How Many Rivalries Does Tide Have?

I was proud of an observation I made many years ago to a Sports Illustrated reporter. We were discussing the upcoming Oklahoma game at Nebraska, which had huge national championship ramifications. The Cornhuskers were big favorites, but it was my opinion that “Only two people think Oklahoma will win -- (Oklahoma Coach) Barry Switzer and (Nebraska Coach) Tom Osborne.” The Sooners won.

How many rivals can a college football team have? It might seem that the answer would be “One.” But no one thinks Alabama has just one rival. Everyone agrees that the Crimson Tide has one rival by history and tradition – Tennessee – and one rival by geography – Auburn.

Truth be known, because Alabama thinks in terms of the national championship, in recent years the primary rival has been LSU, even though Bama has an unrivallike 48-25-5 record against the Fighting Tigers. Still, it is LSU that Bama has had to contend with for SEC superiority in recent years.

Alabama and Mississippi State have played one another 97 times in football and the colleges are only a bit over an hour apart, but no one outside of a Bulldogs partisan would consider it a rivalry when Bama owns a 76-18-3 record. Alabama vs. Vanderbilt was a nice series, albeing one-sided (59-19-4) in the Tide’s favor, before the Southeastern Conference went to divisional play. For some reason, there is a long history of Tuscaloosa students heading to Vandy and Nashville students attending UA. That was just one rivalry that was a victim of Bama adding Arkansas and South Carolina to the league.

The reluctance of 13 of the 14 head coaches in the SEC (Nick Saban is the exception) to an expansion to nine league games prevents games like Alabama vs. Vanderbilt from being more frequent. Also games like Alabama-Georgia, Alabama-South Carolina, Alabama-Florida, etc.

When Oklahoma and Nebraska were kingpins of the Big Eight, that was an obvious national rivalry. But Oklahoma also played Texas every year at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, another national rivalry. (That non-conference rivalry continues.) Presumably, Oklahoma also considers Oklahoma State a rivalry.

In the Southeastern Conference, Auburn has Alabama and Georgia as rivals. Tennessee has Alabama, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. Georgia also has three – Auburn, Florida, and Georgia Tech, which left the SEC half a century ago.

Georgia is not the only team with a non-conference rival. For South Carolina there is Clemson, and for Florida it is Florida State, both of the ACC.

Tulane left the SEC about the same time as Georgia Tech, but LSU has dropped the Green Wave as a rival. LSU would probably consider its rivals to be Ole Miss and Texas A&M, and possibly Bama.

Conference expansion damaged some rivalries. When Arkansas moved from the now defunct Southwest Conference to the SEC in 1992, it ended its long rivalry with Texas. When Texas A&M came into the SEC in 2012, the Longhorns ditched the Aggies. In that same year, Missouri came into the SEC and Kansas ended its long rivalry against Mizzou. With the SEC mandating an annual game against a team from one of the other four big five leagues, perhaps some of those former rivalries can be rekindled.

Is it possible that another rivalry is on the horizon for Alabama? It’s possible with six SEC Western Division opponents if one would rise up, as LSU has under Nick Saban and Les Miles. Or, perhaps, that mandated game against a major non-conference opponent will result in a regular home-and-away series against a fellow blue blood of college football.

Alabama competes against the nation, but doesn’t seem to have compelling aspirations for a long term series against one of the nation’s other top powers. The Crimson Tide has been content to play a major college team on irregular basis in neutral site (Atlanta, Arlington, Jacksonville) games.

It will be interesting to see if the perceived stirrings of a series against USC – a thin, but influential series of the past – might yeild a rivalry in the future.

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