Thursday, November 16, 2006

And while I'm picking on Ivan...

His logic for arguing that the Auburn-Alabama rivalry is the best in college football is pretty weak. He argues that because Michigan and Ohio State aren't in the same state, their fans don't have as much interaction with one another, so it doesn't have the same emotional impact that Auburn/Alabama does. He's mostly right about that, although there is a significant overlap of fans in northern Ohio. Also, Michigan and Ohio State grads tend to spread out around the country, which means that there are plenty of Michigan and Ohio State grads in offices to fight with one another after Saturday. (Actually, since Michigan grads tend to scatter all over the country, but Ohio State grads do not, the dynamic is typically Michigan grads and native Ohioans who went to another school. OK, I'm speaking from personal experience here with a limited sample size, so take my statement with a grain of salt.)

Anyway, overlap of fans is certainly a factor for a rivalry, but it's not the only one. "Big stakes" would have to be part of the equation and Michigan-Ohio State has it all over Auburn-Alabama. Let's look at the games in the past decade that had an impact on the national title race:

Michigan-Ohio State

2003 - Michigan win prevents Ohio State from being in position to make the BCS Title Game.

2002 - Ohio State win sends the Buckeyes to the Title Game.

1998 - Ohio State win keeps the Buckeyes among the one-loss teams in contention for the Title Game.

1997 - Michigan win sends the Wolverines to Pasadena as the #1 team in the rankings.

1996 - Michigan win denies Ohio State a shot at the national title, opening the door for Florida. (Orson, you're welcome.)


2004 - Auburn win keeps the Tigers in contention for the Title Game.

That's it. If you open up the sample size to include the '92 and '94 Auburn-Alabama games, then the rivalry has a little more oomph, but that increase in sample size also brings in the '93 and '95 Michigan-Ohio State games, both of which were Michigan wins that deprived unbeaten Ohio State teams of shots at the national title.

Having grown up in the South and attended Michigan for four years, I can say with some experience that the level of intensity for Auburn-Alabama is higher than the level of intensity for Michigan-Ohio State. There is a religious quality to that rivalry that makes it unique. Maisel is right to point out that there are factors that make Auburn-Alabama a greater rivalry. However, what he ends up doing is he simply takes one factor - frequent contact between the fan bases - and elevates it over every other factor that matters to a rivalry. Using his rationale, Celtic-Rangers is the biggest rivalry in European football, since the fan bases share Glasgow and they hate each other with a passion that's probably unrivaled in Europe (and that says something). Most Europeans, though, would point out that Celtic and Rangers rarely make a major impact outside of Scotland and therefore, rivalries like Juve-Milan, Real-Barca, or Liverpool-Manchester United are better because they are contested by true titans. Auburn and Alabama are not quite Celtic and Rangers, but they aren't quite Juve and Milan, either. They're #9 and #22 in winning percentage over the past 20 years; #21 and #39 over the past 10 years.

In short, I'm happy that one prominent writer has pointed out this week that there are rivalries other than Michigan-Ohio State and that these rivalries could, gasp, be just as great, if not greater. I just wish that Maisel would have been a little more persuasive in making the argument. In his defense, the "For Argument's Sake" format doesn't exactly lend itself to a factor-by-factor analysis.


peacedog said...

In his blog, Feldman listed his top 10 and put Georgia Florida 10. I can't for the life of me figure out how Georgia Flordia gets in over Georgia Auburn (or Georgia Georgia tech). Well, I can sort of figure it out: I think he was implicitly limiting teams to 1 apperance on the list only and Auburn is already on there with Bama (natch). And he felt like he had to get the Gators on I guess.

Anonymous said...

Good post, I agree that Maisel's argument, while correct overall, is not very well supported.

I have had the experience of living for a short time in Ohio and Alabama and attended neither school (that has to be pretty rare). UM-OSU is intense but UA-AU is definitely a whole 'nother level to me. There just seems to be a hatred in that state for the other school that I have yet to come across anywhere else.

UM-OSU has had more national title implications lately (I can see SEC folks screaming "of course it does, they play in the BIG 2 so it's always going to have more implications - which may be a little bit true). So I guess you are really just differing about what your standards are for making a rivalry better. Is it national implications, pure hatred, history, etc?