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June 27, 2007

Voice of the Fan: What's the best new rivalry?

A rivalry in college football requires more than merely playing every year. After all, Notre Dame vs. Navy does not constitute a rivalry even though the Irish and Midshipmen have squared off every year since 1927.

A series needs classic games, great anxiety and high stakes to develop into a rivalry.

What is the best emerging rivalry in college football?
LSU and Auburn meet all that criteria when they face each other in their annual showdown, which is why that series was emphatically voted college football's "Best Emerging Rivalry" by Rivals.com users.

LSU-Auburn received 34.87 percent of more than 4,700 votes, while the burgeoning Florida-South Carolina rivalry spawned by the Gamecocks' hiring of coach Steve Spurrier three years ago was a distant second with 22.96 percent of the vote.

The Big East grudge match of Louisville-West Virginia was third at 21.9 percent, followed by Texas A&M-Texas Tech with 10.78 percent and Nebraska-Kansas State with 9.47 percent.

Readers also suggested that Florida State-Clemson and USC-California also should have been included in the poll.

The only real debate about LSU-Auburn was whether it qualified as an "emerging" rivalry because the Tigers and Tigers have long been SEC members and have played 41 times in their series history.

However, as recently as 1991 they did not play. Their series did not become an annual event until the SEC expanded in 1992. Now, they're both powers in the SEC Western Division. Either LSU or Auburn has advanced to the SEC title game in five of the last seven seasons.

As a reader with the handle aublake me wrote:

"Watch any of these games from the last several years and you cannot deny this is the best new rivalry. I've never seen hitting like there was in this game last year, both teams had several players have to leave the field. And it wasn't the cleanest game either. Both teams were hitting late, hitting out of bounds, hitting everything. Nothing was blatant, but the refs were letting them go at it."

youngcorli added: "I think if you saw the LSU-AU game last year then you understand that is what football is about. I guarantee you every single body that touched that field at any time during that game was hurting the next day. It was absolutely smashmouth and that's what makes a great rivalry."

Many other fans agreed with that.

Bloosier16: This game is so important for the SEC championship outcome, and has been a "War" the past several years. Both teams have won and lost in recent years as well. This game has seen so much action, with "The Fire", Tubbs (Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville) smoking cigars on LSU`s field, Bayou Bengal fans rocking the Auburn team bus, etc. Only the Iron Bowl can reach the magnitude of this game."

The Spurrier Factor
South Carolina and Florida have only played 27 times in their history, and more than half of those came after the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992.

While Florida dominates 20-4-3, the series became much more interesting when Spurrier, who led the Gators to a national championship in 1996, was named South Carolina's coach three years ago.

Adding fuel to the fire was that South Carolina defeated Florida 30-22 in 2005 Spurrier's first season and came within a blocked field goal of upsetting the Gators and derailing their national championship charge a year ago.

"I think the Florida-South Carolina game is going to become one of the best rivalries ever. South Carolina is building depth and getting playmakers like never before," said a fan going by MasOn311. "The Ole Ball Coach (Spurrier) was the best coach in college football a decade ago, but now he has to face the best young coach out there (Urban Meyer) at his alma mater. The past two games have been exciting. I can't wait to see the next one."

A fan with the username Vedwards echoed those sentiments.

"In addition to stealing Florida's coach, South Carolina has been recruiting Florida's talent very heavily. Some of the recruits had offers from the big three, some didn't. Regardless, those guys that left their home state will want to prove that they made the right decision."

But several fans dismissed the notion that South Carolina was a rival. If anything, they suggested the rivalry is with Spurrier.

"This would be Florida's fifth rivalry," suggested VolMike98. "You can not have a rivalry every game of the season. Florida already has Florida State, Miami, Georgia, Tennessee and now South Carolina? This will only be a little bit of a rivalry until Spurrier leaves. Then it is over."

WVU-Louisville too new?
Meanwhile, the Big East bash between West Virginia and Louisville is just getting started.

Louisville joined the Big East in 2005, and the game with West Virginia has had a huge impact in the last two seasons.

The Mountaineers won in '05, defeating Louisville in triple overtime. Louisville defeated West Virginia 44-34 on a Thursday night last season en route to claiming the conference crown.

"West Virginia and Louisville is definitely the best new rivalry in college football," wrote CardinalHype. "No Thursday night game had ever been viewed by as many people as last year's West Virginia and Louisville game. Everyone was saying that whoever won that game had a national championship shot. They are the two powers of the Big East and will continue to win the Big East for the next four to five years until someone else finally steps up."

But not everyone agreed with that.

"I can't see West Virginia and Louisville because it's the Big East and Louisville was in Conference USA three years ago," wrote OrlBuckeye, obviously an Ohio State fan. The game is exciting because the teams are pretty equal, but I don't see any game played on Thursday being the biggest rivalry."

No love lost in the Big 12
The annual Texas A&M-Texas Tech series, which Tech leads 8-3 since the formation of the Big 12 Conference, likely didn't draw as much support because neither team has won the conference championship since 1998.

However, if blatant disdain was an overriding factor in the rankings then that rivalry surely would have drawn more votes.

"The best test theory would be to put on the away team's gear and go to the particular game mentioned," Duffman81 wrote. "Wearing Aggie gear in Lubbock, hands down, would be the worst experience of the five. Tipped over buses are cute: Having batteries and beer bottles thrown at you is another story."

The Nebraska-Kansas State series might be re-emerging as a rivalry, especially since Wildcats quarterback Josh Freeman originally committed to the Cornhuskers.

However, there was great debate on whether that game is viewed as a rivalry north of the Kansas border.

One Nebraska reader challenged the Wildcats to "put up a fight" (NU had won 29 consecutive games in the series at one point) before proclaiming a rivalry with the Cornhuskers. That post prompted Kansas State fan djdouble_d to respond: "Put up a fight every now and then? K-State handed the Huskers their butts three years in a row from 2002-2004. I was just waiting for Nebraska to put up a fight again."

Such feuds add to the fun of college football. And that's why some readers were incredulous that college football's "family feud" wasn't on the ballot of emerging rivalries.

"As far as recent rivalries go, you can't leave out what is being commonly referred to as the 'Bowden Bowl' Clemson vs. Florida State," wrote Phowson, a Clemson fan.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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