Commentary

In-state rivalries are alive and well

Originally Published: November 23, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Nothing gets a college football fan's blood boiling like an in-state rivalry. The games mean more because they establish bragging rights for the next 364 days.

With Rivalry Week kicking off Thursday night, here's a look at the 10 best in-state rivalries that will be played in the final two weeks of the season:

[+] EnlargeCourtney Upshaw, Cam Newton
John Reed/US PresswireThe Iron Bowl carries even bigger stakes since the teams won back-to-back titles.

1. Alabama-Auburn

Upper hand last 10 years: Auburn, 7-3
Upper hand historically: Alabama, 40-34-1
Best moment: In the 1972 Iron Bowl, which is known simply as "Punt Bama Punt," the Tigers trailed No. 2 Alabama 16-3 with about six minutes to play. Auburn blocked two punts and returned both of them for touchdowns to stun the Crimson Tide 17-16, knocking them out of the national championship hunt.
Why it matters now: No. 2 Alabama has a chance to play in the Jan. 9 BCS National Championship Game -- even if it doesn't win the SEC West. The No. 24 Tigers can do what the Crimson Tide didn't do last season in Saturday's Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium -- knock their bitter rivals out of the BCS title game.

2. Oklahoma-Oklahoma State

Upper hand last 10 years: Oklahoma, 8-2
Upper hand historically: Oklahoma, 82-16-7
Best moment: Oklahoma has dominated the Bedlam Series, but Les Miles delivered two of the rivalry's biggest upsets as Oklahoma State's coach in 2001 and '02. The Cowboys had a 3-7 record and were 27-point underdogs going into the 2001 game at Oklahoma. But freshman quarterback Josh Fields came off the bench and fired a 14-yard touchdown to Rashaun Woods with 1:36 to go, leading the Pokes to a 16-13 upset of the No. 4 Sooners. Oklahoma State upset the No. 3 Sooners the next season 38-28.
Why it matters now: Next week's Bedlam game in Stillwater, Okla., might at least determine which team wins the Big 12 and gets an invitation to play in the Fiesta Bowl. The No. 4 Cowboys might still have a chance to play in the BCS title game, depending on what happens in the SEC West.

3. Texas-Texas A&M

Upper hand last 10 years: Texas, 7-3
Upper hand historically: Texas, 75-37-5
Best moment: Led by freshman running back Ricky Williams, who ran for 163 yards with two touchdowns, the Longhorns defeated the Aggies 16-6 in 1995, winning the last Southwest Conference championship. The No. 9 Longhorns ended No. 15 Texas A&M's 31-game home winning streak and won in College Station for the first time since 1983.
Why it matters now: Well, it means just about everything. After meeting 117 times since 1894, Thursday night's game in College Station might be the last time the Longhorns and Aggies play for quite a while (or even ever?). Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDanny Wuerffel
US PresswireFlorida State gave Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel fits.

4. Florida-Florida State

Upper hand last 10 years: Florida, 7-3
Upper hand historically: Florida, 33-20-2
Best moment: The Gators and Seminoles played twice during the 1996 season, with FSU upsetting No. 1 Florida 24-21 during the regular season. FSU's defense intercepted Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel three times and hit him throughout the game. The teams played again in the 1997 Sugar Bowl, with the Gators running away with a 52-20 rout to win their first national championship in football.
Why it matters now: Both teams have struggled this season, but FSU coach Jimbo Fisher seemed to turn the rivalry's momentum with a 31-7 victory over the Gators last season, which ended a six-game losing streak to UF. Gators coach Will Muschamp could really use an upset victory over FSU in the Swamp on Saturday.

5. Georgia-Georgia Tech

Upper hand last 10 years: Georgia, 9-1
Upper hand historically: Georgia, 61-39-5 (UGA disputes Tech's victories in 1943 and 1944, which came during World War II)
Best moment: Georgia trailed the Yellow Jackets 20-0 in Athens in 1978, when UGA coach Vince Dooley put freshman quarterback Buck Belue into the game. Belue guided the Dogs to three touchdowns, but they still trailed 28-21 in the final minutes. On fourth-and-4, Belue threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Amp Arnold, who then scored a two-point conversion on an option play for a 29-28 victory.
Why it matters now: Georgia has won nine games in a row and will be making the first of two consecutive trips to Atlanta to close the regular season. The Bulldogs will play in the Dec. 3 SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome. First, they'll have to win Saturday's game at Georgia Tech.

6. Clemson-South Carolina

Upper hand last 10 years: Clemson, 6-4
Upper hand historically: Clemson, 65-39-4
Best moment: After Clemson blew a 24-0 lead against South Carolina in 1977, the Tigers trailed the Gamecocks 27-24 in the final minute at Williams-Brice Stadium. Clemson quarterback Steve Fuller fired a 20-yard touchdown to Jerry Butler, who made a leaping catch before falling into the end zone with 49 seconds left in a 31-27 victory. The memorable play is still simply known as "The Catch."
Why it matters now: South Carolina will be aiming for its first three-game winning streak over the Tigers since 1968-70. The Gamecocks can also win 10 games in a season for only the second time in school history.

7. UCLA-USC

Upper hand last 10 years: USC, 7-1 (Trojans vacated wins in 2004 and '05)
Upper hand historically: USC, 43-28-7
Best moment: The 1967 game between the Bruins and Trojans was billed as the Game of the Century. The Bruins were 7-0-1 and ranked No. 1 in the country. The Trojans were 8-1 and ranked No. 4 in the country. With USC trailing 20-14 with about 10½ minutes to play, tailback O.J. Simpson ran for a 64-yard touchdown to give the Trojans a 21-20 victory. They later defeated Indiana 14-3 in the Rose Bowl and won a national championship.
Why it matters now: The Trojans are one of the country's hottest teams, but are ineligible to play in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions. The Bruins can clinch the Pac-12 South and punch their tickets to the inaugural Pac-12 championship game by defeating USC.

8. Oregon-Oregon State

Upper hand last 10 years: Oregon, 6-4
Upper hand historically: Oregon, 58-46-10
Best moment: The most exciting moment in the Civil War came in 1998, when the Beavers upset the Ducks 44-41 in double overtime. Oregon State fans rushed the field after the first overtime, but a pass-interference penalty gave the Ducks another chance. After officials needed more than 10 minutes to clear the field, Oregon scored to send the game into a second overtime. The Ducks kicked a field goal to make it 41-38, but Beavers running back Ken Simonton ran for a touchdown to win the game.
Why it matters now: The Ducks can clinch a Pac-12 North title and a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game by beating the Beavers for the fourth season in a row.

[+] EnlargeHouston Nutt
Matthew Sharpe/Getty ImagesWill the Rebels send coach Houston Nutt out with a win?

9. Ole Miss-Mississippi State

Upper hand last 10 years: Tied, 5-5
Upper hand historically: Ole Miss, 60-46-1
Best moment: With the score tied at 20 with 20 seconds to play in the 1999 Egg Bowl, Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe decided to run one more passing play instead of taking a knee and forcing overtime. Quarterback Romaro Miller's deep pass was deflected and bounced off the foot of State cornerback Robert Bean. The pass was intercepted by Eugene Clinton, who returned the ball deep into Ole Miss territory. Bulldogs kicker Scott Westerfield kicked a 44-yard field goal to give State a 23-20 victory.
Why it matters now: The Bulldogs need a victory to become bowl-eligible with a 6-6 record. The Rebels would like nothing more than to send away fired coach Houston Nutt with a victory.

10. Washington-Washington State

Upper hand last 10 years: Washington, 6-4
Upper hand historically: Washington, 66-31-6
Best moment: With the Cougars leading 27-14 in 1975 with less than three minutes to play, they inexplicably decided to throw a pass from the Washington 14. Safety Al Burleson intercepted the pass and returned it 93 yards for a touchdown. After the Huskies forced a punt, quarterback Warren Moon threw a pass into traffic, and the ball was deflected into the hands of Spider Gaines, who ran 78 yards for a touchdown and a 28-27 victory.
Why it matters now: The Huskies are bowl-eligible and the Cougars already have seven losses. But an upset of UW might get Cougars coach Paul Wulff off the hot seat for another season.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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