College Football: Old Rivalries Take A Hike

College Football: Old Rivalries Take A Hike

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Key games come to an end as conference realignment causes change.

The changing face of major college football has sent teams from one conference to another or, in the case of Notre Dame, has taken a long-independent football program and turned it into a committer. Well, at least partially. A looming four-team playoff is also having an impact with several schools changing schedules to accommodate new games against better programs. A number of heralded rivalries are coming to an end or are being put on hold as schedule makers mix things up. While some old meet-ups are apparently over, new ones are in the offing, and may very well change the face of college football forever.

The Backyard Brawl

West Virginia has bolted for the Big 12 Conference and Pittsburgh is on its way to the Atlantic Coast Conference. In the past two decades, games between the two schools located just 70 miles apart have been Big East Conference contests, but the Mountaineers and Panthers had been meeting regularly since well before the Big East was conceived. The first game in what eventually became the Backyard Brawl was played in 1895 and the 104th meeting was played in 2011. There is a lot of football history in this rivalry with the 1921 game marking the first time a college football event was aired live on radio.

After 69 straight seasons of games, there is no game scheduled for 2012, but the good news is that both schools want to find a way to start playing again. That may become possible as the ACC has decided that it will offer up an 8-game schedule instead of the 9 games previously proposed. With four holes to fill, we could see the Backyard Brawl resume by 2015.

Nebraska-Oklahoma Rivalry

Two heartland schools began playing each other in 1912 and kept at it for 86 meetings. The Nebraska Cornhuskers and Oklahoma Sooners last met in 2010, when Nebraska bolted for the Big Ten Conference and Oklahoma decided to keep its fortunes in the Big 12. This rivalry never assumed a nickname, but that did not mean the two schools needed one. The most significant game in this rivalry was the 1971 “game of the century” contest that sent No. 1 Nebraska on the road to face No. 2 Oklahoma. That games was decided late with the Huskers pulling out the victory, just one of many meetings that had national title implications on the line.

Both schools have expressed interest in resuming the series, but the next possible meet ups are home and home games for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. That’s a long way off and by then the mystique of this once bitter rivalry may not be fully grasped by future players.

Notre Dame

After Michigan, Notre Dame has the highest winning percentage of any college football program. In recent years the Fighting Irish have not fielded a championship caliber team, but this year may be the exception. Notre Dame has been a football independent and a Big East member in other sports. Soon, the Irish will depart the Big East for the ACC, and will play a 5-game ACC schedule. That leaves seven games with other teams and a number of rivalries.

The Irish have been playing Navy every year since 1914 and that rivalry will likely remain unchanged. Notre Dame has also committed to continue playing Stanford and USC. A number of Big Ten rivalries are certain to change with Michigan coming off of Notre Dame’s schedule after the 2014 season, with future games against Purdue and Michigan State still possible.

The Holy War

The University of Utah and Brigham Young University first played each other in 1896, starting a series that soon became known as the Holy War. The nickname recognizes the cultural differences between the two schools, with Utah representing a secular, state university and BYU a religious, Mormon-owned institution. From 1922 to 2010, the two schools played in the same conference, allowing for annual meet ups. No games were played from 1943-1945, as BYU did not field a team because of the war.

Utah is now a member of the PAC 12 Conference and BYU is a football independent, yet they’re still playing each other. The rivalry is in danger of disappearing as the two schools have only managed to schedule games in 2013 and 2016, but not for 2014 and 2015. The series may be difficult to resume as Utah must play a 9-game PAC 12 schedule, leaving very little room for scheduling maneuverability from 2017 on. As long as BYU remains a football independent, the series has a chance. Should the Cougars find itself in a conference other than the PAC 12, this series will become increasingly difficult to maintain.

Other Teams

Not all teams are ending rivalries, but some colleges have decided to scrap games against small-time opponents in a bid to strengthen schedules and earn credibility with those that will be deciding the four-team playoff contenders each year. For instance, Ohio State has long scheduled games against its smaller, in-state rivals, but announced this month that it was scaling back and will be playing games against TCU in 2018 and 2019.

Wisconsin appears ready to do the same and may no longer schedule an FCS team going forward. Games against Washington and Virginia Tech are in the offing and the Badgers are also in discussions with BYU, Alabama and even Notre Dame.

None of the newly-formed series will be considered a rivalry and with college football changing faster than it ever has, any new series may quickly be tossed to the side as conferences shift and the post-season playoff arrangement evolves once again.

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