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The Rivalries Of The Sun Belt

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Some famous old guy once said something about how we measure ourselves by our enemies. He was just trying to justify being hated. Doesn't mean he was wrong, though.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We take them for granted when we have them. We complain about having to play them every year. It doesn't matter how terrible they are, or how great our team is, we will always get up to play one another. The games are closer than they ever should be. They are frustrating, euphoric, rage inducing, and periodically soul crushing. We remember major life events based on this certain outcome, on this certain date, against this certain band of inbred heathens.

They are our rivalries, and they are everything that is right about college football.

No other sport does it better. Sure this European town may hate that European town. This overly romanticized mascot representing our masculine ideal should hate this other insensitive, if not outright racist, mascot. That journeyman on the other team said something mean about my team that one time.

But it's all fake. You can't expect genuine hatred from a team of mercenaries, who didn't choose their own side, much less their enemy. Even in other college sports, the rivalry is there, but the game and regular season rarely mean as much as in football.

The hatred is healthy and makes the game better, until it doesn't. A true rivalry is built on a mutual respect that is never admitted, but always implied. Rivalries must go both ways. When a gulf forms between two programs, whether in the win column or in their revenue, that's when things fall apart.

The end result is always realignment. We act like it was a one time thing where historic rivalries were torn apart for the first time. In reality, it has happened before and it will happen again. Time is a flat circle or some shit like that.

The major conferences may add a program or two. Some don't even worry about the school's fit, and instead choose to co-opt a major television market. The smaller conferences are where the real damage is done.

As Nic so clearly illustrated, the Sun Belt has seen shifts and desertions at a rate only rivaled by the now defunct WAC. The most significant casualty was a nearly 80-year rivalry between Middle Tennessee and Troy, better known as the Battle for the Palladium. Like many non-geographic Sun Belt rivalries, this one went back to before the teams were even Division I-A members. Also, like many Sun Belt rivalries, this marriage was shattered by that harlot known as Conference USA. But you can do better than them, Troy. Just look at that pretty young thing in the corner. I hear her name is South Alabama, and she's got a place near the bay.

But don't worry. Despite their best efforts, there remain a few schools who just can't quit one another. Just look at the ULs. The Cajuns and Warhawks have been going steady for more than fifty years, with only a few minor breaks in between. A few years back they even changed their names for one another. Don't tell me that ain't love. These two are so close, the Cajuns only hold a single game lead in the entire series. It's all about that give and take.

Of course ULM does have other suitors. She's a freak like that. Once a year the Warhawks set their sites on Jonesboro. It's the kind of town only Stephen King could properly describe, and the home of Arkansas State. But before they were the RedWolves and Warhawks, these two teams shared the name "Indians." There's even rumor that their 35 year rivalry was dubbed the gloriously insensitive "Trail of Tears Classic." That's just dirty.

Lastly, we have the oldest hatred held by the Sun Belt's newest schools. The Blue & Black Bowl was established the way all of the best rivalries were; by two teams standing in one another's way, year after year. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have met 35 times, for a period not playing for five straight decades. And sometime they played twice in a single year. Their series has been tied six times, and now they move up a division and take on the FBS, together.

There is a U2 lyric that reads, "choose your enemies carefully 'cause they will define you." Well Bono is an idiot and couldn't be more wrong. We don't choose our enemies, and they don't define us. We find our enemies, and we define ourselves when we discover new ones. For teams at the bottom, fighting their way into the old boys' club, these rivalries have to end sooner or later. We can switch conferences or not, but we only truly make progress when we no longer see the rivalry as a meeting of equals. That's when they really die.

Then we look around and find someone new to hate.