Defensive back Rashad Ajayi and tight end Brian Polendey both transferred to West Virginia from Colorado State this past off-season, a school with three rivals in Air Force, Colorado and Wyoming. Two of those rivals, Air Force and Wyoming, are in the Mountain West alongside Colorado State. As for Colorado, perhaps the school’s biggest rival, it’s the same situation that West Virginia has found itself in with Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, a lack of yearly playing due to being non-conference opponents.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Ajayi from experiencing the Rocky Mountain Showdown. Ajayi, who identified Colorado as the team’s biggest rival, played against them twice in 2018 and 2019, though both were blowout losses with Colorado winning 45-13 (2018) and 52-31 (2019). It’s a lot more of a lopsided series than the Backyard Brawl, with Colorado leading 67-22-2 as opposed to the Brawl which Pittsburgh leads 61-40-3.
“I’m just anticipating the fans, how they will be when I get there,” said Ajayi. “I never played in (Backyard Brawl) but my past rivalry school, we played Colorado in the CU-CSU game, it was very big. The fans were in to it, the media, the coaches, it was very big. I would say it’s probably not as big as this rivalry as course, but it was big.”
Polendey had a different opinion on who Colorado State’s top rival was. Granted, Polendey never had the chance to play Colorado as their scheduled game in 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Polendey felt that Wyoming, a game that is appropriately named the Border War and played for the Bronze Boot trophy, was Colorado State’s top rival. That game, in addition to being hated rivals, was a conference game as well adding to the significance.
The two players helped lead Colorado State to a victory in that rivalry in 2020 by a score of 34-24. It was the only win Colorado State has had against Wyoming since 2015, losing five of their last six match-ups. In addition to the struggles against Colorado and Wyoming, Colorado State also struggled against Air Force recently. They’ve lost the last five games against Air Force, although no game was played in 2020 again due to the pandemic.
”They built it up for sure,” said Polendey about the Wyoming game. “But I’d say (Backyard Brawl) is a lot bigger than that game. It does mean a lot to the state of Colorado, but Colorado State isn’t the biggest school in Colorado. The WVU-Pitt game is definitely bigger.”
Those rivalries are different from the Backyard Brawl, and both players feel that this year’s game against Pitt is bigger than the Colorado State games. While the fan hype is similar, the overall feel is just different.
Polenday, while not as a rival, knows about playing Pitt. He faced them three times while at Miami, including a game similar to the 13-9 loss that West Virginia suffered in 2007.
In 2017, Miami went into 4-7 Pittsburgh as undefeated and the No. 2 team in the country. Pitt, behind true freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett making his first career start, upset Miami with a 24-14 victory to knock them out of contention for a College Football Playoff spot.
“I just remember Pitt getting after us the whole game,” said Polendey. “They had good size on their defensive line, they were big and fast and physical. I just remember it was kind of weird to be playing in Pittsburgh, because it was in like November…
“Ever since then, I haven’t really liked Pitt very much, but I respect them for sure.”
Pitt and West Virginia are set to play each other on September 1st after an 10-year drought in the rivalry. It’ll be the 105th meeting between the two schools and will host ESPN’s College Gameday, furthering it’s significance.