Let’s cut right to the chase this week. As we conclude our two-week journey through conference rivalries, we will weigh in with our thoughts as to which is the best rivalry in the conference?
I do not really think there is much of a debate here, the biggest rivalry in the Mountain West has to be Boise State against Fresno State. The Broncos and Bulldogs are in the conference championship game nearly every year and their contests have been competitive and close. Their matchups often involve both teams being ranked at the time and the series is 3-2 BSU over their last five games. San Diego State and Fresno State is another rivalry but the recent games have been lackluster, to say the least. If they can pull together a string of solid fun to watch battles, the conference will benefit tremendously.
Wyoming-Colorado State has the best tradition. Divisions have killed Boise State’s rivalries. But the best current rivalry has to be UNLV-Nevada. Just look at the way last season’s game ended. The fans and teams have an obvious hatred for each other. The in-state component is critical and Nevada dropping the Reno name and just calling themselves Nevada adds another component. Plus, they play for the best trophy in the conference. The Fremont Cannon is awesome!
For me it’s about Nevada and UNLV. Sure there are better teams or matchups each year. I’d much rather see Boise State go up against San Diego State every year and get the two perennial powerhouses in the conference. But the Battle for the Fremont Cannon checks most of the boxes from my outside opinion. Two teams that despise the other? Check. Both teams getting their fair share of wins (Nevada leads all-time 26-18)? Check. Some close games? Look no further than last year’s OT bloodbath. Cool trophy for the winner? It’s a CANNON! Yeah, there isn’t much reason to follow for the casual college football fan, but unfortunately, neither is any other classic rivalry in the Mountain West. I enjoy following it every year.
By nationwide standards, I really can’t say there is a best rivalry in the conference. I would say a true rivalry would result in sellout attendance just about every year, excessive trash talking, and games that are usually meaningful in conference standings. I think the UNLV-Nevada rivalry comes the closest, mostly due to the animosity that was in evidence in this year’s game. A case could be made that Air Force-Boise has some of those elements. The game last year was a sellout at Boise, there is frequent whining about cut blocks and blue turf, and the games have been mostly meaningful, but there isn’t a very long history between the two. I’ll stick with UNLV-Nevada.
I might be a bit biased, but its UNLV and Nevada. In the past decade, the hatred between both cities, schools, and teams has grown immensely. Even though the Wolf Pack have a significant advantage in the series and its program is in a better place than the Rebels, there have been plenty of exciting games between the two. There were memorable wins for UNLV in 2013 (to break a eight win streak for Nevada) and in 2015 (in Tony Sanchez’s first year). The last three games have been some of the most memorable. A two win Wolf Pack team ended UNLV’s chance at a bowl game in 2017, the Rebels came back from a three score deficit in the first quarter to win in 2018, and the overtime win by UNLV to that ended with a brawl, and countless more memorable games before that. It is also without question that they have the best trophy in the conference, a giant cannon. I remember after the 2018 win, the team rolled the cannon around campus and the team and students painted a fresh coat of red in front of the student union.
To nobody’s surprise, I am going with Nevada-UNLV as the best pure rivalry in the conference. The two programs simply don’t like each other. As I briefly mentioned in the “Is It a Rivalry? UNLV vs. Nevada” piece that Alex and I did, there is some bad blood between the two intrastate foes. From the “Red Defection game” in 1994, to UNLV’s Quincy Sanders throwing his helmet at Chris Ault in 1995, to most recent brawl — which involved both UNLV and Nevada players along with the Wolf Pack crowd — after UNLV’s overtime win last season. Both teams have split the last eight matchups and six of them were one-possession games. They also play for a cannon! That’s immediately bumping a rivalry up on my list, regardless of whom the two schools are. The Fremont Cannon is college football’s largest and most expensive trophy. Built in 1970, the cannon itself weighs about 545 pounds while costing $10,000 to construct (roughly $66,000 in 2020 currency). On paper, Nevada-UNLV might not be the most exciting rivalry compared to two programs in the upper-echelon of the conference. But the games between them will always mean something extra regardless of how good the two programs are, especially to the two fanbases.