This is the biggest rivalry in college sports, and it's not particularly close, and not because the stakes this year are so incredibly high. It's the biggest rivalry in college sports because that's what it is year in, year out. The only thing that compares is in basketball -- and no, not Duke-Carolina, because Duke and Carolina have never met in the Final Four.
Kentucky and Louisville have. They met in the Final Four just 18 months ago, their coaches throw gas on the fire by taking shots at each other, and given that there's no professional sports in the state -- and no other Division I program of national relevance -- Kentucky-Louisville is a game that plays out 365 days a year.
And even that isn't as intense as Alabama-Auburn.
It's the late-season timing of the game, the us-or-them makeup of the state and the force of football, which for whatever reason is the most viscerally followed sport in America. Other countries convulse over their version of football. Here, we go nuts over ours in a way that trumps how we treat all other sports.
And nobody goes nuts for football like people in Alabama.
For one thing, they don't have anything else to distract them. No major professional franchises in the state, or even within 200 miles of Tuscaloosa, and no college basketball tradition to speak of. It's football year 'round there, whether it's spring practice or recruiting or the real thing, those four months in the fall when Alabama and Auburn do what they do with one eye on the task at hand and the other eye on that school 160 miles up the road.