Ranking the Rivalries

One of the most interesting things about Gator football is that Florida has so darned many rivalries. Of course, getting a consensus on which teams are truly "rivals" and in what order of importance they rate isn't easy. For argument's sake, let me offer up my definition of a "rivalry".

A rivalry is an annual opponent that raises the excitement and intensity level by the sheer mention of its name.

Using that definition I believe the Gators have five rivals. Each of those five games means a little something extra to Gator Nation, but depending on what "era" you came up during your order will vary greatly. Still, let's get a discussion going about whether or not all five of these schools qualify by my (or your) definition as rivals and whether or not the order fits your mindset.

#5 LSU ----- When the SEC switched to a single annual rival Florida had to lose either Auburn or LSU, and with the longer standing Auburn/Georgia rivalry in place LSU remained. This game always has a special "flavor" when it's on the road and both teams have a habit of playing very well in the other guys' stadium. As good as the two teams have been lately the importance of the game has been growing, but the intensity off the field doesn't measure up to what happens on the field.

#4 South Carolina ----- This was not a rivalry before the greatest Gator of them all took over as the Gamecocks coach, and it won't be a rivalry five minutes after Steve Spurrier hangs them up. Until then, however this game has a special, albeit awkward feel. Spurrier denied the Gators a shot at Atlanta three years ago and it took a blocked field goal in the final moments to keep SOS from ruining the 2006 season altogether.

#3 Tennessee ----- Gator fans who came of age in the mid-90s found this to be THE game in the SEC and sometimes the entire country during those glory years for the Gators and Vols. The two schools have a bizarre history with Doug Dickey and Bob Woodruff having served both, Spurrier having grown up in Tennessee, Ron Zook getting Vols' plays faxed to him by a disgruntled former Vols assistant and more. They have only played 37 times through the years, but in the last 19 seasons this one has been huge.

#2 Florida State ----- I never thought I would knock this one from the top spot, but recent reality mandates it. Perhaps it's because Bobby Bowden is about to turn 90 and is facing his seventh Gator coach. Maybe it's that Florida is losing fewer and fewer recruiting wars to the "School out West". Maybe it's because Florida has won four straight. No matter, this game has lost a good bit of its luster.

#1 Georgia ----- I began covering the Gators in 1979 and it didn't take long to see that Georgia was a game the Gators desperately wanted to win. And it didn't happen until 1984. Steve Spurrier made this his No. 1 game from day one on campus and then completely dominated the Dawgs in his 12 years on the sidelines. Mark Richt has Georgia on the upswing and many feel the Florida/Georgia winner will play for the BCS Championship this year. They are going head-to-head in recruiting more and more often. They play in Jacksonville every year with the stadium divided in half. It's THE game on the Florida schedule right now.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel


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