This is the best weekend of the entire sports calendar. This Friday and Saturday will do more to define how good or bad people around the country feel in relation to their neighbors for the following 12 months than could any other series of games in any American sport.
Something with a name as pleasant as the Apple Cup is powered by sweet, sweet hate, as is the slightly less ambiguous Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Terrible teams with miserable fans can redeem it all, and no trophy case looks emptier than one that's just lent hardware across state. Not every game on the schedule is a rivalry, but hate is infectious. Feel it in your bones, North Texas and Western Kentucky!
We've decided to rank these games. Special thanks to panelists Bill Connelly, Brian Floyd, Bud Elliott and Spencer Hall for their assistance.
First, the rankings, which account for the stakes and watchability of this year's game, the age of the rivalry, the historical quality of both programs, campus proximity and HATE CULTURE, plus bonus points for important details like game nicknames and rivalry trophies. We'll explain our horribly flawed and biased* system below.
* We tried not to be horribly flawed and biased.
Congratulations! This all seems to all make sense, for the most part! Michigan-Ohio State and Auburn-Alabama are the two that matter most, but the latter is harmed this year by how terrible Auburn is. I'll be happy to explain any of our decisions in the comments. Now to explain each of those columns:
This refers only to this year's game and nothing else. Factored in:
The standings and championship Stakes of this year's game. Notre Dame-USC is the highest, as it most directly affects the national title -- it's not a 10, however, since there really aren't incredible stakes for USC. The last 10 would've been 2006 Michigan-Ohio State, which pitted No. 1 vs. No. 2. Games like Kentucky-Tennessee, which don't affect the postseason at all (and feature two coach firings!) are at the opposite end.
The Ranking factor uses combined F/+ rankings from Football Outsiders to objectively determine which games pair the best teams. Florida-Florida State combines two very good teams. Central Michigan-UMass does not.
And we must account for Watchability. Everyone will want to watch this year's Civil War. Only people in Alabama will watch the Iron Bowl this year, and even that's just because they have to.
Strictly data based around the rivalry's seasoning.
Meetings gives points to rivals who've played a lot of times. Oregon and Oregon State have done this almost as many times as anybody in the country, while West Virginia and Iowa State have never played.
Distinct from meetings is Age, since a game that goes back to your great-grandpa means a little bit more than a newer rivalry, even if it hasn't always been an annual deal. Arizona State-Arizona is the senior citizen here.
Rivalries also get credit for pairing historically great Programs. Michigan and Ohio State rank Nos. 1 and 2 on the all-time winning percentage list, which seemed like the simplest metric to use.
The most important factor, thus the one yielding the most points.
HATE is our strictly subjective estimation of the total annual hate output generated by each rivalry. Thus, its scale goes to 20, with 10 being a perfectly decent rivalry HATE amount. The Iron Bowl and Michigan-Ohio State produce fury that Arizona-ASU or Notre Dame-USC could only dream of.
We've also accounted for Demographics, which aims to determine how different or similar the opposing fan bases are and how that affects the rivalry. Virginia and Virginia Tech fans are wildly different people -- that's great! Clemson and South Carolina fans are wildly similar people who believe they're wildly different -- that's also great! We also agreed any games involving a few schools like LSU, Arkansas or Texas A&M get automatic Culture boosts, because those are weird people, man.
And Proximity ranks teams according to the road mileage between campuses. Notre Dame-USC suffers big time here, and we're not certain their fans really ever see each other outside of the game.
* We decided to give UConn-Louisville bonus HATE points for this year only, since it pretty much feels like a ticket out of the Big East is on the line.
Teams earn up to half a bonus point for rivalry trophies and rivalry nicknames. The results:
- Georgia Tech-Georgia: .5 points. It's called Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. The defense rests.
- LSU-Arkansas: .5 points.
- Oklahoma State-Oklahoma: .5 points. It's called Bedlam, with a Bedlam Bell trophy. Another easy call.
- Oregon-Oregon State: .5 points. The Civil War also yields the Platypus Trophy. This all might be worth like six full bonus points.
- Auburn-Alabama: .4 points. The Iron Bowl is a wonderful rivalry name, but we can't award the full bonus when something called the Sportsmanship Trophy is the prize.
- Indiana-Purdue: .4 points. The Old Oaken Bucket is actually only like Purdue's third-weirdest rivalry trophy.
- Illinois-Northwestern: .4 points. Do not be fooled. The Land of Lincoln Trophy is not a cake.
- Notre Dame-USC: .4 points. Look at this thing. That's insane.
- Troy-Middle Tennessee: .4 points. The Battle for Palladium, with one pretty amazing trophy.
- Washington-Washington State: .4 points. Both the game and its trophy are called the Apple Cup, and if every football game's nickname was based around regional exports we'd all be doing just fine.
- Mississippi State-Ole Miss: .3 points. The Egg Bowl and its Golden Egg trophy are delightfully weird.
- West Virginia-Iowa State: .3 points. Informally dubbed the Riot Bowl by our Smoking Musket and Wide Right Natty Lite. The two sites are also making their own very beautiful trophy.
- Florida-Florida State: .2 points. Sunshine Showdown is fine.
- Nebraska-Iowa: .2 points. Thought about docking points for their attempt to call this the Heroes Game, but somebody called it Farmageddon last year, so we'll go with that (there can be more than one Farmageddon -- it's in the Bible). Also, there's a trophy.
- Texas State-UTSA: .2 points. They've never played football against each other, and they've already gone nickname-and-trophy.
- Marshall-ECU: .1 point. It's unofficially been called "Conference USA's friendliest rivalry." We really like that.
- South Carolina-Clemson: .1 point. The Hardee's Trophy is a real thing, really named after the hamburger chain. This might be worth either 10 points or disqualification.
- Virginia Tech-Virginia: .1 point. It's a pretty boring trophy with a super boring name.
- Wisconsin-Penn State: .1 point. There was talk of a trophy. I don't know if that happened. Bonus for trying.
- Michigan State-Minnesota: .1 point. Our panel agreed that anyone who watches this game should be given a trophy.
The Golden Boot is a ~200lb, 4 ft tall blade of 24kt gold on a plinth. It has killed 4 people, and yet they still give it out each year— Pod Katt (@valleyshook) November 21, 2012
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