Of the 100-plus trophies associated with rivalries at the FBS level of college football a dozen are represented by a piece of hardware designed to hold or transport something.
It’s a unique subset of physical prizes with backstories that can only be credited to the greatest team sport in our 50, quite nifty, United States.
THE BAYOU BUCKET – Houston vs. Rice
The series: first played in 1971, Houston leads 33-11 and has won seven-straight.
Most recent meeting: 2022, a 34-27 win for Houston.
Next meeting: Sept. 9, 2023
Houston, Texas – also known as the Bayou City – is home to both the Cougars and Owls, whose campuses are located a mere five miles apart. The first game between the two, in 1971, was also Houston’s first-ever league game as a member of the Southwest Conference. The 1995 contest was the final SWC game in history. The trophy, a gold bucket attached to a massive wooden base, was first awarded in 1974. Houston has captured the Bucket 31 times vs. Rice’s 10.
THE OLD OAKEN BUCKET – Indiana vs. Purdue
The series: first played in 1891, Purdue leads 76-42-6.
Most recent meeting: 2022, a 30-16 win for Purdue.
Next meeting: Nov. 25, 2023
Dating all the way back to 1925, the tradition of the Old Oaken Bucket began when an alumnus of each institution was charged with finding a traveling trophy. The duo struck gold at an Indiana farm, where an old bucket, now the Old Oaken Bucket, hung from a well. The first game played for the prize ended in a 0-0 tie, which explains the bronze “IP” attached to the Bucket’s handle. This led to a bronze “I” or “P” being linked to the trophy for each win ever since. So far, 62 “P’s” have been attached vs. 32 “I’s.”
THE PAINT BUCKET – Arkansas State vs. Memphis
The series: first played in 1914, Memphis leads 32-23-5 and has won four-straight.
Most recent meeting: 2022, a 44-32 win for Memphis.
Next meeting: 2023/2026-29
The Paint Bucket Bowl (also referred to as the “Mid-South’s Oldest Rivalry”) has featured some memorable moments including a Hail Mary pass in 2006 (the “Bluff City” miracle), a bench-clearing brawl in 1992, and a controversial fifth down-play in 1987. The Paint Bucket trophy (an actual bucket decorated in both school’s colors) – along with the tradition of the winner of the game smearing paint on a designated area of the loser’s campus – were both established to “eliminate the defacing of each campus and the ‘kidnapping’ of opposing football players during game week.” The two campuses are located just 70 miles apart.
THE KEG OF NAILS – Cincinnati vs. Louisville
The series: first played in 1929, Cincinnati leads 30-23-1 but Louisville has won three-straight.
Most recent meeting: the 2022 Fenway Bowl, a 24-7 win for Louisville.
Next meeting: no future dates.
The Bearcats and Cardinals shared conference membership in the Missouri Valley (1963-69), C-USA (1996-2004), Big East (2005-12), and American (2013) before Louisville bolted for the ACC. According to lore, the Keg of Nails – a replica of the old barrels used to transport nails on the Ohio River – is awarded to the team that earns the right to be called “tough as nails”. The original keg is said to have gone missing in Louisville but has since been replaced. The two campuses are located 100 miles apart.
THE VICTORY BARREL – East Carolina vs. NC State
The series: first played in 1970, NC State leads 19-13 and has won three-straight.
Most recent meeting: 2022, a 21-20 win for NC State.
Next meetings: 2025/2028
Located fewer than 90 miles apart, the Pirates and Wolfpack met consecutively from 1970 to 1987 as heated rivals. The ’87 contest, a 32-14 ECU win in Raleigh, ended badly with Pirate fans ripping down both goalposts and a fence resulting in a series of physical altercations. It was so ugly that the rivalry was suspended by then NC State AD Jim Valvano. The two didn’t meet again until the 1991/92 Peach Bowl and have played 13 times since.
The Victory Barrel didn’t officially debut until 2007 but has a backstory that began decades earlier with two competitive brothers, one who attended NC State and the other ECU. Since childhood the pair had kept a tally of all their competitions on an old barrel on their family farm. Eventually it was decided that the football battle between their respective alma maters would deem which brother got barrel for the year. As the pair aged the Barrel was passed on to the Student Government Associations from both institutions who made the “Battle for the Barrel” an official element of the rivalry.
THE BEER BARREL – Kentucky vs. Tennessee
The series: first played in 1893, Tennessee leads 83-26-9.
Most recent meeting: 2022, a 44-6 win for Tennessee.
Next meeting: Oct. 28, 2023
The first of two trophies that involve the University of Kentucky that are no longer actively in use, the Beer Barrel dates to 1925 when it was introduced to the cross-state rivalry by UK fans. Due to Prohibition, it was originally painted blue and labeled “Ice Water.” After alcohol became legal again each school’s colors were represented on its side of the vessel. The storied history of the Barrel includes a series of thefts, a missing mascot, and a group of Vanderbilt students who absconded it from Kentucky’s campus to garner support from Vols’ fans in their upcoming basketball game vs. the Wildcats. The Barrel was retired when “two Kentucky football players died in an alcohol-induced related crash in the week leading up to the 1998 showdown…UK athletics director C.M. Newton deemed an alcohol container, especially one of that size, to be an inappropriate trophy considering the circumstances.”
Legend has it that the Beer Barrel now resides in a football equipment cage in the basement of Neyland Stadium.
THE BOURBON BARREL – Indiana vs. Kentucky
The series: first played in 1893, Indiana leads 18-17-1.
Most recent meeting: 2005, a 38-14 win for Indiana, snapping a three-game losing skid.
Next meeting: no future dates.
Like the Beer Barrel, Indiana and Kentucky’s Bourbon Barrel was retired after an alcohol-related crash involving a Kentucky football player. The two schools played consecutively from 1987-2005 in what was known, until the trophy was abandoned, as the “Bourbon Barrel” game. The Wildcats held a 12-7 advantage during that portion of the series.
THE MILK CAN – Boise State vs. Fresno State
The series: first played in 1977, Boise State leads 17-8.
Most recent meeting: The 2022 MWC Championship Game, a 28-16 win for Fresno State.
Next meeting: Nov. 4, 2023
The Milk Can – aka the “big metal can” – was the brainchild of dairy farmers from Fresno and Boise in 2005. Though the Bulldogs technically claimed the first Can in Fresno, the physical prize wasn’t ready/pasteurized until 2006 when it made its on-field debut after a Bronco victory in Boise. The two have met 17 times since ’06, 13 times in regular season play and four times in the MWC title game (2014, 2017, 2018, and 2022).
THE OIL CAN – Fresno State vs. San Diego State
The series: first played in 1932, San Diego State leads 30-27-4.
Most recent meeting: 2022, a 32-28 win for Fresno State.
Next meeting: Nov. 25, 2023
The “Battle for the Old Oil Can” debuted in 2011 after a contest aimed at naming the rivalry and establishing a traveling trophy. The repurposed antique celebrates “the discovery of an old oil can from Fresno (circa 1935) that was supposedly recovered during a San Diego State campus building project.” The Bulldogs have had the Can in their garage seven times vs. the Aztecs’ four.
THE LITTLE BROWN JUG – Michigan vs. Minnesota
The series: first played in 1892, Michigan leads 76-25-3 and has won three-straight.
Most recent meeting: 2020, a 49-24 win for Michigan.
Next meeting: Oct. 7, 2023
The self-proclaimed “oldest trophy game in FBS college football” the Little Brown Jug debuted in 1909. Legend has it that the jug itself dates to 1903 when Minnesota – boasting a perfect 10-0 record – hosted a Michigan squad on a 29-game winning streak. Fielding Yost, the Wolverines’ head coach, doubted that the Golden Gophers would provide sanitary water for the visitors and had the team’s manager visit a Minneapolis store to purchase a five-gallon water jug. The game ended in a 6-6 tie, with Minnesota scoring a touchdown on the final play. Pandemonium ensued, and Michigan left the jug behind. The Gophers painted the score on the vessel and hung it from the coaches’ office ceiling.
The two teams didn’t meet again until 1909, when the Wolverines hit the road again and won 15-6. Not only did it give them the right to finally return home with their Jug – it kicked off a 113-year-old tradition. Michigan has won the vessel of victory 71 times vs. Minnesota’s 23, the 1950 and 1933 games ended in ties.
THE BRASS SPITTOON – New Mexico State vs. UTEP
The series: first played in 1914, UTEP leads 59-38-2.
Most recent meeting: 2022, a 20-13 win for UTEP.
Next meeting: Oct. 18, 2023
The winner of the “Battle of I-10” doubles up with two awards, the newest of which is the Brass Spittoon – officially the Mayor’s Cup – which debuted in 1982 after a collaboration between the mayors of El Paso and Las Cruces (located only 42 miles apart). It joined the Silver Spade, an old prospector’s shovel from an abandoned mine, that was introduced in 1947. UTEP has won 46 Spades and 24 Spittoons vs. New Mexico State’s 26 shovels and 13 spit cups. With the Aggies joining the Miners in C-USA this season, the two schools will share conference membership for the first time in 61 years, or since 1935-61 when they called the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association home.
THE OLD BRASS SPITTOON – Indiana vs. Michigan State
The series: first played in 1922, Michigan State leads 49-18-2 but the two have split the last four.
Most recent meeting: 2022, a 39-31 win for Indiana.
Next meeting: Nov. 18, 2023
Awarded since 1950, legend has it that the Old Brass Spittoon was originally purchased at a Lansing antique store by Michigan State grad Gene McDermott. But why? As a motivating factor, “to avoid a letdown in the game against Indiana just a week after knocking off rival Notre Dame.” Did it work? Absolutely – the Spartans blanked the Hoosiers 35-0 and took possession of the Spittoon first. MSU has won Ye Ole’ Spit Cup 50 times vs. Indiana’s 14, the 1977 game ended in a tie.
Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football.
Thank you, Amy. This is some of your best work among a hugely compelling portfolio!
It has been said that college football is a cornucopia of singular traditions. These quirky trophies are just one example of why. I always enjoy rundown like this one, even though I have heard of most of them before.
It doesn’t get any better than the Keg of Nails. Wish these teams would face off every season.
Appropriate background music for this article would of course be the University of Maine’s _Maine Stein Song_, probably the only current D1 song that calls for everyone to Drink! repeatedly… (Of course, it could be water in the steins… sure!).
Although UMaine and UNH fight over a musket… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_for_the_Brice%E2%80%93Cowell_Musket
a Battle for the Stein would be much more hilarious. Since Vermont dropped football long ago, that would have been the other potential rival. UMass and UConn both (supposedly!) jumped up to FBS, although UMaine downed UMass in Gilette within recent memory… Maybe UMaine/UMass should have a Stein War….