2023 Ferris State vs Grand Valley State

What Are The Top 5 Division II Football Rivalries? Here's A List

What Are The Top 5 Division II Football Rivalries? Here's A List

The atmosphere for a college football rivalry game is unique, and there are plenty of Division II football showdowns with deep-rooted history.

Aug 1, 2023 by Briar Napier
What Happened In Oct? GVSU Vs. Ferris State

It’s the date circled on the calendar. The game that draws the biggest hype. The matchup many times with the highest stakes.

The atmosphere for a rivalry game in college football is as unique as you’ll find anywhere in sports – not just on the gridiron – and there are plenty of showdowns deep-rooted in history that come to mind as epic options for fans of the sport to attend.

But beyond the bowls, brawls or simply “The Game,” as some rivalries like to call it, in Division I lies more levels of college football littered with their own traditions and longstanding battles of hatred between two schools. 

At the Division II level, some rivalries have been going on for over a century and have played host to some influential moments and magic that have shaped the history of Division II football.

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It’s worth shining a light on the games that tend to be left out in the dark – and for the five games listed below, they’re especially worthy of your attention the next time you put a screen in front of you on a chilly autumn Saturday.

Here’s a look at five of the best rivalry games the Division II level has to offer, with numerous matchups, and more, being streamed throughout the season exclusively on FloFootball.

Anchor-Bone Classic: Grand Valley State Vs. Ferris State 

Since the turn of the century, GVSU and FSU have combined to win six Division II national championships. 

With campuses roughly an hour away from each other in Michigan, the foundations of those teams often involve them battling for the same recruits and types of players, making it little surprise that when they battle each other in the Anchor-Bone Classic, there frequently are some massive implications. 

Last year’s regular-season meeting (broadcast live on FloFootball) featured No. 1 Ferris against No. 2 Grand Valley, a game in which the Lakers prevailed in a 22-21 nail-biter – snapping a ridiculous 43-game regular-season winning streak from FSU in the process – but the Bulldogs got the last laugh in the rematch against their rivals in the playoff quarterfinals, winning 24-21 en route to winning back-to-back national championships. 

Highlights: Ferris State Vs. GVSU

With both likely to be front-runners in the title scene again this season, high stakes likely are ahead for their meeting Oct. 14 at GVSU, of which the Lakers will try to grow their all-time series lead that stands at 30-22-1. 

However, Ferris is charging hard toward that pedestal, and fast. The Bulldogs have won 10 out of the past 13 meetings and had a six-game winning streak in the rivalry, before GVSU’s victory a year ago, and likely would love nothing more than capping a potential three-peat of national titles with a return to being the holder of the Anchor Bone Trophy.

Catawba Vs. Lenoir-Rhyne 

One of only a handful of Division II rivalries to have been played over 100 times, Catawba against Lenoir-Rhyne has seen one school make the hour drive to the other’s campus in central North Carolina for the game yearly since 1946. 

Frequently played on Thanksgiving and given the nickname of “The Turkey Bowl” until 1968, the two teams traditionally met for the final game of each other’s regular seasons until 2022, meaning that plenty of South Atlantic Conference titles were won and lost over the years – with both being founding members of the league in 1975 – based on the result of the Lenoir-Rhyne-Catawba game. 

It’s also a rivalry with razor-thin margins and a lot of back-and-forth brawling. Catawba leads the series 49-48-5 over 101 meetings, but Lenoir-Rhyne has dominated in recent years, including consecutive victories of over 50 points across their past two meetings.

Now, the Bears have the opportunity to tie the series this year with a win Nov. 4 in Hickory.

Both schools also have decorated coaching trees that have been involved in the rivalry and have later gone on to major positions at the college and/or professional levels.

For instance, ex-Lenoir-Rhyne coach Mike Houston, who was with the Bears as a coordinator then head coach from 2007-2013, built up his stock with a Division II title-game appearance in 2013 all the way to Division I coaching roles with The Citadel, James Madison and now East Carolina. 

Meanwhile at Catawba, Jim Tomsula played with the program, then spent nearly a decade there as an assistant, before finding his way to the NFL, where he eventually earned a head coach role with the San Francisco 49ers for the 2015 season. 

Black Hills Brawl: South Dakota Mines Vs. Black Hills State

Nestled in an area best known for being the home of Mount Rushmore and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a nasty battle for the Homestake Trophy, the prize in the most-played rivalry between two Division II teams – and in college football in general – between two schools west of the Mississippi River. 

Separated in western South Dakota by about a 45-minute drive, South Dakota Mines (in Rapid City) and Black Hills State (in Spearfish) have been playing since 1895, only six years after South Dakota became a state, and are divided in several major ways, including each university’s specializations. 

For instance, many of Mines’ students study STEM-related degrees, while BHSU has deep histories in the fields of liberal arts and education as a former teacher’s college. 

They’ve been intertwined for over a century, playing a total of 137 times across both the NAIA and Division II levels, and the Hardrockers hold the series lead at 65-61-11 heading into their meeting Sept. 30 in Spearfish. 

The past decade has seen some of the best games in the rivalry’s history, too: 5,000 fans packed Rapid City’s O’Harra Stadium to watch Mines quarterback Jake Sullivan – a hometown kid who went on to set 18 school passing records – beat the Yellow Jackets in just his second start in a 28-26 thriller in 2015, though BHSU got revenge in Spearfish two years later by coming back from a 24-6 halftime deficit to score 19 unanswered points and win 25-24. 

Battle Of The Ravine: Ouachita Baptist Vs. Henderson State

The town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, plays host to one of the most unique rivalries you’ll find anywhere, regardless of level, division or even sport. 

Not only are both schools located in the city, but they’re right across the street from each other.

Henderson State’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium is located less than a mile from Ouachita Baptist’s Cliff Harris Stadium, and when the “away” team travels to their opponent’s stadium in the Battle of the Ravine, it’ll literally walk from its own locker room and across U.S. Highway 67 to whichever location hosts the game that year. 

The Reddies and Tigers have met 95 times, with OBU overtaking the series lead 46-43-6 amid a rivalry-long six game winning streak, which is one away from tying HSU’s longest stretch of wins against its neighbor (seven, done from 1989-1996). 

The game would’ve been played more frequently, had it not been for stoppages due to both World Wars, plus a 12-year suspension beginning in 1951 due to an escalation of pranks between the two schools (yes, seriously), and it’s also featured some of the best minds in the sport’s history. 

Gus Malzahn was a wide receiver for the Reddies before innovating the hurry-up offense as a coordinator – an integral part of Auburn’s identity during its 2010 national championship season – before going on to coach Arkansas State, Auburn and now UCF, while current OBU coach Todd Knight is a six-time Great American Conference Coach of the Year and just led the Tigers to an undefeated regular season in 2022. 

Morehouse-Tuskegee Classic: Tuskegee Vs. Morehouse

Two celebrated historically Black universities known for educating some of the most important and influential African American minds in the country’s history, Tuskegee and Morehouse also have a pretty significant rivalry on the gridiron. 

Known as the “granddaddy of all classics,” the game is more accurately defined as merely one part of a giant festival surrounding it. 

The fun really starts on Friday with a block party and concert (rapper Jeezy performed last year, for instance) before the game arrives Saturday night. This year, it will be held Oct. 7 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama – moved there in 2021 after being played for decades at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium in Columbus, Georgia. 

The Golden Tigers and Maroon Tigers have played each other 112 times, and they have held the official Classic annually since 1935.

Tuskegee holds a substantial lead in the series with a 74-30-7 mark, only improved after the Golden Tigers took down Morehouse 31-14 in last year’s Classic, led by a four-touchdown day (one passing, three rushing) by TU quarterback Bryson Williams. 

But besides the game, there’s also another attraction the Classic provides that’s worthy of your attention – marching bands. 

Morehouse’s House of Funk and Tuskegee’s Marching Crimson Pipers are among the best it can get, and each put on a halftime show for those in attendance.