By Joshua Parcell
Dictionary.com defines “rivalry” like this:
“The action, position, or relation of a rival or rivals; competition: rivalry between Yale and Harvard.”
Really? Yale and Harvard? That’s who we’re going with?
Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate any time two teams face off whose players’ SAT scores are nearly as high as the number of people at the game, but when you look up “rivalry” in the dictionary, the Iron Bowl belongs right beside it.
Or does it?
The intensity of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry is at an all-time high. There hasn’t been a BCS Championship game without one of the two teams since the 2008 season. The Kick Six was arguably the greatest college football game of my lifetime (full disclosure: I was born right as Garth Brooks was hitting it big– I’m not exactly filing for my AARP membership anytime soon).
As fierce and passionate as the Iron Bowl is, could there be another challenger for its crown as the best rivalry in college sports?
Kentucky-Louisville basketball is a better rivalry right now.
Don’t believe me? Let’s check the tale of the tape.
This is an obvious advantage for hoops. Rick Pitino won a national championship with the Wildcats, left for the NBA, and then came back to coach at Louisville.
Hmm…what other coach won a national title with one of his current school’s biggest rivals?
Oh yeah, Saban. Only he did it with LSU. Only Pitino had the balls to go to his school’s most hated rival. Can you imagine Roy Williams at Duke? Or Saban at Auburn? Anarchy right? If Saban ever trades in the crimson and white for blue and orange, then we’ll chat.
Saban and Gus Malzahn have four national championships between them – but they’re all from Saban. Pitino and John Calipari have claimed three – each earning one during their current tenures. That’s a rivalry. Saban is just plain dominant.
Even though Malzahn and his point-per-minute offense looks like the perfect foil for Saban, we’ll need more than a couple years of evidence to put him and Saban in the same echelon as Pitino and Coach Cal.
The Pitino-Calipari feud even traces back to the two’s Conference USA days when Louisville was still in the league and Calipari was coaching at Memphis. The fury boiled over after one 2005 game where Pitino accused Cal of influencing the officiating of one game on a weekly teleconference days before tip-off. They despise each other. We can’t say the same thing for Saban and Malzahn yet.
This one is close. Alabama and Auburn go back further, 1893 to be exact. Kentucky and Louisville first met in 1913 and didn’t start meeting every winter until 1983.
Let’s be honest, though. Auburn is Alabama’s red-headed younger brother. The Crimson Tide has 15 national titles to their name. The Tigers have two.
Kentucky has the edge in the national championship department over Louisville as well, although the margin isn’t quite as obscene – just 8-3. The Wildcats and Cardinals have actually met five times in the NCAA Tournament, including the 2012 Final Four. The Wildcats are 5-3 in the series since 2008. The Crimson Tide is 4-2 in the Iron Bowl during that span.
Let’s call this a wash.
Couch-burning or tree-poisoning? Take your pick. A true rivalry has at least one resident idiot who’s put his livelihood on the line for the love of the game. Alabama has Harvey Updyke. Kentucky has the entire city of Lexington.
It’s simple: if you want to play in the NFL, you go to Alabama. If you want to play in the NBA, go to Kentucky. Since 2010, Kentucky and Alabama have produced the same number of first-round draft picks, except the Wildcats only play five guys at a time. Literally over half of Kentucky’s starters in the past four years were drafted in the first round. Even Saban can’t claim a success rate that high.
Louisville has sent four players to the NBA since 2010, while Auburn has sent eight to the NFL. If you want to get mathematical, that’s still proportionately an advantage to Louisville, but we’ll call the Cardinals and Tigers a wash.
Together, though…the hoops feud tops the gridiron for the most collective talent.
Not to take anything away from the Iron Bowl, but it’s typically dominated by one team for years at a time. Louisville and Kentucky are almost always among the elite programs each and every season. For the second time in three seasons, the two will meet in the NCAA Tournament, which takes this rivalry to another level.
Alabama and Auburn is the best rivalry in college football, bar none. The passion from the fans, coaches and players is unmatched.
But for the time being, Louisville and Kentucky are a cut above even the Iron Bowl.
Follow Josh on Twitter @JoshParcell.