No where in all of sports do rivalries measure up to what you see in college football. You’ll build an entire Friday and Saturday around your team and the team you love to hate. They are the types of games not found at the professional level or even in college basketball, baseball, or hockey. Sure, some will say the Red Sox and Yankees, or the Dodgers and San Francisco. All quality games, but they don’t measure up.
It’s just different in college. Say what you will about who made the cut and who didn’t, or why one rivalry game isn’t as good as the other. Each conjures an image or memory of a cold Saturday, yelling, lamenting, or celebrating like you personally played in the game. It’s a slice of Americana like no other.
Here are the Top 10 college football games of all time.
- Army versus Navy
The annual renewing of this rivalry game is more than just bragging rights. Both service academies met on the field for the first time on November 29th, 1890, and for a number of years figured prominently in the chase for a National Championship. For two teams who once dominated the college football landscape, it hasn’t been since 1963 that the service academies would have a winning record when they met for the annual event. It’s a game of such national importance that in the wake of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy urged the academies to play after there had been discussions of canceling the game. It was originally scheduled for November 30th, 1963 but moved to December 7th, the same date that marked the 22nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. Played in front of nearly 102,000 spectators. Number two ranked Navy would beat Army as quarterback Roger Staubach led the Cadets to the win, and secure a spot in the Cotton Bowl where they would play Texas.
- Harvard versus Yale
Hailed as “The Game”, Harvard and Yale go back to November 13, 1875 when they first met on the gridiron. The game features no trophy or a berth in postseason play. It is only about bragging rights and occasionally has decided the Ivy League Championship. While only available to a regional television audience, it is still one of the most significant college football games on the football calendar. Sports Illustrated ranked the annual rivalry sixth-best among college rivalry games behind Alabama–Auburn, UCLA–USC, Army–Navy and Cal–Stanford. For the series, Yale leads with 68 wins and 61 losses. There has also been eight ties.
- Notre Dame versus USC
The Fighting Irish and the Trojans have met a total of 92 times with Notre Dame holding a 48-36-5 lead in the annual game. Beginning in 1926, this rivalry game is known to be one of the most fought games in all of college football. These two blue bloods have a combined 24 National Championships as well 14 Heisman Trophy winners. To add to the excellence of these two programs each school has had a number of All-American players. Notre Dame has the most with 102, while USC has had 82. Games of note include the 1968 meeting that ended in a 21-21 tie. The Trojans entered the game undefeated and with the No. 1 ranking. Joe Theisman would start for the injured Terry Hanratty. On his second play of the day, the Irish quarterback would throw an interception that resulted in a quick 7-0 Trojan advantage. In 2005, USC would travel to South Bend and come away with a 34-31 win in a game known as the “Bush Push”. There were National Championship implications and the Trojans would lose to Texas 41-38 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
- California versus Stanford
Another “Big Game” on the annual college football schedule is Cal against Stanford. This classic was first played in 1892, is the oldest rivalry game played in the Western portion of the United States. In 1933, the winning school was awarded the Stanford Axe, a trophy that has been part of many student pranks, most specifically when it was stolen by the opposing school. The “Big Game” featured a play that has gone down in the history of college football. Named “The Play”, the PAC-10 rivals would stage a moment that baffled the eye and was dazzling in its outcome. With the Golden Bears holding a lead, John Elway would take the Cardinal down the field to a touchdown. The likely win would send Stanford to the Hall of Fame Bowl and launch Elway. With four seconds left on the game clock, the Cal return team would lateral the ball five times as Kevin Moen, who initially received the kickoff, would score the winning touchdown with no time left on the clock. The Stanford band came on the field to celebrate, and in the endzone, Moen would knock down trombone player Gary Tyrrell. Cal would win 25-20 with Stanford media recording the final score, Stanford 20, Cal 19.
- BYU versus UTAH
The “The Holy War”. For all the great college football rivalries, BYU and Utah have cornered the market when it comes to the name of a big game. First played in 1896 and with 101 games played against each other, the all-time series record is a disputed 62-35-4 according to Utah, while BYU claims a different record of 59-34-4. Isn’t this what college rivalries are all about? From 1922 to 2010, both schools played in the Western Athletic Conference and then the Mountain West. During the years in the Mountain West, “The Holy War” often decided the conference champion. In 2011, Utah went to what is now the PAC-12, while the Cougars decided on becoming an Independent. The Utes would interrupt the series to play Michigan in 2014 and 2015. The two year hiatus would be cut short when both BYU and Utah would play in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl. The game would be called “The Holy War In Sin City”. During the 1980 edition of this classic, BYU quarterback Jim McMahon was leading an absolute blowout against Utah. After throwing for another touchdown in the 56-6 Cougar win, he pointed to the scoreboard at Rice-Eccles Stadium to quiet the hecklers. BYU would finish the season 12-1.