Rivalries are part of the tradition that defines the SEC, which is one of the reasons we're taking a look at them in this offseason. But as I look at LSU, I'm reminded of a question that Richard Pittman, the former manager of And The Valley Shook, asked me on an edition of Team Speed Kills Now last summer.
Just who is our rival? he asked.
I forget the context of the question, but it surprised me on two levels. First of all, usually I ask the question on my podcast, not that I minded having a question asked of me. But then, I realized why he asked the question: I'm not sure I had an answer.
That's not to say there are teams LSU doesn't like; certainly the hate between all the SEC West teams is just as strong (if not stronger in some cases) than the hate between all the SEC East teams. But who is LSU's rival, the team the Bengals love to hate more than anyone else -- and the team that, to some extent, returns that hatred?
Certainly, LSU hates Alabama. But I dare say that, division standing aside, Alabama would rank at least two teams (Auburn and Tennessee) ahead of the Tigers on the hatred scale. And while the 72 times the teams meet would make it a candidate, that's fewer times than LSU has played Ole Miss, Mississippi State or Tulane.
Auburn and LSU certainly always seem to have something memorable about their games, but really -- Auburn cares more about defeating Alabama, Georgia and arguably Florida (when they play) than LSU.
Florida is the interdivision rival, but that match-up still seems to lack the requisite cachet; after all, Florida is more concerned with Georgia, Tennessee and probably Florida State (again, division and conference standings aside) than LSU. Besides, LSU has played Rice longer (non-continuously, of course) and only one fewer time.
Maybe Arkansas? Maybe. After all, it's always a close game and there are the seeds of rivalry there. But I'm still not sure they quite hate each other enough. And Arkansas has also played LSU just one more time than Rice. But they both lack anyone else to really call a rival -- though Arkansas at least has the excuse of not being in the SEC until 1992.
So I'm certainly open to any suggestions (and as we'll see later, I've asked for some from some LSU fans who would know). But it's hard right now to write about a rivalry I'm not sure exists.