Ranking the Top College Football Rivalry Game Trophies
This is the best time of the year in college football, for multiple reasons. While teams are jockeying for position in the College Football Playoff rankings and fighting for conference titles, they’ll do so with the added bonus of competing against their rivals.
While rivalry games are spread throughout the calendar, they’re concentrated in the home stretch of the season—and none better than Thanksgiving weekend. With games like Michigan-Ohio State, Notre Dame-Southern California, Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Washington-Washington State, Auburn-Alabama and more, the week is full of compelling rivalry matchups.
Many of these rivalries also have excellent, tradition-rich trophies. Let’s take a look at the 10 best rivalry trophies out there.
10. The Old Brass Spittoon
The Big Ten has a lot of different, unique trophies, but one of the most unique is the one awarded for a rather nondescript rivalry—Indiana-Michigan State. The Spartans have dominated the rivalry, leading 45–16–2, but that just means they've hung on to the Old Brass Spittoon for a long period of time.
In 1950, Michigan State students were looking for a way to inspire the Spartans heading into a matchup with Indiana. Students found a spittoon that allegedly dated back to the 1800s and was used by both Michigan and Indiana residents when East Lansing was merely a trading post.
They bought the spittoon for $25, and the teams have played for the trophy ever since. It’s old. It’s kind of gross. But it’s a truly different trophy.
9. The Golden Egg
When Mississippi State and Ole Miss get together for the Egg Bowl Saturday afternoon, it might fly below the national radar. While both programs have recently enjoyed strong runs of success, each has taken a step back this season. Mississippi State is 4-7, while Ole Miss has slipped from last season’s 10-3 mark to 5-6 and needs to win just to make a bowl game. But the game will matter for those in the Magnolia State, and for those who covet the Golden Egg.
After Ole Miss fans charged the field and attempted to tear down Mississippi State's (then Mississippi A&M) goalposts in 1926, fights broke out between the two fanbases. The following year, the Golden Egg was created. It’s a large, football-like brass piece mounted on a wooden base that resembles the rugby-like footballs used in the 1920s.
It’s meaningful for both teams, even when the football played isn’t as meaningful.
8. The Old Oaken Bucket
When Indiana and Purdue face off on Saturday, it won’t attract much national attention. Purdue is 3-8 and has already fired head coach Darrell Hazell. Indiana is 5-6 and must win to make its second consecutive bowl game. But they will play for one of college football’s best trophies in the Old Oaken Bucket.
Indiana and Purdue have one of college football’s oldest rivalries, dating back to 1891, with Purdue leading 72-40-6. The trophy was first awarded in 1925. It came from a farm in southern Indiana and has a chain with bronze I and P letters attached. The winning team gets a P or I attached to a the chain with the game’s date, place and score attached.
In a league full of rivalry trophies, this stands out as one of the best.
7. The Victory Bell
When you refer to the Victory Bell in college football, you have to be clear what you’re talking about. Six different college football rivalries claim a Victory Bell as a traveling trophy, but the most storied is the bell that goes to the winner of Southern California-UCLA. Last Saturday night, the Trojans ensured they’d keep it for another year with a 36-14 pasting of the Bruins.
The Victory Bell is a 295-pound brass bell that originally sat atop a Southern Pacific locomotive. It was given to UCLA in 1939, but was then stolen by Southern California fraternity members in 1941 and kept hidden by USC students for over a year. In 1942, after the bell was finally recovered, the schools agreed that it would become a traveling trophy given to the winner of the annual football game.
It is mounted on a wheeled carriage and painted in the color of the school that possesses it, be it UCLA “True Blue” or Southern California “Cardinal.”
6. The Keg of Nails
When Louisville moved from the American Athletic Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, it left behind some significant history. Sadly, one of the biggest pieces of history was the Keg of Nails. Cincinnati and Louisville, connected by Interstate 71, had a rivalry that stretched from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Metro Conference to Conference USA and the Big East/American Athletic Conference.
The teams played for the Keg of Nails trophy, which is a replica of a keg that was used to ship nails, with the idea that players who succeeded in this game were tougher than a keg of nails. However, the rivalry is on hiatus thanks to Louisville’s move to the ACC and no current plans to schedule Cincinnati. That’s unfortunate, because it’s one of the coolest trophies in college football.
5. The Fremont Cannon
Compared to many trophies on this list, the Fremont Cannon is relatively young. In 1969, Bill Ireland was hired to coach UNLV’s first football team. He was a Nevada alumnus, and decided the best way to jump-start a new rivalry with Nevada was to create a trophy.
Thus, the Fremont Cannon was born. It is a recreation of a howitzer cannon that John C. Fremont, an explorer who traveled through Nevada in 1843, allegedly left in a Sierra Nevada mountain snowdrift.
It cost $10,000 to build and weighs 545 pounds, making it the most expensive and heaviest trophy in college football. Until 2000, when UNLV fans and players dropped the cannon during a victory celebration, it was fired by the team possessing it after touchdowns were scored. UNLV paid $1,500 to replace the damage, but it has not been fired since. Even as a nonfiring trophy, the Fremont Cannon stands out.
4. The Little Brown Jug
The Michigan-Minnesota rivalry has been rather one-sided recently. Due to Big Ten realignment, the teams do not meet annually, but when they do, the Wolverines have had the upper hand, winning 23 of the last 25 meetings. That means Michigan has a near-monopoly on the Little Brown Jug, the most regularly exchanged rivalry trophy in college football and the oldest trophy game, dating back to 1892.
In 1903, Michigan coach Fielding Yost purchased a jug for drinking water in a Minneapolis store. Near the end of the contest, with the game tied at six, Minnesota fans stormed the field, which eventually forced the game to be called as a tie.
Michigan left the jug behind, and it was claimed by Minnesota, which painted it brown (it is now half brown and half blue). Six years later, the teams decided to use the jug as a traveling trophy, and it’s been part of the rivalry ever since.
3. The Jeweled Shillelagh
When Notre Dame and Southern California get together Saturday, they’ll renew one of the best rivalries in college football. The game won’t matter in the College Football Playoff picture, but regardless, it’ll certainly matter to fans of both teams and earn a spot on the national radar.
A great rivalry needs a great trophy, and that’s what the Jeweled Shillelagh is. While the series dates back to 1926, the teams didn’t play for the Shillelagh until 1952. It is a wooden club made of Irish saplings and has the words “From the Emerald Isle” engraved on its end, as it was donated by the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles.
Each year, a jeweled ornament is added to the club, with a emerald-studded shamrock for Notre Dame and a ruby-studded Trojan head for Southern California. The current trophy is actually the second one used; the first was retired in 1995 and is now displayed at Notre Dame. After an eight-year run of Trojan dominance from 2002-09, the Irish have won four of the last six meetings.
2. Paul Bunyan's Axe
Lately, the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry hasn’t been much of a rivalry. Entering this weekend’s regular-season-finale showdown, Wisconsin has won 12 consecutive games in the series, which, at 125 games, is the most-played rivalry in college football.
That means the Badgers have gotten to know Paul Bunyan’s Axe well. It is actually the rivalry’s second traveling trophy. The teams originally played for the Slab of Bacon from 1930-43 until it was lost following a Minnesota victory. The slab was subsequently found in 1994 in a Camp Randall Stadium storage closet.
In 1948, the Wisconsin National W Club created Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which features a six-foot-long handle on which the game’s scores are inscribed. Until 2014, the winning team claimed the ax and would “chop down” the goal post. In 2013, Minnesota players surrounded a goal post and refused to let Wisconsin chop it down, nearly prompting a fight. Now, the ax is kept in a team locker room until the game is over, which ESPN.com's Brian Bennett says robs the rivalry of some of its luster.
Either way, the ax hasn’t been chopping much of anything in Minnesota recently.
1. Floyd of Rosedale
Iowa-Minnesota is nowhere near the top of the list of college football’s best rivalries, largely because neither team has won a national title since 1960. But its trophy, Floyd of Rosedale, is the game’s best rivalry trophy.
In 1934, Iowa accused Minnesota players of dirty play and late hits on star tailback Ozzie Simmons. To defuse the controversy, Iowa and Minnesota’s governors agreed to wager a live hog, named Floyd of Rosedale.
After Floyd passed away, a trophy was commissioned in its place. Floyd of Rosedale is a 98-pound bronze pig that is 21 inches long and 15 inches high. The winner of Iowa-Minnesota keeps Floyd until the next year’s meeting.
Minnesota holds a 62-46-2 lead in the series, which is made even more special thanks to a bronze pig named Floyd.