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Forde-Yard Dash: Evaluating The Best College Football Rivalries

How even is the Michigan-Ohio State contest? Texas-Oklahoma? The Dash gives its verdict on seven historic matchups.
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where UTEP is a runaway freight train at 5–1:

MORE DASH: One-Loss Contenders | USC's Market | Quality QB Depth

FOURTH QUARTER: HOW CLOSE ARE THE BEST RIVALRIES?

The subtitle for this quarter: In Praise of Red River, which always delivers. Among the top rivalries in the sport, it’s surprising how many of them have tilted hard in one direction over the last decade—and how few close games there have been. But the annual Big 12 tussle between the Longhorns and Sooners is the glorious, messy, dramatic exception.

It has become the game most likely to be labeled “drunk” on social media, and that’s not due to the fans in the stands. (Though they are, indeed, very drunk.) That’s due to the wild turns of events that happen with regularity in that rivalry, this past Saturday certainly being no exception. (When a fox suddenly runs across the field of the Cotton Bowl at the Texas State Fair, pretty much in downtown Dallas, you know it’s gotten strange.)

The Dash looked at the past decade of results for 18 top rivalry games, examining them for evenness and the regularity of close games. A rundown of the results:

Oklahoma-Texas (31). Number of one-score games in the last 10: eight. Average margin of victory: 7.5 points. Who won: Oklahoma seven, Texas three. This is by far the closest in terms of score, though not the most even in terms of who wins. But the only meeting in the last nine that wasn’t a one-score game was the 2018 Big 12 championship game in Jerry World. If they’re playing at the Cotton Bowl, expect drama.

Alabama-Auburn (32). Number of one-score games in the last 10: two. Average margin of victory: 20.3. Who won: Alabama seven, Auburn three. This is what Nick Saban does to rivalries: He smashes them. Although when the Tigers win the Iron Bowl, it tends to be in off-the-rails fashion. (See: Six, Kick.)

Michigan–Ohio State (33). Number of one-score games in the last 10: four. Average margin of victory: 15.1. Who won: Ohio State nine, Michigan one. Not only have the Buckeyes won eight straight, but most of them have not been close. Alas, this is a storied rivalry in search of renewed competitiveness and national relevance. Maybe this year?

Army-Navy (34). Number of one-score games in the last 10: seven. Average margin of victory: 9.9. Who won: Navy 6, Army 4. After Red River, this is the closest game on average—partly because it’s usually low-scoring. (The fact that Oklahoma and Texas routinely play close shootouts is another reason it has been so ridiculously entertaining.) Navy had owned the rivalry for a long spell until Army’s recent revival under Jeff Monken evened things out.

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Notre Dame–USC (35). Number of one-score games in the last 10: four. Average margin of victory: 14.1. Who won: Notre Dame seven, USC three. It’s pretty clear which program found its coach and which one has been searching. When Clay Helton and the Trojans lost by 35 in South Bend in 2017, that should have been a sign—but then USC wallpapered over that by winning its next five games, including the Pac-12 championship game. USC’s last win in the series was 2016.

Georgia-Florida (36). Number of one-score games in the last 10: four. Average margin of victory: 14.8. Who won: Georgia six, Florida four. This has been a rivalry in threes: The Gators won three straight from 2008 to '10; the Bulldogs won the next three from '11 to '13; then back from Florida from '14 to '16; then back to Georgia from '17 to '19. If the Gators started a new three-year winning streak last season, it will come as a sizable shock at the end of this month.

Mississippi–Mississippi State (37). Number of one-score games in the last 10: four. Average margin of victory: 12.7. Who won: Ole Miss five, Mississippi State five. This is the only dead-even rivalry of the 18 The Dash looked at. And, of course, that five-five split has been heavily flavored by bizarrely entertaining occurrences. The Egg Bowl will forever be the weirdest vicious rivalry in the sport.

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COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Josh Heupel (38), Tennessee. The Dash had low expectations for Heupel in his first year coaching the Volunteers, but they have clicked in a dazzling way since the calendar flipped to October. In its last two games, against SEC East opponents Missouri and South Carolina, Tennessee has scored 107 points—a whopping 56 of them in the first quarter. The Vols are throwing haymakers right off the opening bell, rolling up 444 yards of offense in those two opening quarters alone. (They lead the nation in rushing yards per game in October, at 352.5.) If it can continue this roll, Tennessee could blow up some big hopes for its next four opponents: Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Mack Brown (39), North Carolina. A season the began in the top 10 is now a 3–3 slog after a second annual upset loss to Florida State. (If Mike Norvell has done anything well in Tallahassee, it’s beating North Carolina.) The Tar Heels were minus-three turnover margin in losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, then committed 12 penalties for 110 yards against the Seminoles. An offensive line that has allowed 23 sacks—most in the ACC—has often left star quarterback Sam Howell running for his life.

POINT AFTER

When hungry and thirsty in the perpetually underrated town of Des Moines, The Dash always recommends a visit to the mid-American classic bar, El Bait Shop (40). Do not deny yourself the bacon-wrapped tater tots, and take full advantage of the excellent beer selection. (The Singlespeed Victory Dance IPA did not disappoint.) The clientele is always interesting and the staff is always friendly. Check it out and thank The Dash later.

MORE DASH: One-Loss Contenders | USC's Market | Quality QB Depth

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