Harvard vs. Yale, Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida vs. Florida State, Coastal Carolina vs. BYU. There are thousands of rivalries that exist within college football, ranging from old to new and small to big. (“Mormans vs. Mullets” always makes the cut, even if the Chanticleers and Cougars have met only once.) Despite all these rivalries though, only a select few are remembered as being truly legendary. The biggest matchups need more than just playoff potential teams to be etched into the history of college football. They also need a perfect recipe of history, Heisman level players, passionate coaches and just a little bit of hate between both the players and the fans of the opposing teams.
Notre Dame has been able to create this perfect recipe in several instances throughout its football history. It came together in the 80s against Miami as the coaching matchup of Lou Holtz vs. Jimmy Johnson, NFL caliber players, competition for a championship, brawls before games and the iconic phrase “Catholics vs. Convicts” produced a rivalry to be remembered. It led to some of the most entertaining moments of the decade and memorable games that led to national championships.
However, this recipe for a perfect rivalry can also fall short, even with Notre Dame’s schedule packed with historic matchups. This is currently the case with Navy, Stanford and Boston College. While these matchups leave a shadow similar to the Miami rivalry, they now lack the energy behind them. Southern California lived in this same shadow — games were no longer evoking the same passion that had existed for decades before. What used to be an iconic Midwest vs. West Coast rivalry soon turned to a muted game towards the end of the season. While the rivalry has existed since 1926, with a total of 92 matchups, it was reduced to just another night game among many students. Last year, with its placement at the end of fall break, many even elected to skip it. The game was largely one-sided, and thus harbored a confused understanding as to why many considered the Trojans to be the Irish’s biggest rival.
However, all of the ingredients came together this year, bringing this rivalry back to the primetime matchup that it used to be. Backed with the hire of Lincoln Riley and dozens of new transfers, USC was back to being a playoff contender. The one school that stood in their path to their first playoff appearance in the modern playoff era was Notre Dame, their biggest rival. For the Irish coming off a victory against Clemson, the game stood as one that could save their season. It could prove to critics that their seasons hadn’t entirely fallen short. Everything was at stake for the Irish and Trojans as they approached their final week.
The game did not disappoint, as in the first opening minutes Caleb Williams’ talent was on full display. The Irish battled back again and again, giving the No. 6 ranked Trojans a challenge. Emotions ran high, and the profane message written on Williams’ fingernails seemed to renew the hate between the two teams. Marcus Freeman and Lincoln Riley faced off for the first time in a matchup that will likely be a benchmark for their success, similar to Ryan Day and Jim Harbaugh in the Ohio State vs. Michigan rivalry.
While Notre Dame may have lost this high-stakes game, it revives the tension that existed between the Trojans and Irish. The bitterness is back, and with all the ingredients coming together it looks like a perfect rivalry that is here to stay.