Mergz, at the excellent Gator blog Saurian Sagacity, has written a thought provoking post that’s the start of a series exploring Florida’s rivalries.
His primary point is that outsiders have a hard time understanding the difficulty of a typical SEC schedule due to the number of heated rivalries that are standard fare throughout the conference. That’s a fair statement, although those outsiders could raise the same question of us SEC fans (Mergz, to his credit, does ask outside fans to contribute to his understanding of their rivalries).
I think where one has to start with this discussion is to ask what makes a rivalry. For his part, Mergz lists six teams with which he believes the Gators have that level of intensity: Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, FSU and South Carolina. I look at that list and see a variety of factors that would affect the competition between those schools and Florida; to me, some of those schools have almost nothing in common, yet I believe I can see the arguments Mergz intends to muster to make his case for each.
Let’s look at a few overriding characteristics that go into making and sustaining a rivalry:
- History. Two things factor in here. How often have the teams faced each other? And, over time, how competitive has the series been?
- Scheduling. How often do the teams play each other at present?
- The Stakes. In terms of winning championships, how often do the games between the teams assume importance?
- Geography. This one is pretty obvious.
- Miscellaneous Factors. Mergz lists South Carolina as a rival. That can only be for one reason – Steve Spurrier. (It helped that Spurrier beat Florida in his first crack, which is something USC had never accomplished previously.) I expect LSU-Alabama to attain a similar level of intensity because of Saban.
Looking at Georgia’s rivalries from this perspective, here are the schools I’d list (by alphabetical order):
- Auburn, by virtue of almost every factor I’ve listed above;
- Florida, again, for all of the above;
- Georgia Tech also reflects all of the above (true, there are no conference stakes anymore, but being an end of season game, there are potential BCS stakes in most years);
- South Carolina may not seem deserving from a historical perspective, as Georgia has dominated the series. But it’s been intense since I’ve been following it, starting in 1980 (Rogers vs. Walker!). And Spurrier’s presence certainly adds some spice. Also, Georgia hasn’t won the SEC East in any season that it didn’t beat USC.
- Tennessee is a rivalry born out of divisional realignment. It wasn’t a historically significant series, as the teams didn’t play that often. Since 1992, though, in most years, Georgia, Florida and UT have to dance the dance with each other to decide which school makes it to the SECCG. Fulmer’s recruiting tactics (and success, unfortunately) and Donnan’s hiring away of Garner have contributed heat, as well.
I couldn’t bring myself to list LSU or Alabama, as I don’t think the Dawgs play either school on a regular enough basis these days to qualify, although ‘Bama was a closer call, mainly due to the fact that historically Georgia and LSU just haven’t played each other that much, surprisingly. Clemson fails to make the list for the same reason.
Five is still a lot of rivalries, in my opinion. I’d be curious to know if that’s an unusually high number, or if many schools consider themselves to play that many rivalry games.