Conference realignment and expansion threaten some traditional rivalries, while outright eliminating others. Rivalry games are vital components of the college football landscape, particularly those played for a trophy of some kind: Paul Bunyan’s Ax, the Little Brown Jug, a necessary element that differentiates it from the NFL.
To compensate, schools and conferences are manufacturing trophy-game rivalries as replacements. A South Carolina-Texas A&M trophy game is in the works, possibly to be introduced when the Gamecocks host the Aggies on Aug. 28.
Frankly, it feels like little more than a vanity project for Governors Rick Perry and Nikki Haley, as described at GoGamecocks.com.
While the sentiment of establishing new rivalries to supplant the old is appreciated, rivalry is not something that can be forced. The happen organically, either through years of highly competitive games, or because fan bases dislike each other with particular intensity.
Five series stand out as the ideal candidates for trophy-game rivalries in this new era of college football.
Bear Bryant Trophy
This one is self-explanatory. The Alabama-Texas A&M rivalry is natural and steeped in college football history, dating back to Paul “Bear” Bryant’s departure from Texas A&M for Alabama in 1958.
A&M’s arrival in the SEC in 2012 and placement in Alabama’s division stirred five-plus decades of bitterness from Aggie fans, directed at Alabama. That Johnny Manziel effectively launched his Heisman Trophy candidacy at the Crimson Tide’s expense scored Texas A&M a measure of revenge.
But Alabama settled that particular score in another classic last September in College Station. The first two meetings between A&M and Alabama as SEC West counterparts are two of the most exciting games in recent years, giving this historically contentious relationship a definite rivalry feel.
California Republic Trophy
USC and Stanford football teams have met each other off-and-on since Theodore Roosevelt was president, but only recently has this in-state affair developed into full-fledged rivalry.
Stanford beat USC in 2007 in one of the biggest upsets in college football history. That win marked a run of five victories in six meetings for the Cardinal, including four straight from 2009 through 2012. But last year’s last-second field goal ended that skid for the Trojans, as well as a three-year home losing streak to Stanford.
Certain hostilities exist between these programs that make for an intriguing rivalry, too. Stanford’s blowout win in 2009 prompted a postgame shouting match between head coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh. Their acrimonious relationship extends to the NFL today.
Current Cardinal and Trojan head coaches David Shaw and Steve Sarkisian engaged in a very public spat over players faking injuries when Shaw and Stanford beat Sarkisian and his former Washington team last season.
Aside from the competitiveness and contentiousness in recent meetings, the two universities are also the only private institutions in the Pac-12, giving this series a natural element needed for true rivalry.
Steve Spurrier doesn’t refrain from taking (sometimes) subtle jabs at just about anyone, but save in-state foe Dabo Swinney at Clemson, Georgia head coach Mark Richt is the primary target of Spurrier’s quips.
Spurrier had reason to gloat from 2010 through 2012, when his Gamecocks won three straight against Richt’s Bulldogs. But a Georgia win last year ostensibly kept South Carolina out of the SEC Championship Game, and silenced the Head Ball Coach for a moment.
Georgia has several rivalry games, so officially commemorating another with a trophy might seem like overkill. But from Spurrier’s perspective, as detailed to the Independent Mail in 2012, this annual SEC East showdown is a biggie for the Gamecocks:
They’ve got more rivals than almost anybody I know. They really do. Traditionally, we’ve only had Clemson because we haven’t beaten anybody enough to have any more rivals. Georgia, I’ve always said, is our biggest conference rival since they’re closest to us, I think, than any other school. Georgia, they’ve probably got too many rivals to put us in that group. You’ll have to ask them.
Star of Texas
When the Southwest Conference dissolved in the mid-1990s and Texas was the leading a Lone Star State merger with the Big 8, former Gov. Ann Richards played Mrs. Parker to Texas’ Ralphie, ensuring little brother Baylor could tag along.
And for years, Baylor football was about as effective as Randy Parker in his snowsuit.
But Art Briles’ transformation of the Bears from punching bags to conference champions has energized the program–at the expense of longtime big brother Texas, to a certain extent.
Texas A&M’s departure from the Big 12 to the SEC left both the Bears and Longhorns without an annual rivalry game. Texas has cycled through in-state counterparts Texas Tech and TCU, looking for the right rivalry match. Baylor might be the Longhorns’ best option, given the program’s meteoric rise in this new era of college football.
In their rivalry with Oklahoma, the Longhorns play for a golden hat. How about a silver star emulating the star on Texas’ flag to christen the Baylor-Texas series as an official rivalry? It’s only a bonus that Randy Parker was star-shaped in his ill-fitting snowsuit.
Among the bigger whiffs of the Big Ten’s expansion in 2011 was the separation of Nebraska and Wisconsin. The newly added Cornhuskers were placed in the Legends Division, with Wisconsin sent to the Leaders. The trophy game manufactured between Nebraska and Iowa should have been between the Huskers and Badgers.
The realignment into geographically split divisions rights that egregious wrong, pairing two programs that just naturally fit as rivals. Just about everything that characterizes these programs makes sense for establishing this as a trophy-game rivalry: they wear the same colors. They’re known for similar styles of run-based, smash-mouth football. Even their home states share a common agricultural reliance on cattle: Nebraska for its beef production, Wisconsin its dairy farms.
The two football programs were led by two of the game’s true modern-era statesmen, and commemorating the contributions of both Barry Alvarez and Tom Osborne to college football through a trophy game is the perfect introduction to what is sure to be an exciting Big Ten rivalry for years to come.