Hutch's Take: Like it or not, a rivalry is brewing
When the SEC ripped away Arkansas’ Thanksgiving weekend game against LSU and replaced it with a game against conference-newcomer Missouri, slapping a corporate-sponsored moniker on it, fans were angry.
Just because a game has a fancy name and a shiny trophy doesn’t mean it’s suddenly a rivalry. There was no history between Arkansas and Missouri.
They had met just five times in the previous 108 years and the only real reasons for animosity between them were maybe the Razorbacks stealing coaches Frank Broyles and Mike Anderson and the Tigers swiping top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham.
That is not the case anymore. Arkansas fans don’t need the constant commercials on the radio and at games telling them the rivalry is heating up. Real rivalries don’t need that.
Nope. Real rivalries have a hatred that develops naturally from events like losing out on the Kelly Bryant sweepstakes. Throw on top of that former Arkansas wide receiver Jonathan Nance announcing his intention to transfer to Missouri and Razorback Nation reached a boiling point Tuesday night.
There were tweets, Reddit threads and message board posts expressing disdain for the Tigers. The date of next year’s game at War Memorial Stadium - Nov. 30, 2019 - has no doubt been circled by some.
Fans don’t like to admit it because of the way it was forced down their throats by the two schools and the SEC, but the hate required for a rivalry is already there.
Even before Tuesday night, there were signs of a brewing rivalry. Three of the five games have been decided by one possession and most of them had outside storylines.
In 2014, Missouri needed a fourth-quarter rally to secure the SEC East title. The next season, Arkansas sent legendary coach Gary Pinkel out as a loser with a decisive 25-point victory over the Tigers.
Linebacker Eric Beisel spiced things up by talking trash before the 2016 matchup, repeatedly mispronouncing Arkansas as “Ar-Kansas” and saying it would be a “huge mistake” for the Razorbacks to show up. Sure enough, Arkansas blew a 17-point halftime lead for the first time in 45 years.
The Tigers kicked a field goal with five seconds left to win a 48-45 shootout last year and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was fired minutes after the game.
This year, the Razorbacks were blown out 38-0 and the only real storyline was that it capped arguably their worst season in school history. That has proven to be the exception in the series’ short history, though.
There are also several Arkansas natives on Missouri’s roster who weren’t recruited by the Razorbacks and use that for motivation. Talented running back Damarea Crockett from Little Rock hasn’t had a chance at revenge yet because a suspension and two injuries have kept him out of the last three games, but defensive lineman Akial Byers from Fayetteville recovered a fumble for a touchdown this season.
Arkansas fans won’t like to hear it, but what’s really holding the game back from becoming a bonafide rivalry is competitive balance. The Razorbacks need to win more than just once in five tries.
Considering this has been Arkansas’ worst seven-year stretch since Harry Truman was in office and it coincided with Missouri having one of the most prolific passers in SEC history, it isn’t too much of a stretch to think the series will even out.
If Chad Morris can build Arkansas back to a respectable level and Barry Odom keeps Missouri trending in a positive direction, a rivalry is almost inevitable…regardless if fans resist it.