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Chris Dufresne rates college football's best rivalries

Ohio State-Michigan heads the top 5 -- and UCLA-USC doesn't even make the list.

November 25, 2009
  • Michigan hasnÂ’t beaten Ohio State in many moons, but the rivalryÂ’s intensity is undiminished.
Michigan hasnÂ’t beaten Ohio State in many moons, but the rivalryÂ’s… (Neal C. Lauron / Columbus…)

Some of sports' best rivalries play out each fall on college football fields across the country. National football reporter Chris Dufresne rates the very best matchups -- with mention of a few you might not know too much about.

1. Ohio State- Michigan

Put this game as 1(a) alongside Duke-North Carolina in basketball as the top rivalries in sports. The series intensified in 1969 when first-year Michigan coach Bo Schembechler shocked Ohio State and cost mentor Woody Hayes a national title. It ignited what is commonly known as "the 10-Year War." Hayes never mentioned Michigan by name, calling it "that team up north." In 2006, the teams were Nos. 1 and 2 when they met in Columbus, the day after Schembechler died.

2. Alabama-Auburn

Alabama has no professional sports teams, so what else is there to jabber about? In the South you call an Alabama man married to an Auburn woman a mixed (up) marriage. "It's the only game I've ever heard of where people talk about it 365 days a year, and if you don't live here, you couldn't possibly understand," former Alabama coach Gene Stallings says in the book "Southern Fried Football."

3. USC-Notre Dame

Any rivalry with a lineage that includes Knute Rockne, Grantland Rice and the mystery of cross-country travel has a decent chance of sustainability. The first game was played Dec. 4, 1926, and it launched 100 heroes and Heisman Trophy campaigns (the schools have combined to win 14). Notre Dame will never forget the 1966 game, in which the Irish trounced the Trojans, 51-0, at the Coliseum. USC will always have 1974, when the Trojans rallied to crush the Irish, 55-24.

4. Oklahoma-Texas

It is not only about the two schools, it's about the setting, the food, the carnival rides and the smell. The game is played annually at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on the grounds of the Texas State Fair. The stands are divided evenly, with the colors of both schools split at the 50-yard line. Dan Jenkins of Sports Illustrated once wrote, "It's college football's equivalent of a prison riot -- with coeds."

5. Army-Navy

It doesn't matter whether the teams are any good, although Navy certainly has been of late, because this medal-of-honor series transcends sport. After Army completed a perfect season with a win over Navy in 1944, coach Red Blaik received a telegram from Gen. Douglas MacArthur: "The greatest of all Army teams. We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success." In 1950, a weak Navy squad got revenge by snapping Army's 28-game win streak with a shocking 14-2 victory.

A few heated rivalries that tend to go unnoticed:

* Washington vs. Oregon: The Huskies for years looked down -- literally, on a map -- at the woebegone Ducks from Eugene, but Don James is no longer coaching in Seattle.

* Idaho vs. Boise State: People at Idaho still refer to Boise as a junior college. Boise State just keeps pointing to the scoreboard. Idaho lost a squeaker this year, 63-35.

* Kansas vs. Missouri: Another rivalry that tends to get lost when the teams aren't very good, but this game has border-war tensions dating to pre-Civil War years. No, not Oregon-Oregon State. The real Civil War.

* Amherst vs. Williams: Dubbed "The Biggest Little Game in America," it began in 1884 and is the essence of Division III football, fierce but always with a sense of higher purpose.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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