have been a few blowouts, as in the OU-UT series. This series also gets props because both teams beat OU to win one of their national titles. However, Texas did beat LSU in the 2003 Cotton Bowl.
So we have UT-OU vs. Florida-LSU. As mentioned previously, OU and UT have more wins and neither team has ever had more than four losses in a season, or more than three in conference play (neither has ever had a sub-500 record in conference play). Neither OU or UT has ever finished a season unranked, whereas both Florida and LSU have finished out of the top 25 AP poll, with LSU having done so twice. Last year, LSU had a sub-500 record in conference play. Both sets of teams have identical bowl records, but LSU and Florida have two more national championships. That is huge. It really is a toss-up, with maybe the SEC rivalry getting the nod, but there is just one problem: LSU-Florida has not traditionally been considered a rivalry until late, at least not according to Wikipedia. And that might be because the two teams are not in the same division within the conference, which for me, is why it falls to number two. OU and Texas are in the same division within the Big XII, which means the game is extremely significant in determining who will represent the Big XII South in the conference championship game. But the LSU-Florida game does not carry the same weight, and the loser of that game can still go on to play in and win the conference championship. In fact, two of LSU’s conference championships in 2001 & 2003 came in years they lost to Florida. Only twice in this decade has the loser of the OU-UT game managed to make it to the Big XII championship, and one of those times was last year when arguably Texas got shafted by the BCS.
In conclusion, though Florida and LSU have combined for more national championships than Texas and OU, the fact that the former teams play in separate divisions within the SEC gives them the opportunity to play for more conference and national titles. Texas and OU do not have the same opportunity playing within the same division. Basically, and with only a couple of unusual exceptions, the loser of the OU-UT game is out of the national title picture. That gives the Red River Rivalry (which is undoubtedly a real rivalry) the edge.