Phillip Rivers had a truly stellar college football career. He passed for 13,484 yards, had a squeaky clean 95/34 TD-to-INT ratio, and in his junior year helped the Wolfpack get to an 11-3 record capped off with a bowl win over Notre Dame. Bowl wins against Notre Dame aren’t easy, stop joking, LSU is right over there listening to all of this.
Rivers did pretty much the most anyone in program history has ever done to elevate the NC State program, got himself a nice steady gig in the NFL, and then used that spot to pay for however much food his 34 children eat. Phillip Rivers, in a lot of senses, is indeed a father of nations.
However: There is one very large, literally cold-blooded footnote to Phillip Rivers’ career at NC State. In four years starting at QB at NC State, Phillip Rivers never, ever beat Maryland.
This was not as shameful or weird as it might sound in the year 2018. Maryland at the time—or from 2001, Rivers’ sophomore year to Rivers’ last game against them in 2003— was coached by Ralph Friedgen. (The 2000 loss to a 5-6 Maryland team happened in Ron Vanderlinden’s final year.) Friedgen won the ACC in his first year, and won thirty-three games in this first three years total. Those Maryland teams were very good, and NC State played close and well in all of those losses. Only a whopping sixteen points separated the two teams over Phillip Rivers’ four games against the Terps, a tiny margin of just four points a game over four years.
Which is to say that Phillip Rivers had both a normal college career, and one with a spectacularly frustrating running gag of losing to the same team over and over again.
He is not alone in this.
Winless against Florida. Have we ever mentioned that? We should mention that more often. Peyton Manning lost all kinds of different ways to Florida: Close ones, big losses, near-comebacks, and absolute disasters. Typical Peyton to have the whole playbook out there, even in the disaster portfolio.
In his three years in Stillwater, the best running back in the history of football never beat Nebraska or Oklahoma, suffering six losses in all.
The 1988 season was cool, though, for at least two reasons. First, Sanders ran for 189 yards on Nebraska, which converted to Normal Yardage Against A Regular Human Defense equals something like 983 yards and eight TDs.
Second, Sanders ran for 215 yards in Bedlam against Oklahoma, clinched a Heisman, and watched the potential game-winning TD bounce off the hands of Oklahoma State wide receiver Brent Parker on 4th and 16 as time expired. The game was so stressful Barry Switzer lit up a cigarette on the sideline, which really wasn’t something you could even do anymore in 1988 in most places unless you were Barry Switzer. (Barry Switzer is by law still immune from all smoking regulations in the state of Oklahoma, and can and has lit up in a maternity ward without sanction.)
Robert Griffin III
Beat Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, and pretty much everyone else he faced regularly in conference as Baylor’s starter and only Heisman winner. The lone exception: Oklahoma State, who had absolutely no time for Baylor’s actually being good for once. When we say no time, we mean no time whatsoever, like attention unpaid with maximum disrespect intended. The average score in four losses to the Pokes: Oklahoma State 45, Baylor 16.
In three years at Miami from 1996 to 1998, the Canes great never played on a team that beat Florida State or Virginia Tech. Who says there isn’t anything in that trophy case, Hokies?
Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
Suh was in Lincoln, Nebraska for five long years, and probably doesn’t remember everything about playing Texas Tech three times. You probably don’t either, and that’s just as well if you’re a Nebraska fan, because the baddest defensive linemen we’ve ever seen in college lost all three of his matchups against the Red Raiders. Those losses probably involved Suh getting screened and drawed to death, but with a Mike Leach time one probably should have already assumed that.
Derrick Thomas, Alabama
Never beat Auburn, not even in 1988 when Thomas had—THIS IS A REAL NUMBER FROM A 12 GAME COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON—twenty-seven sacks in a twelve game season. Derrick Thomas died tragically in 2000 after being paralyzed in a car accident. Thomas has been deceased for 18 years, but this is the Iron Bowl and Derrick Thomas we’re talking about, so death couldn’t stop him from being mad about it because Death is just a fourth-string option along the D-line in Tuscaloosa.