Them’s Fightin’ Words!

Every college football team has rivals.  Some of the rivalries are well-known, like Ohio State-Michigan, Oklahoma-Texas and Army-Navy.  Those teams play each other every year and have done so for decades.  And to fans of both teams, those game days are a lot like national holidays.  Other rivalries don’t get as much publicity.  For instance, East Carolina-NC State or Memphis-Southern Mississippi or Bowling Green-Kent State.

Naturally, the best rivalry games occur between two teams who periodically have winning seasons and sometimes even win the national championship.  Alabama-Auburn is a good example.  So is Florida-Florida State.

It’s not difficult to figure out Boise State’s biggest rivals.  For years the signature game of the Bronco football season every year was the Idaho game.  Obviously, the two schools don’t play each other every year anymore.  They’re not in the same conference, and soon they won’t even be in the same division, as Idaho is scheduled to switch from the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision to the Division I Football Championship Subdivision for the 2018 season.

But when they did play every year, the games always sold out.  And the Boise State-Idaho series was rare in that it included two 12-game winning streaks, one by each team.  After Idaho, Boise State’s biggest rivals since moving up a division in 1996 have been Nevada and Fresno State.

Tonight’s Boise State opponent, New Mexico, has a natural rival in New Mexico State, but just like Boise State and Idaho, they’re not in the same conference.  The Lobos are in the Mountain West, and the Aggies are a member of the Sun Belt Conference.  However, the two teams do still schedule a game every season.  In New Mexico it’s known as the Rio Grande Rivalry.

That places it among the rivalry games that actually have a title.  Some titles are geographical, like the Rio Grande Rivalry or the Rumble in the Rockies between Colorado and Utah, or the War on Interstate 4 between Central Florida and South Florida.  Others have clever names like the Magnolia Bowl, played between LSU and Ole Miss, or the Backyard Brawl between Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

A lot of rivalry games award a trophy of some sort at the end.  Sometimes the trophy isn’t a conventional trophy, but an item representing a tradition.  Akron and Kent State play for the Wagon Wheel.  BYU and Utah State play for the Old Wagon Wheel.  USC and Notre Dame fight over the Jeweled Shillelagh.  Boise State and Fresno State play for the Milk Can.  And Michigan and Minnesota famously play for the Little Brown Jug.

A rivalry that’s been discontinued and basically forgotten over the past few decades existed between New Mexico and Arizona.  From 1938 to 1990, the Lobos and Wildcats played every year.  Now they only play every few years, but for 53 seasons they fought to win the Kit Carson Rifle.  It’s an actual Springfield Model 1866 rifle that supposedly was owned by frontier scout Kit Carson.  But 19 years ago, the Kit Carson Rifle fell victim to political correctness.  After the 1997 game, both schools announced that the Kit Carson Rifle would be retired, since it was symbolic of the history of violence against native Americans.

But lest you think political correctness has ruined college football rivalries, there’s evidence to the contrary.  And I’m not even talking Florida versus Georgia, which is called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.  They may not be the most interesting teams of all time, but if you get a chance, get tickets to see the annual game between Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky, which is cheerfully known as 100 Miles of Hate.  It’s not PC, but it’s not far from the truth.

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