Ah, the wonder of rivalry week in college football. The late fall air is crisp, Thanksgiving and all of its colors surround us, and there’s something even greater than turkey on the menu: hate.
Yes, hate, that wonderous, glorious emotion we have whenever we see the colors of our despised arch nemesis. Thanksgiving is a time for peace and collectiveness for many people – for college football fans, it’s the most violent time of the year.
And we wouldn’t want it any other way.
The Wonder of College Football’s Rivalry Week
Nationally, some rivalries receive more attention than others. Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, and Florida-Florida State will always grab headlines, even if one of both of the teams are below par. You also have ones like Clemson-South Carolina, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, and Washington-Washington State that don’t always have the national significance but are still intense enough to garner national attention. But hidden away are some serious gems, like Virginia Tech-Virginia, Indiana-Purdue, and Kentucky-Louisville.
To college football connoisseurs, the depth and intensity of a quality rivalry is everything. It doesn’t matter if the teams are both 3-8 with two-star recruits and backwater athletic facilities – if they hate each other, and I mean really hate each other, then it’s worthwhile.
You don’t need me to sing the praises of The Game or the Iron Bowl, of which there are many. Those stories are known even outside of the college football world, and for good reason. Rivalries like those, and the consistency with which they are played at the same time every year, are timeless and crucial to understanding the zeitgeist of the game. But if you’re limiting your rivalry week to just the most famous matchups, you’re cheating yourself out of one of the greatest wonders in all of world sport.
North American pro sports have rivalries, sure. The history of the Red Sox and Yankees goes deep, the entire NFC East wishes the rest of the teams in the division would cease to exist, and the Penguins and Flyers have no love lost for each other. But college sports are simply a different beast.
In 2007, Pittsburgh was 4-7, already bowl ineligible, while its hated rival West Virginia was No. 2 in the country with just one loss. A Mountaineers win would have likely sent them to the national championship game. But the Panthers spoiled their plans, 13-9, to complete the campaign at 5-7. If you asked a Pitt fan if the 2007 season was a good one, they would tell you yes, and it wouldn’t be for any reason other than they ruined WVU’s dream season.
In 2017, UCF entered rivalry week ranked No. 15 in the nation with an undefeated 10-0 record, but it had one final huge test before the end of the regular season: 9-1 South Florida was coming to town for the War on I-4, with the winner heading to the AAC Championship Game. The Knights and Bulls played in an absolute thriller with the teams trading blows all game long, and the fourth quarter in particular was something to behold. I’ll let you experience it yourself, hopefully not for the first time.
In 2019, Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore celebrated a touchdown in the final seconds of that year’s Egg Bowl that brought the Rebels within one of the Bulldogs, 21-20, by imitating a dog peeing, leg up and all. A flag was thrown, the extra point was moved back, and then it was missed, cementing the Egg Bowl victory for Mississippi State.
These are three unforgettable games in rivalries that don’t get the casual fan salivating every year, and the drama, passion, and unpredictability of rivalry week happens each time it comes. That’s not to take anything away from moments like the Kick Six and 2016 Ohio State-Michigan – those games are just as exemplary of why this is such a magical annual sporting treat – but there’s so much more to this unique tradition than the bigger names and programs. Those are great, but the true wonder of rivalry week is much, much deeper.
Across America, alumni and other fans will cover themselves in their school colors this coming weekend, some arguing with family members who cover themselves in the wrong colors over a Thanksgiving turkey before their teams provide one group of the family with bragging rights for 365 days.
My family is based in Columbus, Ohio, with a good number of Ohio State grads and fans, but also a handful of Michigan alums. Many families in Alabama have the same split between the Crimson Tide and Tigers, families in Georgia are torn between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets, and families in Arizona are divided between the Sun Devils and Wildcats. Only in this sport can you get an Apple Cup, Egg Bowl, Bedlam, Civil War, and a rivalry with so much hate that it’s known as Deeper than Hate, all while decades-old unique (and sometimes goofy) trophies are worshipped as idols and paraded around every year by their conquerors.
The wonder of rivalry week is upon us, and that’s something to be thankful for.