Nothing so clearly screams college football as Rivalry Week, when giant axes, territorial cups, and ruby-adorned Gaelic war clubs crash through our television screens. The traveling trophy game distills what's loved most about the sport and pumps it directly into our veins.
At the same time, trophy games are reduced to mere data points by a proliferating sports analytics sector and the Playoff committee, which in theory gleans insight from it. Composite rankings, whether dished in Tuesday night dictums, S&P+ ratings, or your fave power index of choice, are woven into every corner of modern college football.
And yet these two had never collided. Until now, Program A and Program B have been allowed to believe their own cherished trophy game is the best in the land (or at least not the worst). This is unacceptable. Modern America demands a pecking order. And statistics better be part of it.
|Trophy||Years awarded||Competitiveness||Top-10 teams||Draft picks||Trophy sweetness||Total|
|1. Golden Hat||Oklahoma||Texas||73||0.480||64||371||12||86.30|
|2. Jeweled Shillelagh||USC||Notre Dame||62||0.500||66||468||10||81.60|
|3. Floyd of Rosedale||Minnesota||Iowa||79||0.400||25||206||14||80.81|
|4. Victory Bell||USC||UCLA||75||0.540||46||421||11||79.68|
|5. Old Oaken Bucket||Indiana||Purdue||89||0.360||7||163||14||75.75|
|6. FOY-ODK Sportsmanship||Alabama||Auburn||66||0.480||57||322||9||74.35|
|7. Bronze Boot||Wyoming||Colorado State||46||0.400||1||97||14||74.28|
|8. Paniolo Trophy||Hawaii||Wyoming||35||0.400||1||95||14||73.68|
|9. Territorial Cup||Arizona||Arizona State||115||0.480||9||264||10||72.37|
|10. Stanford Axe||California||Stanford||81||0.360||15||348||12||71.85|
|11. Magnolia Bowl||LSU||Ole Miss||6||0.600||33||195||12||71.40|
|12. Paul Bunyan||Michigan||Michigan State||61||0.560||52||318||9||70.89|
|13. Paul Bunyan's Axe||Wisconsin||Minnesota||66||0.760||23||215||14||70.32|
|14. Golden Boot||Arkansas||LSU||22||0.391||37||293||11||70.04|
|15. Purdue Cannon||Purdue||Illinois||71||0.579||11||214||11||69.62|
|16. Illibuck||Ohio State||Illinois||89||0.696||41||337||11||69.42|
|17. Golden Egg||Ole Miss||Mississippi State||87||0.480||11||81||10||69.24|
|18. Cy-Hawk||Iowa||Iowa State||37||0.680||15||179||12||65.33|
|19. Fremont Cannon||Nevada||UNLV||44||0.682||0||42||13||65.18|
|20. Megaphone||Notre Dame||Michigan State||65||0.565||50||348||7||64.15|
|21. Wagon Wheel||Akron||Kent State||69||0.667||0||30||12||63.93|
|22. Oil Can||Fresno State||San Diego St||5||0.583||0||167||11||63.72|
|23. Victory Bell||Miami (Ohio)||Cincinnati||115||0.380||4||85||10||63.70|
|24. Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl||Boston College||Notre Dame||39||0.474||40||310||7||63.20|
|25. O'Rourke-McFadden||Boston College||Clemson||6||0.400||11||245||10||61.93|
|26. Legends Trophy||Notre Dame||Stanford||25||0.609||45||342||8||61.91|
|27. Little Brown Jug||Michigan||Minnesota||111||0.905||48||261||12||61.62|
|28. Ram-Falcon||Air Force||Colorado State||34||0.520||2||65||9||61.59|
|29. Keg of Nails||Louisville||Cincinnati||85||0.636||3||129||10||61.48|
|30. Bedlam Bell||Oklahoma||Oklahoma State||48||0.740||42||279||10||60.80|
|31. The Saddle||TCU||Texas Tech||53||0.364||4||147||10||60.12|
|32. Okefenokee Oar||Florida||Georgia||5||0.760||36||380||10||57.51|
|33. Heartland Trophy||Iowa||Wisconsin||10||0.571||28||265||7||56.67|
|34. Heroes Trophy||Nebraska||Iowa||3||0.800||45||359||10||56.14|
|35. Old Brass Spittoon||Michigan State||Indiana||64||0.810||16||196||11||55.95|
|36. Chancellor's Spurs||Texas||Texas Tech||18||0.760||25||242||10||55.05|
|37. Silver Spade||UTEP||New Mexico State||59||0.652||0||59||9||54.62|
|38. Apple Cup||Washington||Washington State||52||0.680||16||258||8||53.78|
|39. Land of Lincoln||Illinois||Northwestern||5||0.440||11||164||7||53.42|
|40. Don Shula Award||Florida Atlantic||Florida International||12||0.636||0||11||9||52.57|
|41. Platypus||Oregon||Oregon State||55||0.680||12||171||8||52.41|
|42. Governor's Cup||Kentucky||Louisville||20||0.400||4||159||7||50.69|
|43. Land Grant Trophy||Michigan State||Penn State||21||0.278||38||350||7||50.62|
|44. Governor's Cup||Georgia||Georgia Tech||19||0.760||31||271||8||49.66|
|45. Governor's Victory Bell||Minnesota||Penn State||21||0.385||34||293||5||49.15|
|46. Governor's Cup||Kansas||Kansas State||45||0.280||9||139||8||48.68|
|47. Centennial Cup||Colorado||Colorado State||28||0.667||8||214||7||48.30|
|48. Victory Cannon||Central Michigan||Western Michigan||3||0.600||0||38||7||47.90|
|49. Milk Can||Boise State||Fresno State||8||0.800||4||117||9||44.28|
|50. Bronze Stalk||Ball State||Northern Illinois||6||0.278||0||44||8||44.11|
|51. Jefferson-Eppes||Florida State||Virginia||18||0.833||18||295||8||43.50|
|52. Hardee's Trophy (changing in 2015)||Clemson||South Carolina||15||0.600||10||249||4||42.30|
|53. Battle of I-75||Toledo||Bowling Green||3||0.600||0||38||5||41.23|
|54. Commonwealth Cup||Virginia||Virginia Tech||18||0.240||7||206||6||38.61|
|55. Shillelagh||Notre Dame||Purdue||57||0.800||41||315||4||37.91|
|56. Victory Bell||North Carolina||Duke||66||0.880||12||167||7||37.61|
|57. Iron Skillet||TCU||SMU||68||0.760||10||126||5||37.51|
|58. The Bell||Ohio||Marshall||17||0.286||1||30||4||31.84|
|59. Anniversary Award||Kent State||Bowling Green||29||0.250||0||42||4||30.31|
|60. Textile Bowl||Clemson||NC State||33||0.720||7||248||2||28.91|
FBS games between two teams only, though there are plenty of lower-level trophy games and three-team trophies. To qualify, the trophy series needs to be scheduled for 2014 or for upcoming years. Trophy series starting in last few years (without significant series history before) are not included.
There are five criteria, and they are weighed differently.
Whether older is better or not, there is a lot to be said for the passing down of relics through the generations. So in a nod to sepia-toned times past, I take into consideration how many years have passed since the trophy was first awarded (the more, the better). This is 5 percent of the total score.
Series competitiveness over the last 25 years is another factor. This is important, determining 30 percent of the total score. A true rivalry cannot flourish unless each side believes it can win. The closer each team comes to winning half of its games in the series' recent history, the better.
A good series should spotlight really good players. So one category, worth 5 percent of the total, is how many NFL Draft picks the rival programs have produced since 1975.
Better players usually mean better teams and more passion swirling around the big game. That's where the teams' combined all-time number of regular season finishes in the Associated Press top 10 steps in. This metric does shackle the less-established teams that weren't major programs a few decades ago. But it counts for only 10 percent of the rivalry's total score.
My final category is subjective. It's a judgment of how cool the trophy looks, how colorful its past is, and the emotional connection players and students appear to have with it. I call it the Trophy Sweetness metric, and I go into detail about its components here. It's worth half of the total score. If Program A and B outsourced their trophy's traditions to a chamber of commerce, that is a very bad thing.
Minnesota might have the country's greatest trophy tradition; an AP poll ranked three Gopher trophy games atop the nation's best. Jesse Johnson, USA Today
The Textile Bowl musters only two points from a maximum of 15 because it is profoundly non-awesome. The game has been more of an opportunity for the school's textile programs to hobnob than a venue for top-notch ACC football. There's nothing special about the trophy itself. Compare this to a far more awesome trophy, such as the Paul Bunyan Axe Minnesota and Wisconsin will play for this weekend.
Jeff Hanisch, USA Today
You'll notice the list is symptomatic of the rich getting richer. Oklahoma and Texas always rank highly in all-time polls or NFL Draft pick totals. What sends them to the top here is a super-tight series since 1990 and legitimately cool trophy.
The Golden Hat is one of three trophies involved in OU-Texas, but it is the only one given at the end of the game played every year in October in Dallas' Cotton Bowl. In 1941, the State Fair of Texas was so appreciative the schools played during the event that the organization awarded a bronzed (now gold) 10-gallon hat for the game.
Matthew Emmons, USA Today
For the most part, incendiary official nicknames like "Red River Shootout" and accompanying firearms have exited the stadium. Smaller schools in the Mountain states provide a bit of kickback to this trend. Last year, Utah State and Wyoming started using a straight-up rifle as a trophy.
University of Wyoming
If there's one thing Wyoming should be known for, it's trophy awesomeness. Its series with Hawaii -- the nation's most farflung rivalry -- features a piece of bronze depicting the first Hawaiian inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame.
University of Hawaii
Wyoming also battles Colorado State for the bronzed boot of a Vietnam veteran. Each year, one school's ROTC detachment runs the game ball to the state border. Those detachments meet, exchange the game ball, and hurry on foot to the stadium hosting the game. That's up to 39 miles of highway running.
Trophy games are sprouting with unprecedented frequency in the SEC. Starting earlier this season, the winners of South Carolina-Texas A&M get a statue of a South Carolinian hero at the Alamo. Unfortunately, it goes to the winning state governor, not the players.
Here is this James Bonham trophy traded between the governors of SC and Texas for the @UofSC-@TAMU series pic.twitter.com/3CPIj07ZBu— Andy Shain (@AndyShain) August 27, 2014
This Friday, Arkansas and Missouri kick off their recently coined Battle Line Rivalry brought to you by Shelter Insurance. When that game begins using a trophy, it will be the Hogs' second, still a far cry from the trophy-saturated Big Ten climes from which the Razorback head coach hails.
Arkansas winning the Golden Boot from LSU two weeks ago. Jasen Vinlove, USA Today
I asked Bret Bielema, former Wisconsin coach, why he thinks the trophy game hasn't proliferated in the South like in the Midwest.
"It's hard to replace 50 years of history," he said. "The Paul Bunyan Axe has meant a lot for a long time to a lot of different people. So has the Floyd of Rosedale. I think it's really up to the head coach to emphasize it. I put a huge emphasis on trophy games."