June 4, 2023

How to create a new rivalry

Iowa fans celebrate a win vs new rival Nebraska (Photo courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald)

Over the last decade in college athletics, numerous shifts in the landscape have caused a much different college football world in which we now live. As a result of this shift, many teams now play schedules against new teams or in entirely new conferences. As a result, new rivalries can emerge over time as teams become acclimated to scheduling changes. However, too many forced rivalries can seem corporate and lacking the organic hatred needed to truly sustain a long-term squabble. Today we talk about what it takes to create a new rivalry in the ever-changing world of collegiate athletics.

As we discussed in Part I of the rivalry series, to truly call another team your rival means that your entire week building up to a game is a sequence of pent up excitement, frustration and anticipation for the upcoming battle. This level of excitement, frustration and anticipation isn’t built up over one game or even one season. Its a process that requires big wins, devastating losses, and countless arguments at the workplace water cooler. This process can’t occur overnight.

The following characteristics or steps have been developed to create a true new rivalry that can be sustained into the future:

1. Geography

While creating a rivalry, geography plays a major role in the passion that makes a rivalry tick. In fact, geography is perhaps the greatest component of a rivalry game. When Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference in 2010, its goal was to become rivals with the conference’s elite members in Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State; however, that team just across the Missouri River in Iowa City became a natural fit for a Thanksgiving matchup.

In SEC country, the spot on the calendar formerly filled with the Lone Star showdown now features Texas A&M vs the LSU Tigers in a battle for the Sabine River, and for recruiting in the highly coveted Houston area. The Aggies have struggled against the Tigers in the beginning of this series, but the proximity has laid the framework for a true rivalry if the characteristics below are met.

Other examples of geography playing a major role in creating a new rivalry have also come during multiple examples of realignment:

  • Arkansas vs LSU: share a border, but were in a different conference
  • Ohio State vs Penn State: Two powerhouses in the rust belt have met yearly since the Nittany Lions joined the B1G
  • Utah vs Colorado: The Pac 12’s two newest teams who also share a border.
  • Missouri vs Arkansas: The Battle Line finally has a game!

2. Similar caliber programs

Watching blowout games simply isn’t fun. Using Nebraska as an example again, the Cornhuskers at their peak perennially ran up the score and handily beat the Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas Jayhawks routinely during Big 8 and Big 12 days. The Cyclones and Jayhawks are both closer to Lincoln than Iowa City, but the Huskers’ annual trouncing of these two squads and very few upsets between these two programs, left fans of Big Red looking forward to games with the Sooners or Buffaloes instead. Nebraska’s (relative) fall in football and Iowa’s general consistency under Kirk Ferentz have provided a very level playing field between these two programs in the modern era.

Kansas State following their 2012 Big 12 Championship clinching win over Texas. CBS Sports

As another example, Iowa State and Kansas State began coining their annual game as “Farmageddon” after the 2009 matchup at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. However, in that time since 2009, Bill Snyder has brought the Wildcats back to their early 2000s glory, capturing a Big 12 Title in 2012, a BCS Bowl Berth and led teams to double digit win records. The Cyclones have generally sputtered in that time frame, including nine straight losses to the Wildcats. Until Iowa State can get a win or two in this series and contend for the top of the Big 12 conference, Farmageddon will remain on the back burner. Cool down your tractors folks.

3. Trading Blows

As mentioned previously in this rivalry series, a good rivalry series requires memorable games featuring a healthy combination of monumental victories and agonizing defeats. Following one of these agonizing defeats, a true rival spends the next 364 days on the calendar refining their skill ready to take back supremacy in the series. If one team goes on a large winning streak (see Texas A&M vs LSU) a rivalry cannot reach its full potential.

A few weeks ago, after arguing with TGS founder Ted Flint about whether success is a key component of a rivalry, the following results occurred in a poll of followers:

4. Results that matter

Just win baby! The famous line by Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders reigns true in making a rivalry as well. No matter what geographical advantages two teams have to create a rivalry, a series can only be as big as the prize in which the two teams are playing. The 2008 and 2009 Red River Shootouts remain two of the greatest rivalry games I have witnessed in my life. The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners both had aspirations of winning a Big 12 championship, and even potentially a spot atop college football in the BCS Title Game. Two future NFL quarterbacks in Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford duked it out on the field at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas as the Longhorns notched two of the biggest wins in their history.

Today, as the Texas Longhorns struggle to reach bowl eligibility, the game still means something as Texas can often pull an upset, but it struggles to reach the same magnitude as the 2008 and 2009 games which live in infamy because the interest around Longhorn football is only a shadow of its former self. Meanwhile in Alabama, the Iron Bowl features two programs who have won National Titles in the last decade, and is often circled on every fan’s calendar come late November.

Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford embrace following the Red River Shootout in Dallas NewsOK


Coming down the stretch!

Two weeks remain in the Tailgate Society rivalry series, as we inch closer to the kickoff of college football season!

Previous weeks:

Week 1: What makes a rivalry?

Week 2: The best rivalries in college football

Coming Soon: 

Week 4: Rivalries we’ve lost

Week 5: Rivalries that go too far

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Travis Halm 42 Articles
Staff Writer

Travis Halm is an Iowa State Alum living in Omaha, Nebraska. A native of Haverhill, Iowa, Travis has lived throughout the Midwest and in Texas, providing him insight on the Big 12, the SEC, and a wide variety of other sports topics. Travis follows the Cyclones closely, in addition to the Cardinals, Packers, Texas A&M and rarely turns down a ticket to a good sporting event.

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