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4 Factors That Go into Making A Great College Football Rivalry Game

The 2023 college football season hasn’t started and I’m already waiting for rivalry week. I’m a fan from day one until the CFP title game, but there’s something about rivalry week that hits differently. It’s not even about landing the best college football bets. When it comes to rivalry week, college football odds take on a completely different meaning.

Be it that teams are playing for a cup, trophy, or any piece of memorabilia, winning in rivalry week is where it’s at. Bragging rights for example never become as important as when historic college rivals go head-to-head on the gridiron.

4 Factors That Go into Making A Great College Football Rivalry Game
Caleb Williams #13 of the USC Trojans - Ron Jenkins/Getty Images/AFP

But what makes a college football rivalry game go from existing to great? You know, what makes a “Team A vs Team B” rivalry climb to the likes of a USC vs Notre Dame, or Ohio State vs Michigan?

There are a lot of factors to consider, from the geographic location of the schools to game-day atmospheres and others. We bring you four pivotal factors.

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1. Tradition

Some of the most important college football rivalries have one thing in common: They are as old as they are intense. Take the USC vs Notre Dame clash for example. It’s one of the most important rivalries, having been played almost non-stop since 1926.

And that’s not even the oldest rivalry game. That honor goes to Minnesota vs Wisconsin, with the Golden Gophers and Badgers having played for the first time in 1890 until today.

The tradition of a long-standing rivalry against another school, which is usually settled on the football field annually, is something that makes college sports that much more emotional than others. We’re talking about a matchup that transcends generations and can move masses fueled by their undying love for any of the schools playing.

There’s always a special pre-game, in-game or post-game ritual that each team does, especially the home squads, that makes the event different. Fans behave differently with shows of school pride bursting everywhere.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your school is doing well, these games mean something else, because winning is part of that tradition that plays an important role.

2. Title Contention Implications

There are games, and then there’s “The Game.” You know, the Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Michigan. Every year, these teams bring the house down whether at the Buckeyes’ Horseshoe or Michigan’s Big House.

Do you know what makes this game more special? Almost every year, both teams are in a race to try and earn a spot in the CFP championship picture.

When on top of a heated rivalry you throw in conference title and playoff implications into the mix, you automatically get must-watch spectacles. Other great examples are, again, Notre Dame vs. USC or Auburn vs. Alabama in the SEC.

If losing in a rivalry game stings plenty, imagine your title or playoff aspirations take a massive hit. It’s something that no team can afford.

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3. Hatred

Call it bad blood, odium, antagonism, whatever you want. When it comes to college football rivalries, nothing spices up the scene more than some good old-fashioned hatred. Be it because of geographical proximity, like the North Carolina vs NC State rivalry, or Oregon vs Oregon State rivalry, formerly known as “The Civil War.” Or simply because historical bad blood amongst both schools makes for a much tenser and action-filled game.

In a rivalry game, when there’s added hatred amongst rivals, sometimes the game ends up becoming the final straw of that season’s rivalry episode. From weeks before the event, schools and their respective alumni start the phycological warfare. There can be pranks, rallies, whatever you can think of to get the school spirit soaring.

4. OMG Moments

When it comes to a good rivalry game, there can never be enough “OMG moments” to make the legend that much bigger. Take Michigan’s Desmond Howard’s 93-yard punt return against Ohio State in 1991, with the best rendition of the Heisman Trophy winner pose to go with it. To this day that play continues to be one of the best, and most remembered of “The Game.”

Or how about Reggie Bush pushed Matt Leinart in the last second on Notre Dame’s 1-yard line to give the Trojans the win in 2005? The “Bush Push” as everyone knows it, was an illegal play. It shouldn’t have counted. But it did and thus became one of the rivalry’s most famous moments.

Nothing heightens the stigma game more than those moments that seem so farfetched until they happen. If you don’t believe me, look at Auburn’s “Kick Six” in 2013’s Iron Bowl.

To this day, Rod Bramblett’s call of the play remains one of the most passion-filled audibles in sports history. The former Auburn play-by-play announcer managed to make one of the most impactful plays in the history of the rivalry that much better.

Moments like those stand the test of time and make college football rivalry games different than other events.

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