College athletics are loved for their rich traditions and long history. Rivalries are perhaps the best slice of all in college sports. These matchups are as intense as it gets with schools, teams and fans expressing pure hatred for each other. This is more than a rivalry for one game. Year-round, these colleges and universities have an innate dislike and disgust for each other.
Select rivalries became famous for their heated tradition in one particular sport, while other rivalries have transcended to multiple sports in college athletics. In college sports, 15 rivalries stand out among the rest.
15. UCLA vs USC
First up on the list is the crosstown rivalry between UCLA and USC.
This matchup reaches its peak in college football, where the two first met in 1929 and have played 83 games. The winner of their annual rivalry matchup takes home the Victory Bell — the trophy associated with UCLA vs. USC in college football. The rivalry has lost its luster with both programs being down, but the Trojans should finally improve with the hiring of Lincoln Riley.
UCLA and USC’s rivalry in college basketball is not a huge rivalry as it is in college football, but it’s gaining traction. Both programs are relevant in college basketball and have enjoyed recent success. This could become a fun rivalry in college basketball while both programs are at the forefront of the Pac-12.
14. Georgetown vs Villanova
In college basketball, Georgetown vs. Villanova is one of the sport’s most storied rivalries. Both programs are among the Big East’s original Catholic universities.
They have played each other since 1922; the two have played twice a season since 1980. The rivalry reached its peak when they met in the 1985 National Championship. The Wildcats were a massive underdog against a dominant Georgetown team. Villanova pulled off one of college basketball’s biggest upsets, winning 66-64.
Unfortunately, the rivalry has not been near as good in recent years with Georgetown struggling. Villanova has dominated the matchup, going 8-2 in the last 10 meetings. Their meeting in the 2021 Big East Tournament is the only recent memorable game. Georgetown pulled off a massive upset and took down the one-seed Villanova.
13. Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State
The Bedlam Series is a heated in-state rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The term bedlam came from a reporter at an OSU vs. OU wrestling matchup. Since then, the Bedlam Series has stuck.
This rivalry transcends to multiple sports. As mentioned, the Bedlam Series came from wrestling. In recent years, this has been a big rivalry in both college football and basketball. Oklahoma has a 90-19-7 all-time record vs. Oklahoma State in football. However, the rivalry has been competitive and entertaining in recent years. Last season, the Cowboys beat Oklahoma for the first time since 2014.
12. Iowa vs Iowa State
Iowa and Iowa State is another fiery in-state rivalry. Like OU vs. OSU, this is another rivalry that shines in several sports.
The two have faced each other in men’s basketball since 1909 and since 1894 in football. Iowa leads the series 48-22 in football. Games have been competitive in recent years, especially with Matt Campbell at the helm of Iowa State. However, the Cyclones cannot get over the hump and have lost six straight.
In men’s basketball, the series has been almost evenly split since 1949. Iowa leads the series 29-24 since 1949. The series is split at 5-5 in the last 10 matchups. Overall, this in-state rivalry has always brought plenty of passion and tradition to college athletics.
11. Michigan vs Notre Dame
Michigan and Notre Dame are iconic programs in college football. From 1978 to 2014, Michigan vs. Notre Dame was one of the biggest rivalries in the sport. The schools battled in 31 of the 37 seasons during that span.
They had a home-and-home series in 2018 and 2019 where the games were split. Michigan and Notre Dame will not meet again until their next home-and-home series in 2033 and 2034.
The Wolverines lead the series at 25-18-1. This rivalry is good for the sport since it includes two of the most storied programs in college football history. Michigan and Notre Dame need to meet more often.
10. Florida State vs Miami
The ACC foes Florida State and Miami have clashed since 1951. It quickly became one of the best rivalries in college football. The rivalry really kicked off in the late 1980s through the 1990s when the matchup began to have national title implications.
The Hurricanes won four national championships from 1983 to 1991, while FSU won in 1993 and 1999. Both programs have been down for a while. The Miami alum Mario Cristobal looks like a promising hire for the Hurricanes, but things look bleak for the Seminoles.
9. Michigan vs Michigan State
In-state rivalries are truly some of the best in college sports. Michigan vs. Michigan State is yet another intense in-state matchup.
This rivalry has turned up a notch in the last 15 years. Since Michigan hired John Beilein in 2007, MSU vs. U-M has been one of the best rivalries in college basketball. The Spartans are always relevant with Tom Izzo and the Wolverines have enjoyed more success with Juwan Howard.
For college football, this rivalry also increased its intensity since 2007 when Michigan’s Mike Hart called MSU “little brother.” Since the little brother comment, Michigan State has gone 10-4 vs. Michigan. This rivalry has delivered fantastic games in recent years, like the punter botched the snap and the Spartans returned it for a TD in 2015.
8. Florida vs Georgia
Florida and Georgia have one of the best traditions among rivalries in college football. They have met on a neutral field in Jacksonville, Florida, every season since 1933, except for a brief home-and-home in 1994 and 1995.
This rivalry dates to 1915 and Georgia leads the series 53-44-2. The series is split at 4-4 over the last eight seasons. In the SEC, Florida vs. Georgia gets overshadowed by Alabama vs. Auburn. The rivalry between Florida and Georgia deserves more shine, making it one of the most underrated rivalries in college athletics.
7. USC vs Notre Dame
USC vs. Notre Dame stretches to 1926. Notre Dame leads the series with a 50-36-5 record.
Like several of the best rivalries in college football, this involves two of the best programs in the sport. In the 1970s, this was a massive battle that had huge national title implications. Notre Dame won a national championship in 1973 and 1977, while USC won national titles in 1972, 1974, and 1978.
While USC has been down, the rivalry has not been as good since little has been at stake. However, the Trojans could be back quickly with Lincoln Riley and the Fighting Irish should have similar success with their new Head Coach Marcus Freeman.
6. Army vs Navy
Army and Navy have one of the most unique rivalries in college sports. Some consider this rivalry the best in college football due to its long history.
The two first met in 1890 and have faced each other in every season since 1930. The game was even played during World War II. The series also canceled its 1917 and 1918 games due to World War I. Army vs. Navy has been nationally televised since 1945.
This game is a part of American culture and is a vital rivalry in college athletics. Even in the modern-day, Army vs. Navy is still a huge event that gets its own spotlight a week after conference title games.
5. Kentucky vs Louisville
The Battle of the Bluegrass is a massive battle in college basketball. Kentucky vs. Louisville is widely considered the second-best rivalry in college basketball. The universities first battled in 1913 and have played in nearly every season since 1983. Kentucky leads the series 37-17.
They have faced six times in the NCAA Tournament. In 2012, Kentucky and Louisville had a showdown in the Final 4. The rivalry has not been the same since Lousiville fired Rick Pitino — the former national-title-winning Kentucky Head Coach — amid scandals. However, the Cardinals hired the former Kentucky assistant and Louisville alumni Kenny Payne this offseason. This rivalry could be quickly reignited.
4. Oklahoma vs Texas
The neutral site of the Red River Showdown is one of the best traditions in college football. There’s nothing like seeing a stadium split down the middle between burnt orange Texas fans and crimson Oklahoma fans.
Oklahoma vs. Texas dates to 1900 with Texas leading the series at 62-50-5. This is another rivalry between two of the most iconic brands in college football.
The last two matchups in 2020 and 2021 were superb games. In 2020, it took four overtimes to decide the victor. In 2021, Oklahoma trailed by 21 points. The Sooners scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to stun the Longhorns in a comeback win.
3. Alabama vs Auburn
The Iron Bowl debuted in 1893, and Alabama leads the series at 48-37-1. Alabama is widely considered the best program in college football history. Auburn has always given the Crimson Tide stiff competition and pulled off several shockers over the years.
One classic game that comes to mind is Auburn’s kick six in 2013. This is one of the greatest and most memorable plays in college football history.
Every good rivalry has interesting stories to tell as well. In 2011, an Alabama fan poisoned 80-year-old oak trees on Auburn’s campus that were important to the university. The trees of course died and the Crimson Tide fan faced charges. What was the fan’s reasoning? He did not like Alabama’s rival Auburn.
The Iron Bowl will always be one of the best rivalries across college sports.
2. Duke vs North Carolina
At No. 2 is the best rivalry in college basketball. Intense and brutal rivalries are hard to come by in college basketball when compared to college football. However, Duke vs. UNC is an exception.
They first met in 1920, 257 games later North Carolina leads the series at 142-115. Duke vs. North Carolina became iconic once Mike Krzyzewski had Duke rolling. This rivalry now includes two of the best programs in college basketball history. Through the years, this matchup has produced countless iconic moments.
On Saturday, the teams meet in the Final 4. We could be in store for another classic.
1. Ohio State vs Michigan
The most intense and brutal rivalry of them all is Ohio State vs. Michigan. This rivalry became iconic from their matchups in college football, but it has since extended to several sports like college basketball. Each program is top three in all-time wins in college football with iconic brands.
Their annual meeting in college football is referred to as “The Game.” OSU vs. U-M needs no flashy nickname for their rivalry. People who watch the game know what it’s about. Heck, Ohio State won’t even say the word Michigan. Instead, they refer to Michigan as T.T.U.N. (That Team Up North).
It has always been a slugfest with a physical battle in the trenches. It has involved iconic coaching battles, like Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler in the 10-year war.
What puts this rivalry over the top is its carry-over to other sports. Rivalries like Alabama vs. Auburn and Duke vs. UNC are massive in one particular sport. But Ohio State vs. Michigan has become a bitter rivalry in nearly every college sport across the board.
That sums it up for the top 15 rivalries in college sports. Rivalries in college football notably make up a large portion of the list. Perhaps this is due to football’s physical nature that allows players to take out their frustration on opposing players.
Tell us who you think are the top rivalries in college sports!