We could use a dozen different subjective measures to rank the seven in-state rivalry games that will feature SEC teams this weekend. But from a viewer’s perspective, nothing beats watching a competitive game.
Today we’ll look at the last decade of the SEC’s rivalry series -- Auburn-Alabama, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson and Vanderbilt-Tennessee -- and rank them based upon which series have been the closest on the scoreboard. It’s not as fun as debating mutual dislike or historical significance, but it’s one objective way to measure matchup quality.
Even scoring differential is an imperfect indicator of game control, however. For instance, did you know that Auburn has not defeated Alabama by more than 10 points in any game since 1969? Does that blow anyone else’s mind?
There were times in the last 46 years that Auburn put more than a 10-point win’s worth of whupping on Alabama -- Brodie Croyle could attest to that in 2005 -- but the final score said otherwise. That can happen with a one-game sample size. Over a wider timespan, average margin of victory seems like a reasonable indicator of whether the teams play close games.
So let’s take a look at which of these seven in-state series have been the best lately:
1. Georgia-Georgia Tech (Georgia 8-2 between 2005 and 2014)
Average margin of victory: 10 points per game
Average score: Georgia 31.2-Georgia Tech 23
All-time series: Georgia 64-40-5
Breakdown: Georgia has dominated the win-loss column in the Mark Richt era, but few of Richt’s victories in this series have been cakewalks. The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets have gone to overtime in each of the last two years, splitting the two games. Richt has never lost to Tech in Atlanta, where Saturday’s game will be played.
2. Tennessee-Vanderbilt (Tennessee 7-3 in last 10)
Average margin of victory: 11.3 ppg
Average score: Tennessee 24.6-Vanderbilt 19.1
All-time series: Tennessee 74-30-5
Breakdown: Tennessee had won 22 in a row when Jay Cutler helped Vandy finally break the Volunteers’ stranglehold with a 28-24 win in 2005. The Commodores won two in a row under James Franklin (2012 and 2013, the first of which was a 41-18 victory in Derek Dooley’s final game as Tennesee’s coach), but Tennessee remains in control of the series overall. However, this game is frequently close, with five of the last 10 settled by seven points or less.
3. Kentucky-Louisville (Louisville 6-4 in last 10)
Average margin of victory: 12.3 ppg
Average score: Louisville 29.6-Kentucky 25.7
All-time series: Kentucky 14-13
Breakdown: Louisville has won the last four, but this series features lots of close games. Six times in the last decade has the winning margin been seven points or less. Outliers are Louisville’s 59-28 win in 2006 and Kentucky’s 27-2 victory in 2008. Another oddity is that the teams have traded four-game winning streaks dating back to 2003.
4. South Carolina-Clemson (South Carolina 6-4 in last 10)
Average margin of victory: 12.8 ppg
Average score: South Carolina 24.7-Clemson 20.1
All-time series: Clemson 66-42-4
Breakdown: South Carolina was 6-4 against Clemson in the Steve Spurrier era -- including a five-game winning streak between 2009 and 2013 -- but he’s gone and it feels like Dabo Swinney’s time. Clemson snapped the Gamecocks’ winning streak with a 35-17 win last year and the top-ranked Tigers are favored by 17.5 points Saturday.
T5. Ole Miss-Mississippi State (Mississippi State 6-4 in last 10)
Average margin of victory: 16 ppg
Average score: Mississippi State 23, Ole Miss 22.8
All-time series: Ole Miss 62-43-6
Breakdown: Mississippi State won three in a row between 2009 and 2011, but this series has been back and forth over the last decade -- particularly once Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze arrived on the scene. Ole Miss claimed a 45-0 win in 2008 and State has wins of 35-14 in 2005 and 31-3 in 2011. The home team typically has the edge and Mullen’s Bulldogs are at home this year.
T5. Auburn-Alabama (Series tied 5-5 in last 10)
Average margin of victory: 16 ppg
Average score: Alabama 30.6-Auburn 20.8
All-time series: Alabama 43-35-1
Breakdown: When Auburn wins, the finishes are more likely to be memorable -- think the “Camback” and a 28-27 win in 2010 or Chris Davis and the “Kick Six” in 2013 -- but there are also some major snoozers where Alabama has pummeled the Tigers (36-0 in 2008 and 49-0 in 2012). Alabama is 5-3 in the Iron Bowl since Nick Saban took over as coach in 2007 and is a 13.5-point favorite on the Plains on Saturday.
7. Florida-Florida State (Florida 6-4 in last 10)
Average margin of victory: 20.8 ppg
Average score: Florida 25.9-Florida State 19.7
All-time series: Florida 34-23-2
Breakdown: Florida beat the Seminoles in a rout for most of the Urban Meyer era, which is one reason for the wide victory margins in the last decade of this series. Jimbo Fisher and Florida State have won four of the last five, however, and have won by at least two touchdowns in all but one of those games.