These six rivalries are being built the old-fashioned way — on the field. And there’s no contrived, committee-designed trophies, no quaint nicknames that hark back to a more innocent time, and definitely no corporate sponsorship. Just contemporary, 21st-century spite. The winners usually take a big step toward a conference title, or even a national one. The losers just have to sit and stew and plan their revenge next season.
This one is up and running as one of the best new rivalries of the new century. The Ducks have traditionally saved the long knives for Oregon State and Washington, their unfriendly neighbors to the north. But in recent years, Trojans-Ducks has been the conference’s premier rivalry. The Nov. 3 meeting in Los Angeles might be a preview of the Pac-12 title game this season.
This is one to keep an eye on. Now that TCU is in the Big 12, and Baylor has shown signs it can stay competitive in the league, the annual Horned Frogs-Bears meetings could gain some real traction. If so, the start of it could be traced to last season’s opener, a game in which TCU came back from 24 points down, only to lose on a field goal in the closing minutes in what was the Bears’ first win over a ranked team since 2004. They get together Oct. 13 in Waco.
Ohio State will always save its hate for That School Up North. Buckeyes fans even have a song declaring how much they don’t care about Michigan. (New rule: if you write a song, you care). But the Wolverines haven’t seriously been in the hunt for the conference title since 2006, when Ohio State won a classic No. 1 vs. No. 2 game. You know who has been? The Badgers. Wisconsin has won or shared the last two conference titles. Before that, Ohio State won five in a row. Twice, the losing team in this game has gone on and won the Big Ten anyway. That could end as soon as the Buckeyes are eligible for the conference title game again next season. They know they’ll have to get through the Badgers. This season, they play Nov. 17 in Madison.
This might be the only rivalry game in which you can lose to the other and still win the national title (if not the Southeastern Conference one). Alabama, with former LSU coach Nick Saban, lost 9-6 to the Tigers last year, only to dismantle LSU, and Saban replacement Les Miles, in the BCS title game rematch. While LSU traditionally ends the season in a tussle with Arkansas for the Golden Boot, and Alabama has its grudge match with Auburn for in-state supremacy, there’s no reason to think the Nov. 3 matchup in Baton Rouge hasn’t been circled on calendars all over Louisiana and Alabama.
Cincinnati has rather quietly won the Big East title in three of the last four years, and gotten the league’s BCS bid twice before being shunted to the Liberty Bowl last season when it shared the title with traditional rival Louisville and West Virginia. Well, now the Mountaineers are gone and who was it who went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010? The Huskies, who helped their cause with a 38-17 win late that season. Last year, Cincinnati ended the season with a 35-27 win over the Huskies, making it five years in a row the teams have alternated wins and losses. They finish this season up against each other, too, on Dec. 1 in East Hartford, Conn.
Extra point — Keep an eye on West Virginia-Oklahoma State. This could become a must-watch game every year both for conference-title implications and sheer offensive firepower. And Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.