Archived News

Measuring the intensity of college football rivalries

David Tyler, assistant professor of sport management at Western Carolina University, and colleague Joe Cobbs, assistant professor of sports business at Northern Kentucky University, recently conducted a study as to what two schools have the most heated rivalry in college football.

The two studied sports rivalries for more than five years, focusing on teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, examining a variety of factors surrounding the phenomenon of rivalry, and surveying thousands of college football fans. They surveyed more than 5,300 college football fans of 122 FBS teams, asking questions about their favorite teams, their rivals, their feelings about rival teams and their fans, and their thoughts about what contributes to those rivalries.

To quantify rivalry in college football, Tyler and Cobbs asked survey participants to allocate 100 “rivalry points” to as many as 10 teams. They then aggregated the responses of each team’s fans and calculated the mean point allocation, or “rivalry score,” toward each opponent (100 maximum). 

The researchers also examined factors including frequency of competition between teams, “defining moments” from the history of the rivalry, recent and historical parity, star players, geography, relative dominance by one team over the other, competition for personnel, and cultural similarities and differences.

Using social network analysis, they determined the strongest mutual rivalries, the most lopsided rivalries, the most likely rivals, and the teams with the greatest rivalry power in FBS football.

The research indicates that the most intense rivalry in college football is between Arizona and Arizona State. Other top national rivalries are No.2, Ohio State vs. Michigan; No. 3, Toledo vs. Bowling Green; No. 4, Brigham Young vs. Utah; and No. 5, Western Michigan vs. Central Michigan. 

In the state of North Carolina, research indicates that the most intense football rivalry is between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, the researchers say, with UNC vs. N.C. State a close second. The most intense rivalry in the Southeast – and the sixth most intense rivalry in the nation is between South Carolina and Clemson.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.