Worst 15 Trophy Rivalry Games In Major College Football

Behold: the jaw-slackening Non-Glory of the nation's worst major college trophy game.
Behold: the jaw-slackening Non-Glory of the nation’s worst major college trophy game.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press produced a “Best Traveling Rivalry Trophies” list that does scant justice to the ritual. Simply passing a hat between scribes and listing old-ish trophy games, one through ten, ain’t cool, AP. No description? No evaluation? Nary a mention of criteria!?


Our nation’s great game deserves better. It deserves more. It deserves a Greg McElroy-in-SEC Network-film-room-bunker-style breakdown of each and every one of the current trophy rivalry games at the major college level along with the involved programs. Rest assured, such an arch-analysis – and master ranking – is coming soon to an SB Nation page near you.

One major aspect of the rivalry game ranking should be coolness of the trophy itself. Along these lines, I have devised a 15-point scoring system to produce a score that is actually a composite of three sub-categories:  “Originality,” “Tradition” and “Sheer Awesomeness.” Each of these sub-categories is worth 0 (worst) to 5 (best) points.

“Originality” represents how unique the trophy and its name are, as well as how unique and relevant its origin story is for the students of the involved programs. Naming a trophy “Governor’s Cup” is not looked kindly on in this department. Tradition represents the extent to which the trophy has meaningful ties to the programs and/or native region, and the significance the trophy holds in the larger context of game-day rivalry rituals between the programs.

The last metric here is “Sheer Awesomeness,” which admittedly can sometimes be in an eye of the beholder type thing. But here it’s simply a blended answer to two very straight-forward questions:

1) You’re Scot warrior William Wallace, of 13th-century kicking-ass  fame. You’ve been parachuted across time into modern America and before you learn what a cell phone is you’re told to fight for Trophy X. Upon first seeing it, how hard does your brave heart start beating?

2) If a group of major college football players were to win a spot on Extreme Makeover: Apartment Edition, how much would they enjoying seeing Trophy X appear in the corner of their TV room, regardless of what college they play for?

Ok, that part was easy.

Now, on to the next step: Add the point totals from all three categories together and you get my final, cumulative trophy score. It’s dubbed “Sweetness of Trophy,” or S.O.T. for short. I’ve highlighted each S.O.T. score in red below.

As of a point of reference, after the names of the programs, the categories from left to right follow as such:

Year Trophy First Awarded;    Originality;    Tradition;    Sheer Awesomeness;   Sweetness of Trophy   

Let’s get on with the rankings. We’re starting at the bottom:


Textile Bowl Clemson-North Carolina State 1981 1 1 0   2

Finding out this rivalry is considered by those who know it exists to be “friendly” is bad. Seeing the actual trophy – possibly the sport’s most anodyne – is worse.


Shillelagh Purdue-Notre Dame 1957 1 2 1      4

Were there an American Gaelic war club trophy club, Notre Dame would be its charter member.


Hardee’s Trophy Clemson-South Carolina 1999* 0 2 2 4

Some reports indicate the Hardee’s era is mercifully over. South Carolina’s sports department tells me it will be around for at least one more Palmetto Bowl.


The Bell Ohio-Marshall 1997 1 2 1 4

How is this not a farcically blatant rip off of nearby Miami(Ohio)-Cincinnati’s Victory Bell?


Anniversary Award Kent State-Bowling Green 1985 1 2 1 4

Naming a trophy after the 75th anniversary of the founding of your school is the college ritual equivalent of taking your grandmother to prom.


Governor’s Victory Bell Minnesota-Penn State 1993 0 2 3 5

Maddeningly redundant idea. But looks good.


Iron Skillet SMU-TCU 1946 3 1 1 5

Nobody puts on warpaint for something you can cook pancakes in.


Battle of I-75 Toledo-Bowling Green 2011 1 3 1 5

Proposed alternate “Battle of The Great Black Swamp” would be ten times better than naming after a stretch of concrete.


Commonwealth Cup Virginia-Virginia Tech 1996 2 2 2 6

Too stately for my tastes.


Victory Bell North Carolina-Duke 1948 2 3 2 7

It’s a bell. Signifying victory.


Land Grant Trophy Michigan-Penn State 1993 4 3 0 7

Just a big, messy mishmash of visual atrocity.


Heartland Iowa-Wisconsin 2004 3 1 3 7

The giant bull on top is meant to represent the toughness of the series. I pray our nation’s next generation of trophy-makers learn to steer clear of this sort of cliched symbolism.


Megaphone Notre Dame-Michigan State 1949 2 2 3 7

Too static. But there’s promise, if it becomes usable in some way to the victor – either as an actual voice amplifier, or hat.


Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl Boston College-Notre Dame 1975 2 3 2 7

Awards made of crystal usually mean way more to the giver than the players who receive them.


Land of Lincoln Illinois-Northwestern 2009 1 4 2 7

Ol’ Abe forever deserves mad respect but this name is boring. Online poll runner-up “Graham-Grange Fire Bell” packs more sizzle.

OK, the next one is technically the 16th worst trophy – what, really, who’s counting**, anyway?


Centennial Cup Colorado-Colorado State 1986 1 3 3 7

This state rules. So, in 1876, it should have come up with a more self-expressive nickname than “Centennial State.” And its universities can come up with something more reflective of the area’s awesomeness, too.

*Although it’s almost certainly no more than a decade or two old, the origins of the Hardee’s Trophy are surprisingly triple stacked in mystery. I could not find what year it began (nor did the South Carolina sports information department know) but one blog post mentioned it began 15 years ago. That’s obviously unverified.

** I could just lump all the trophies with like scores together and declare them tied, but this isn’t Europe and it sure as hell ain’t soccer.


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