With change comes opportunity. Conference realignment in college football across the last decade has cost us some classic rivalries. While that’s been rightfully bemoaned by many fans, it has also created opportunity for new rivalries to emerge. Let’s look at some matchups we will see, or could see, which we hope will develop into the next classic college matchups.
UCLA vs. Michigan and USC vs. Ohio State
The Big 10 will get some West Coast flavor added to the conference beginning in 2024, with the most storied programs entering the conference being USC and UCLA. They’ll pair up with Ohio State and Michigan for a combination of matchups that could become classics.
Both new additions boast classic stadiums that have hosted their respective teams for decades. UCLA has played their home games at the iconic Rose Bowl since 1982, while the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has hosted USC since 1923.
Of course, the Big House and the Wolverines are also synonymous while the Horseshoe is a classic stadium parked in middle of Ohio State’s campus. Watching these teams square off in packed, rowdy, and historic stadiums will be a treat.
Let’s also consider the coaches involved. Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh have among the most vibrant personalities among all college coaches. Pre- and postgame press conferences should be fun – hopefully with some verbal jabs thrown back and forth – with any in-game antics only adding to the spectacle.
Ryan Day and Lincoln Riley may keep something of a lower profile, but they shouldn’t be forgotten as some of the best recruiters in the game.
That leads into the final point, which is that as things currently stand, all four teams are competitive. Michigan, UCLA and USC have all gone through some recent struggles, but UCLA has finished the last two seasons ranked, Michigan has reached the College Football Playoff in each of the last two seasons, and USC has finished 15th and sixth in the AP in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Ohio State’s recent run of success is arguably matched by only Alabama and Georgia. We won’t have to wait long to see these teams square off, as Michigan draws both the Trojans and Bruins in 2024. The Buckeyes will face UCLA in California in 2024 and draw USC at home in 2025.
Texas vs. Alabama
Perhaps it was foreshadowing, or perhaps it was simply fortuitous luck, but we’ve seen Texas and Alabama square off in non-conference matchups for the last two seasons. The Longhorns came out victorious in a head-to-head just last weekend and the sides played an extremely competitive 20-19 win for Alabama in 2022.
Going back to 2010, the teams squared off in what was then the BCS Championship game and ultimately turned into coach Nick Saban’s first title with the Crimson Tide.
While the recent meetings have been either competitive or in high-stakes games, the teams haven’t met frequently enough for bad blood to truly boil to the surface. A few things could change that.
First, is that the matchup will become a conference showdown as soon as 2025. Next, is that Saban gave Texas coach Steve Sarkisian a second life in college football after he was fired in disgrace from USC by hiring him as an analyst in 2016.
The relationship seemingly remains very positive, but it does add an extra level to the matchup.
Oklahoma vs. Arkansas
A few of the most well-known rivalries have come to be due to geographic proximity, even if the respective teams aren’t at the top of their game. The Backyard Brawl and other intra-state rivalries come to mind, and Oklahoma against Arkansas could be next.
Only 240 miles separate the two schools, and there was once a consistent series between the teams over a century ago. More recently, the teams have faced off in significant bowl games such as the Orange and Cotton Bowls.
Though this has been a dormant matchup, Oklahoma is another team set to join the SEC. There won’t be a meeting between the sides in 2024, but the hope would be is that it gets set from 2025 and beyond.
Both teams have been in relative down spells of late, but they hail from college-football crazed sections of the country. If the teams happen to rebound at the same time, this could escalate from conference matchup to heated rivalry in a hurry.
Clemson vs. Georgia
This one requires a bit of projection, as Clemson is in the ACC while Georgia is dominating its SEC competition. However, there have been rumblings that the Tigers are among the teams trying to make an exit out of their current conference due to a dispute over the TV deal with ESPN, which has value that pales in comparison to the other Power 5 conferences and runs through 2036.
Apparent deals have already fallen through for Clemson’s exit, but as we’ve seen of late, when there is smoke there is often fire with these rumors.
Clemson already has a prominent rivalry with South Carolina in the SEC, one of the aforementioned intra-state rivals. From a geographic perspective, Georgia is even closer and likely matches closer with the Tigers from a competitiveness standpoint – not withstanding Clemson’s recent relative struggles.
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