The Best Rivalries of the Last Five Years
The off-season rolls on; athletes are trying to build up or slim down, work on technique, take summer classes, or get comfortable shedding a DB. The work that prepares them for fall camp will also set them up for the pressure of a rivalry game. Usually at the end of the season, they'll take the field against a program that has played on that field for decades.
In the meantime, let's look at some of the greatest rivalries over the last few years, including one that's been a long-standing fight in the state of Alabama.
Five seasons ago, this rivalry hadn't quite started yet. The match-up in 2009 featured a #7 Oregon team with a rookie head coach, losing to a recent doormat program led by a grizzled former quarterback. Harbaugh was still building up the Cardinal program, fresh off a 5-7 season, en route to 8-5, and only a few years removed from a dreadful, 1-11 campaign that got Walt Harris fired. The Cardinal hadn't 'arrived' yet. Though they did manage to beat the Ducks, UO still went on to the Rose Bowl, where they lost to Ohio State, 26-17.
Over the next four years, one of the teams would be undefeated going into every match-up. 2010 was Harbaugh's last year, and it was his first and only dominant Cardinal team: 12-1, #4 in the country. At UO, Chip Kelly was getting acclimated, and had already started a streak of four consecutive BCS appearances. The old DB beat Harbaugh this time, and made it to the title game against Cam Newton. Stanford started their own streak of four BCS appearances by playing in the Orange Bowl, while the Ducks also finished 12-1, and were #3.
Oregon would see the Rose Bowl again in 2011, before Stanford made it the next two years. Both teams were spectacular in '11 (#4 and #7) but didn't challenge for the title. Oregon beat Stanford again, and before the 2012 season David Shaw admitted they had an "Oregon problem." It was only in '12 that Stanford started exacting revenge for that 2010 season that had its only loss of the year come to the Ducks. Oregon entered the game 10-0, #1 in the country, and got out-passed by 4 yards in the game, out-rushed by 2 yards, and won the turnover battle by 2, but Stanford tied it near the end of regulation on a 78-yard drive and eventually gutted out a win. Ryan Hewitt had a key 2-yard run on 4th and 1 to set up the tying touchdown. It would be the only loss Oregon suffered that year.
Stanford got to them again in 2013 with the Ducks ranked #2 and 8-0, but this time both foes lost games they shouldn't have and finished ninth and tenth in the country. Both teams will have a chance at redemption as they duel for the Pac-12 North title again this year. Mark Helfrich is no longer a rookie coach (they are 0-3 in these games), but the difference between the two squads could come down to the offensive line - in a twist of expectations, it favors Oregon. Stanford loses all but one starter and Oregon's offensive line has transformed in the off-season, gaining a collective 150 pounds. They've put the blame of losing two of the season's final three games on their shoulders, and they're determined to win the battle on the line. Both Marcus Mariota and Kevin Hogan return, but the Cardinal lose more talent on defense as well as running back Tyler Gaffney (1709/5.2).
Stanford • 51-42
Oregon • 52-31
Oregon • 53-30
Stanford • 17-14 (OT)
Stanford • 26-20
Working hard to achieve your dream, and having that be taken away by one team multiple times, is going to stoke the fire of any meeting, and these teams have usually been the ones standing in each others' way. The 2007 game was dubbed the 'Saban Bowl' in his first year against a team he had coached, and full of players he'd signed. The eventual champion Tigers won in Tuscaloosa, but it was tied until 2:49 left in the game. The season after, Alabama was the #1 ranked team and slipped past the Tigers in overtime, but would later lose to Urban Meyer's Gators in the SEC Championship Game.
Then, five years ago, Bama won their first in a string of championships. Mark Ingram beat out Stanford's Toby Gerhart for the Heisman, and he ran over the Tigers for 144 yards. He was the star the next year, too, but his 97 yards were more controlled and Les Miles ate some grass and then dialed up this play to help his 10th-ranked Tigers upset the #6 Tide. The two teams combined for 21-5 and finished eighth and tenth in the country.
The Game of the Century, 2011 Edition, followed, and then the championship. Much has been made about it, but two of the better defenses of all time played in those games. It felt like the Tigers could have beaten the Tide the next year, too, if Les Miles had stuck to a 60-minute game, but he tried fourth-down trickery to very bad effect, and basically gave the game away. Finally, the 2013 match that started as a slugfest turned into a chokehold in the second half when Saban and Nussmeier took the ball out of McCarron's hands and rode the ground game to a dominating win.
Two new starting quarterbacks, fresh faces on defense, and an increasingly deep SEC slate make it a mystery as to whether these teams will be ranked in the top five (they're talented enough) or only in the top ten or fifteen (they're unproven enough). LSU faces Wisconsin, Auburn, Florida, and the two Mississippi teams before the November 8th meeting while Alabama will square off with Texas A&M without Manziel, Florida, and Ole Miss. LSU has complained over the last few years about protected cross-divisional games affecting their strength of schedule (they have a rivalry with Florida), and the Tigers have a brutal slate again this year.
Alabama • 24-15
LSU • 24-21
LSU • 9-6 (OT)
Alabama • 21-0
Alabama • 21-17
Alabama • 38-17
I saved the best for last. This is a true rivalry, but over the last five years it's also been red-hot. One or the other has appeared in the last five national championships, and they own four of them. Two of the last five Heisman winners came from these two teams, and they're led by highly paid and motivated coaches who pull in a lot of talent.
Greg Robinson, Tre Mason, and defensive players Dee Ford, Chris Davis, and safety Ryan Smith all depart for the Auburn Tigers. Their defense will be the storyline going into fall with Ellis Johnson getting a second year to improve on the 86th-ranked defense a year ago. They return a 4-2-5 defense, as opposed to Alabama's 3-4.
Defense is getting increasingly treacherous in the SEC - they have to account for elite power running in one week (Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Arkansas) and up-tempo attacks the next (Auburn, A&M, Ole Miss, now Florida). For the Tigers, not needing to rely so much on offense will take a lot of improvements from their returning linemen - Carl Lawson, tackles Montravius Adams and Gabe Wright are potential stars, but they have to replace Ford's 10.5 sacks, and the line was often their best weapon to stopping opposing offenses. The secondary has at least a few solid players while linebacker, a weak spot a year ago, is awash with optimism and some position changes.
As for the Crimson Tide, they may be the only team in the SEC with enough depth, talent, and a favorable enough schedule to overcome the diverse and potent SEC - but even they have had problems with up-tempo. That may get drastically worse, or better, since only Landon Collins returns to the secondary, a position now coached by Kirby Smart. Smart hasn't produced many elite pass rushers at Alabama - partly due to the nature of the 3-4 - but they've expressed a need for it and are starting to recruit guys - like Jonathan Allen and Da'Shawn Hand - who fit into 4-3 schemes better. Alabama may be trying to convert to more 4-3, or else play their 3-4 a little differently with lighter and more agile defensive ends. (Again, it seems Hand won't be a Jack linebacker for Saban. They're getting a little smaller and faster.) Bama will face six teams with hurry-up elements this season.
Alabama • 26-21
Auburn • 28-27
Alabama • 42-14
Alabama • 49-0
Auburn • 34-28
The Minnesota-Wisconsin Rivalry
College football is a great mixture of culture, athletics, and, well, hate - and the Big Ten has a number of old rivalries that don't get quite the attention they deserve. None exactly matches Michigan-Ohio State, of course, in terms of the amount of actual hatred, but they do help make the college game a lot of fun to play. They also will have a regional undertone, except if you're talking about Army vs. Navy or Notre Dame vs. anybody who's not Notre Dame.
The yearly battle up north for
the Slab of Bacon Paul Bunyan's Axe is the oldest college football rivalry in FBS. They have played every single year since 1890, with the exception of 1906 when President Teddy Roosevelt suspended it because football rivalries were causing, in his view, injuries and deaths. The Slab of Bacon was only a thing from 1930 to 1943, until it was lost for 50 years, then recovered in a storage room in Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium. Apparently, a janitor had maintained it, because it had scores up until 1970.
Created by R. B. Fouch of Minneapolis, it is a piece of black walnut wood with a football at the center bearing a letter that becomes "M" or "W" depending on which way the trophy is hung. The word "BACON" is carved at both ends, implying that the winner has "brought home the bacon."
And I thought my jokes were bad. Anyway, ever since 1948 the two teams have used an axe that records all of the scores. The rivalry's very even - Minnesota leads 59-56-8 - and no team has dominated it longer than Wisconsin's current streak, which just hit a decade. In 2003 Minnesota won on a last-second field goal, and in 2005 a blocked kick was recovered in the end zone to give Wisconsin the win. Even if these two teams don't strictly hate each other, don't underestimate the importance of the rivalry to both sides. Starting this fall, the game will again be played at the finale of the regular season.
Hitting the Links Doesn't Like the Cold Bath
Of course, we won it in a blowout.
Here's the best photo I could find of it. Yes, Wisconsin just kept it.
So, this is a good tour, led by the great UO running back LaMichael James. It can feel a little long, though, more like an actual tour, so I'll give you some cheat times. He starts off showing us Autzen Stadium, then at 2:45 takes us into the Casanova Center, which has basically everything else. First you see the weight room, then at 5:21 he takes us into the training room. At 6:34 is the locker room and hang-out area, then at 7:48 is the trophy room.
I like Weisman; but I have not been a fan of Iowa's offense with him as the feature back. I respect the style of play but they need a little more speed if they want to break defenses' backs. BHGP will reiterate this but much more eloquently and talk about who can give them some of that speed.
I enjoyed this look at how Kill recruits; this was really well-organized and had a great dash of humor.
Coordinator Brian VanGorder is under the microscope here, and they talk in a lot of detail about how Notre Dame's defense might look. Skip down to 'The personnel (and potential problems)' to get at some of the larger take-aways in the middle of the changes they're making.
Tim Tebow is #2, and Johnny Manziel is #26, and Cam Newton is 55th. There's some stiff competition. No Michigan Men in the top 50.
I'd say this is good for at least a skim to see the graphs and rates of decline for quarterbacks after taking repeated sacks.
Michigan seems to be getting good enough at corner to put eight in the box, but good enough at the front four to drop everyone into coverage... hmmm. This could be a very fun year.
Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban have an interesting relationship. They started out working together at LSU, then Fisher hired Jeremy Pruitt (then the Tide's defensive backs coach) to coordinate the defense, which Pruitt did for one season en route to a championship. Now, Pruitt is off to Georgia, but Coker transferred over to Saban and Jimbo has said publicly he thinks the former back-up to Jameis Winston is the most talented QB Saban has had. Also, at one point, Fisher hired wide receivers coach Billy Napier, who Saban poached just a month later. It's a very rich, oddly symbiotic but competitive relationship between Bama and FSU.
This is an interesting read as it also talks about what Fisher was looking for in a defensive coordinator. It also goes into some more depth about how Fisher follows Saban's footsteps.
Football has shifted from a game of strength to a game of speed, but Chip Kelly - a pioneer of that - has used science and a very different line of thinking in promoting flexibility, endurance, and conditioning. He's taken that to the Eagles, but Helfrich is returning the Ducks to a little more old-fashioned way of doing things.
I'm dipping back into the NFL for this fascinating article about Chip Kelly's approach to the game of football.
Sammy Watkins was a freshman here. Eighty-two catches, 1,219 yards, twelve touchdowns.
Oh, those poor Ohio State fans.