Commentary

Best rivalries of the 2000s

These are the series that mattered the most in the past decade

Updated: November 29, 2010, 5:06 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

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There are more traditional rivalries in college football.

Army-Navy. Georgia-Florida. Ohio State-Michigan. USC-Notre Dame. Florida State-Miami.

But in the past decade, other rivalries have mattered more. They are the games that have determined conference championships and trips to the BCS National Championship Game.

You might not find some of these rivalries in the history books, but you will find them circled on the calendars of college football fans across the country:

10. Louisville-West Virginia

Last game: Nov. 20, West Virginia 17, Louisville 10• • Were you there?

The rivalry wasn't born until the Cardinals joined the Big East before the 2005 season, but it has produced some of the best games of the past decade. In 2005, the outcome wasn't decided until the third overtime. After freshman West Virginia tailback Steve Slaton scored his sixth touchdown of the game and quarterback Pat White added a two-point conversion pass, Cardinals quarterback Brian Brohm was tackled short of the end zone on a two-point run, giving the Mountaineers a 46-44 victory. The next season, Louisville took advantage of West Virginia's three turnovers to win 44-34. In 2007, White scored on a 50-yard run with 1:36 left to give the Mountaineers a 38-31 victory.

9. BYU-Utah

Last game: Nov. 27, Utah 17, BYU 16 • • Were you there?

Known as the "Holy War" by fans, the BYU-Utah rivalry has generated dramatic finishes and plenty of animosity. The decade opened in 2000 with the Cougars defeating the Utes 34-27 in BYU coach LaVell Edwards' final game. In 2001, BYU scored a last-minute touchdown to beat Utah 24-21. In 2003, Utah beat BYU 3-0, ending the Cougars' NCAA record of not being shut out at 361 consecutive games. Utah finished 12-0 in 2004, becoming the first team from a non-BCS conference to play in a BCS bowl game, after blasting the Cougars 52-21. The next season, backup quarterback Brett Ratliff led the Utes to a 41-34 victory in overtime. BYU turned the tables in 2006, with John Beck throwing a touchdown to Jonny Harline on the final play of a 33-31 win.

8. Iowa-Penn State

Last game: Oct. 2, Iowa 24, Penn State 3 • • Were you there?

The Big Ten rivalry has been dominated by the Hawkeyes, who are 8-2 against the Nittany Lions under coach Kirk Ferentz. But the series has included plenty of drama and one huge upset in the past 10 years. Iowa won 26-23 in two overtimes in 2000 and won 42-35 in a single OT in 2002. In 2004, the Hawkeyes somehow won by a 6-4 score. In 2008, Daniel Murray kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired that sent unranked Iowa past Penn State 24-23, knocking the Nittany Lions out of the BCS national championship race.

7. Oregon-Southern California

Last game: Oct. 30, Oregon 53, USC 32 • • Were you there?

The Ducks and Trojans have been the Pac-10's premier teams for much of the past decade, and a trip to the Rose Bowl often was on the line when they played. In 2001, Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington led his team on a last-minute field goal drive in a 24-22 victory. USC dominated the series during its dynasty run from 2002 to '06, but the Ducks won 24-17 in 2007. Oregon also sent the Trojans spiraling with a 47-20 blowout in 2009.

6. Alabama-Auburn

Last game: Nov. 26, Auburn 28, Alabama 27 • • Were you there?

The Iron Bowl was dominated by Auburn for much of the decade, with the Tigers winning six games in a row from 2002 to '07. Former Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville even joked about getting rings for his thumbs. The decade opened in 2000 with the Iron Bowl being played in Tuscaloosa for the first time in 99 years. Auburn won the game 9-0 and clinched an SEC West title. In 2005, Auburn sacked Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle 11 times in a 28-18 upset of the No. 9 Crimson Tide. In 2008, Alabama ended its six-game losing streak in the duel with a 36-0 rout. Last season, Auburn led No. 2 Alabama 14-0 early in the game and 21-14 in the third quarter before the Tide rallied for a 26-21 victory en route to winning a BCS national title.

5. Alabama-LSU

Last game: Nov. 6, LSU 24, Alabama 21 • • Were you there?

The longtime SEC rivalry reached its boiling point in the past decade because of Nick Saban. He coached the Tigers from 2000 to '04, leading LSU to four victories in five tries against the Crimson Tide. After two seasons in the NFL, Saban returned to college football as Alabama's coach, making him Public Enemy No. 1 in Louisiana. LSU defeated the Crimson Tide 41-34 in its first meeting against Saban in 2007, scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes. In 2008, Saban returned to Baton Rouge for the first time and guided the Tide to a 27-21 victory in overtime. LSU blocked a field goal on the final play of regulation, but Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson scored on a 1-yard run to win the game. This season, LSU upset the Crimson Tide 24-21 to knock them out of the SEC title and BCS national championship races.

4. Ohio State-Penn State

Last game: Saturday, Ohio State 38, Penn State 14 • • Were you there?

The Big Ten battle decided the team that would play in the Rose Bowl in 2008 and '09, and Ohio State's victories over Penn State in 2002 and '06 kept the Buckeyes in the BCS national championship hunt. There were plenty of milestones, dramatic finishes and upsets along the way. In 2001, Penn State coach Joe Paterno won his 324th game when his team overcame a 27-9 deficit to beat the Buckeyes 29-27, pushing him past legendary Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant in career victories. The next season, the Buckeyes needed two-way starter Chris Gamble's interception return for a touchdown to defeat the Nittany Lions 13-7 en route to winning a national championship. In 2005, No. 16 Penn State upset the No. 4 Buckeyes 17-10 after a string of bad seasons.

3. Florida-LSU

Last game: Oct. 9, LSU 33, Florida 29 • • Were you there?

The Gators and Tigers combined to win three consecutive BCS national championships 2006-08, with Florida sandwiching two around LSU's 2007 crown. The rivalry included one great upset -- when Ron Zook led the unranked Gators to a 19-7 victory over No. 2 LSU in 2003 -- and some of the most thrilling games of the past decade. Tebow's jump pass made its debut in Florida's 23-10 victory in 2006, and the "Mad Hatter" showed his face for the first time when LSU coach Les Miles used gamble after gamble to defeat the Gators 28-24 in 2007.

2. Oklahoma-Texas

Last game: Oct. 2, Oklahoma 28, Texas 20 • • Were you there?

The Red River Rivalry game has long been one of the sport's best rivalries, and it's still one of the most anticipated games every season. The Sooners and Longhorns play each season at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, and the game is scheduled at the same time as the Texas state fair. In 2000, Oklahoma blasted Texas 63-14 en route to winning a BCS national championship. The Longhorns defeated the Sooners 45-12 in 2005, ending a five-game losing streak in the series, and went on to win a national title. In 2008, No. 5 Texas beat top-ranked Oklahoma 45-35, but the Sooners played in the Big 12 championship game because of a controversial three-way tiebreaker, which sparked new passions in the rivalry.

1. Alabama-Florida

Last game: Oct. 2, Alabama 31, Florida 6 • • Were you there?

In each of the past two seasons, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in the SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome with a trip to the BCS National Championship Game on the line. The teams were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 both times they met in Atlanta, and the Gators won a BCS national title in 2008 and the Crimson Tide won it the next season. It's a rivalry that brought former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow to tears and sent his coach, Urban Meyer, to the hospital. (Although the teams squared off only four times in the 2000s, the series has a rich history, with 36 games in the books; Alabama leads 22-14.)

• Photo gallery: Images from the top-10 rivalries Photo Gallery

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book is available in stores and can be ordered here. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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