Whether you are an FBS powerhouse that has multiple national championships or a small FCS school that shoots for .500, in college football, rivalry games mean just as much to teams as conference and national titles do. Rivalry games are circled by each team involved every year. Entering the games, the atmosphere on both campuses changes and the smack talk begins.
Some rivalries are named for the interstates that connect the two schools, like UCF and South Florida's "War on I-4." Some have creative names based on simply how much each team loathes each other, like Georgia and Georgia Tech's "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." And others, like Minnesota and Wisconsin's "Battle for the Axe," are named for the trophies they play for.
S0, when it comes to the names, which ones rank above the rest? We know "The Game" between Ohio State and Michigan checks in at No. 1 on the 25 biggest rivalries in college football, and we know of "Bedlam" between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, which unfortunately has not lived up to its name given the Sooners' domination in the series. But what are the best nicknames that add just a little more fire and excitement surrounding the game?
Honorable Mention: The Rivalry (Lafayette-Lehigh)
Series: Lafayette Leads 82-72-5
It is only fitting that the most-played rivalry in college football gets some acknowledgment and is given the appropriate title of "The Rivalry." The two teams have played 159 times since 1884, missing just one season in 1896.
10. Battle for the Keg of Nails (Cincinnati-Louisville)
Series: Cincinnati Leads 30-23-1
Just an hour and a half drive on I-71 separates the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Louisville Cardinals. The trophy the game is named after is said to have been created by two fraternity chapters, one from each school, where the losing school would give the winning school a bucket of nails, signifying that the winning players were "tough as nails." Unfortunately, after meeting every year from 1966 to 2013, the two stopped playing their annual rivalry when they left for separate conferences. The two schools did meet last year during bowl season for the first time in nearly a decade. Louisville took home the win.
9. The Dam Cup (Eastern Washington-Portland State)
Series: Tied 22-22-1
The first rivalry from the FCS level of college football makes our list with "The Dam Cup," which is played between northwestern foes Eastern Washington and Portland State. Although the two teams started playing each other in 1968, The Dam Cup was not introduced until 2010 and involves more than just the football teams. Portland State was the more successful team prior to the establishment of the cup, but Eastern Washington has won nine of the 12 meetings with two of those three losses coming this season and in 2022. Teams often find themselves hoping to "win The Dam Cup."
8. The Holy War (BYU-Utah)
Series: Utah Leads 62-35-4 (per Utah), Utah Leads 59-32-4 (per BYU)
This is one of the more underrated in-state rivalries in the history of college football. First off, there is a dispute about when the actual rivalry began. Utah says it began in 1896 but BYU says it started in 1922. Playing in the same conference from 1922 to 2010, this game often determined the winner of the WAC and MWC. Even though the two separated from conference play in 2011, they agreed to continue to play each other each year except in 2014 and 2015. However, in 2015 the two met in the Las Vegas Bowl creating a new chapter titled "Holy War in Sin City."
7. The BoomBox Classic (Jackson State-Southern)
Series: Southern Leads 35-33
These two teams first met in 1928 with Southern blowing out Jackson State 98-0. The teams would not meet again for nearly 30 years, the next game being in 1959. But the two have met every season since then. Not only is this the biggest HBCU rivalry game, but it is one of the biggest rivalries at the FCS level with both teams being near the top of the nation and the SWAC. Southern has gotten the best of their opponent over the course of the rivalry, but Jackson State has closed the gap in the all-time series winning the last four meetings.
6. 100 Miles of Hate (Middle Tennessee-Western Kentucky)
Series: Western Kentucky Leads 37-35-1
One hundred miles along U.S. Route 231 is all that needs to be traveled for those going to see the rivalry game between Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky. The two first played in 1914 and started playing every year from 1952 to 1991, but with Western Kentucky stuck in the FCS (formerly Div. 1-AA), the two teams saw a hiatus that lasted 16 years. Once Western Kentucky transitioned to the FBS, the two began to play regularly again. Middle Tennessee has had its fair share of success in this rivalry but Western Kentucky has won five straight and eight of the last 11 matchups.
5. Red River Shootout (Oklahoma-Texas)
Series: Texas Leads 63-51-5
It is officially known now as the "Red River Rivalry" but true college football fans will always refer to the annual meeting between the Longhorns and Sooners as the "Red River Shootout." This game has so much history and uniqueness to it and carries such a great name. The game is played at a neutral site at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas during the Texas State Fair on the second Saturday of October. This rivalry has been played every year since 1929 and ranks at the top with "The Game" and "Army/Navy" as one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football.
4. The Moonshine Throwdown (Marshall-Western Kentucky)
Series: Marshall Leads 8-5
Give Western Kentucky the crown for best rivalry nicknames. This is one of the youngest rivalries in college football, but it has one of the greatest names. "The Moonshine Throwdown" sees Western Kentucky take on Marshall. The rivalry began when the two were scheduled to play during Rivalry Week in 2014. Marshall entered the game ranked 24th in the country and with a shot at a New Year's Six Bowl. However, as a major underdog, Western Kentucky knocked off Marshall in a high-scoring affair winning 66-65 in double overtime. The two have split the last eight matchups and the rivalry is currently on hold since Marshall left Conference USA in 2022.
3. Rumble in the Rockies (Colorado-Utah)
Series: Tied 32-32-3
Get ready because not only does this rivalry have a great name but it also has two parts of the history. The "Rumble in the Rockies" pits the Colorado Buffalos against the Utah Utes in a rivalry game that dates back to 1903. However, after playing 57 times from 1903 to 1962, the two teams would not meet until 2011 when the two teams joined the Pac-12. Colorado led the series before their near-50-year hiatus 30-24-3, but Utah has evened the series up by winning six straight and and 10 of the last 12 meetings. The two play each other this weekend with each wanting to take the series lead before moving this rivalry to Big 12 Conference in 2024.
2. The Backyard Brawl (Pitt-West Virginia)
Series: Pitt Leads 62-41-3
Seventy miles along I-79 is all that separates Morgantown and Pittsburgh, giving us one of the more unique cross-state rivalries in college football. The first game was played in 1985, and from 1943 to 2011, West Virginia and Pitt met every year until both teams left for separate conferences. However, the rivalry was renewed in 2022 and has been played for the last two seasons. The teams are currently scheduled to play each other through the 2029 season. Pitt's run early on, especially in the 1930s and 1970s, has given them a comfortable lead, but West Virginia has won 19 of the last 31 matchups, with two of those games resulting in ties.
1. Brawl of the Wild (Montana-Montana State)
Series: Montana Leads 74-42-5
The battle for the Great Divide Trophy is a pretty good name for itself, but the annual meeting between in-state rivals Montana and Montana State dons a better name. There's no comparison to the "Brawl of the Wild." The most beautiful state in the country has one of the best names for its top two college football teams, and when these two play the entire state seems to be in attendance at the game. Montana has owned the series since it was first played in 1897. The Grizzlies won this year's game last weekend but Montana State has had a more recent success in this rivalry, winning five of the last seven meetings including a four-game stretch from 2016 to 2019.
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