Rematches at a championship level are rare. There’s a narrative out there that the team who loses in the regular season will be extra-motivated and win the post-season rematch. If you check out the current betting odds for the College Football Playoffs from the DraftKings Sportsbook, it bears out. Although Alabama is the overall favorite to win the whole thing at +120 compared to Georgia’s +140, the specific scenario of Georgia beating Alabama is +175, while Alabama defeating Georgia a second time is +215.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Much of our own conventional wisdom supports this, too, and it feels like common sense. Alabama is more likely than Georgia to win their semifinal game due to the nature of their opponents, but in the event of a rematch, we feel like the advantage goes to the first loser.
My question is: how historically accurate is that?
In terms of College Football championships, Alabama-LSU following the 2011 season is our only data point. And in that game’s case, Alabama lost the original but won the rematch. Of course, the two games were actually really, really similar... Alabama just didn’t miss a bunch of field goals in the rematch.
Let’s go back in time, though, and see how other post-season rematches (between top teams, at least) have played out.
In 1957, Iowa twice defeated Oregon State with a rematch in the Rose Bowl.
There was the 1960 Sugar Bowl, where LSU beat Ole miss during the regular season, and then the two teams matched up again as #2 and #3, and Ole Miss beat the 21-0 in the Sugar Bowl Rematch. Which is a weird DeJaVu for the Tigers, huh?
In the 1966 and 1976 Rose Bowls, UCLA lost to a Big Ten team during the regular season only to upset them in the Rose Bowl and end their undefeated streaks (Michigan State and Ohio State).
The 1979 Orange Bowl saw Oklahoma exact revenge over Nebraska.
the 1988 Rose Bowl finally went a different way, with Michigan State notching a second win over USC.
This one doesn’t swing the needle either way, but Florida and FSU tied in 1995, and the Seminoles won the Sugar Bowl rematch.
In 1997, Florida State beat Florida during the regular season, but the Gators won the Sugar Bowl rematch this time.
Jumping ahead to 2004, Florida State was, yet again, involved in a rematch. This time the Miami Hurricanes triumphed both times.
Totaling everything up, that’s 3 wins for the original victor and 5 wins for the regular season loser. There have been plenty of other bowl game rematches over the years, but I was trying to limit to only games between teams at the tip top of the rankings in their given year.
I also wanted to look at a more SEC focused post-season game, and found all of the times the SEC Championship has featured a rematch. The most recent was the 2017 game where Georgia lost to Auburn on a fluke tipped pass play in the season before absolutely lambasting the Tigers in the SEC Championship. Overall, though, it’s happened 7 times since the SEC Championship has started being played, and the team that won the first time won again for the rematch in 5 of them.
There’s never been a conference championship into national championship rematch, though, so who knows how that will go.
More importantly, Alabama must first overcome the undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats, who are going to throw the entire kitchen sink at the Tide to make sure there is no chance of a rematch in the first place.