June 27, 2007

Rivalry Week: Not so big these days

Which rivalry has fallen the farthest?
Army vs. Navy
Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State
Cal vs. Stanford
Oklahoma vs. Nebraska
Florida vs. Tennessee

Rivals.com is taking a look at the best rivalries in college football - new and old.

Today we look at rivalries that seem to have faded in recent years. Cast your vote here for one that has fallen the farthest and share your rationale. We may use your comments tomorrow when we reveal the results. Did we miss one? Tell us that, too.

Every college football rivalry has its ebbs and flows.

A series that grabs a nation's attention one year might not garner much interest outside the two campuses the following season.

We run the risk of offending fans of particular schools when we say that any rivalry has declined in importance. We know the rivalries listed below all still mean a great deal to the schools involved.

But for a variety of reasons, we feel these rivalries don't hold quite as much interest on a national scale as they did before for whatever reason.

1. Army vs. Navy
This rivalry has been declining from a national perspective for decades. We certainly have the utmost respect for our armed forces and can all agree that perhaps no rivalry matches this one in terms of pageantry and spectacle. It's a game every college football fan should attend at least once. However - in terms of football magnitude - these teams are no longer the powers they once were. Also, this game has lost some luster now that it doesn't have the national stage all to itself. This matchup traditionally takes place the first week of December, and used to be one of the only games on television that day. Now it airs the same weekend as several conference championship games that have national title implications. Lastly, it is much harder to call Army and Navy rivals when they are fighting our enemies together around the world.
2. Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State
The Egg Bowl still means plenty in the Magnolia State, but it used to carry more interest across the Southeast. Ole Miss made five bowl appearances in a six-year span from 1998-2003. Mississippi State played in three consecutive bowl games from 1998-2000. So it wasn't that long ago that this game featured two bowl-bound teams fighting for postseason position. These teams are not competing for conference championships, and there are certainly little if any national ramifications when these foes take the field.
3. California vs. Stanford
The Big Game remains huge in the Bay Area, but it sure has grown one-sided since the two programs started heading in opposite directions. Cal has made four consecutive bowl appearances, while Stanford hasn't reached the postseason since 2001. No wonder the Golden Bears have beaten Stanford five consecutive times by an average margin of 20.6 points. Maybe a coaching change will add some juice to the rivalry. New Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh recently pointed out the disparity of the graduation rates at the two programs in an interview with Stanford's campus newspaper. Now he must find a way to make the two teams more equal on the field.
4. Oklahoma vs. Nebraska
Last year's Big 12 championship game matchup between the Sooners and Nebraska harkened back to the old days when they usually squared off to decide the Big Eight crown. This rivalry featured coaching legends Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer of OU and Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne of Nebraska. It featured great players like the Cornhuskers' Johnny Rodgers and Mike Rozier and OU's Steve Owens and Billy Sims. From 1962 to 1995, either Oklahoma or Nebraska represented the Big Eight in the Orange Bowl 25 times - including 17 of the last 18. Oklahoma held a 39-34-3 lead in the series, which included the classic 35-31 Nebraska victory in 1971. But with the formation of the Big 12 Conference in 1996, one of college football's greatest annual rivalries became a casualty of the game's changing landscape. Since then, they've met only seven times with OU holding a 4-3 lead after winning last year's championship game, 21-7.
5. Florida vs. Tennessee
This may be the biggest game of the year for some fans of each team, but the rivalry has waned a bit. This matchup almost automatically decided the SEC Eastern Division champion every year in the 1990s. That was when the interest (and hatred) was at its peak. That's not necessarily the case now that Mark Richt has made Georgia an annual conference title contender. Interest in this clash has also decreased a bit nationally now that Steve Spurrier is no longer with the "Mighty Gators." Again, this game has a big impact on the division race, but each team also has other very strong rivalries (Tennessee has Alabama; Florida has Florida State, etc.).

Cast your vote here for the rivalry that has fallen the farthest

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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