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A Change in Rivals

Marcus Monk / Carlos Thomas (AP Photo/Perry Baker)

Monk's 50 yard TD reception before halftime in 2006 was on of the USC-Arkansas rivalry's biggest plays

A Change in Rivals

In the last few days we have heard from South Carolina President Harris Pastides and Texas A&M R. Bowin Loftis that the two schools will become permanent football rivals. This seems to mean that the Arkansas-South Carolina twenty year rivalry will come to an end as it is likely the Hogs will now have Missouri as its permanent rival in the SEC East. With these new changes who comes out as the big winner in this scenario and is there a loser?

The Arkansas-South Carolina rivalry is not one that has taken off the way that the SEC would have liked it to when the two schools joined the league in 1992. Sure, they both were new schools to the SEC in 1992 but distance seemed to kill any potential of a heated rivalry between the two. Fayetteville to Columbia is about 970 miles away and there aren't many Hogs in Columbia nor Gamecocks in The Natural State. It also didn't help that both programs seemed to struggle for most of the 90s and when the two teams met it typically meant a battle of two teams near .500 or with a losing record. It really hasn't been until recently that these two teams facing off in early November has meant anything to the National Polls.

It appeared as if the rivalry could have some fuel when it was announced that Danny Ford would take over as the Razorbacks Head Coach for the 93 season. Ford was of course the head coach for South Carolina's biggest rival Clemson and was not liked by Gamecock Fans. Still, having him on the sidelines never seemed to be that big of a deal for Gamecock Fans. The Columbia media would use it as something to write about anytime the two schools would meet, but with Ford losing more games than he won at Arkansas it was just not an intriguing game for Gamecocks.

In 1999 South Carolina hired former Arkansas Head Coach Lou Holtz. At the time Houston Nutt was also the coach at Arkansas. Nutt had played at Arkansas, but didn't feel comfortable with Holtz as his coach so he transferred to Oklahoma State to finish up his coaching career. Having a former coach going against the Hogs each year gave Arkansas fans a little nostalgia, but it didn't really give them enough fuel to feel like South Carolina was a rival. If there was any rivalry it was between Holtz and Nutt, but the two men seemed to get along well despite Nutt's transfer two decades earlier.

For the most part Arkansas has gotten the best of South Carolina with huge games from guys like Madre Hill(6 TDs in 1995) and Darren McFadden(321 yards rushing in 2007). Arkansas leads the series 13-7.The Razorbacks and South Carolina have had some memorable games though. Ko Simpson picking up a Peyton Hillis fumble in 2004 to give the Gamecocks a 35-32 win in Columbia comes to mind. One of the more exciting moments for Hog fans was "The Block at The Rock" in 2001 when a Daniel Weaver game tying field goal attempt was blocked by Carlos Hall with 48 seconds left in the game to give Arkansas an upset win over the undefeated and 9th ranked Gamecocks. Most fans are likely to agree with me though that this series has the feeling of just another SEC Game when it comes on the schedule.

Texas A&M and Missouri were fantastic additions to the SEC this past fall and they both bring plenty to the league, but what they don't bring is a rivalry between the two. The two schools have only met 8 times since the Big 8 added A&M, Texas, Texas Tech, and Baylor. This was not an every year rivalry like USC-Arkansas was and I don't think either fan base really cares if they play each other or not. The biggest concerns for these two schools seems to be the fact that their traditional rivals, Kansas and Texas, are acting
like 8 year olds and are coming up with numerous excuses as to why they aren't playing the two SEC schools.

For Arkansas this change seems to make the most sense. With Missouri the Hogs get a border opponent in a state that they do recruit in. Unless I'm mistaken the last player from South Carolina to play for the Hogs was Geno Bell in the mid 90s under Danny Ford. South Carolina just isn't a state that Arkansas recruits in that often, but Missouri is. Last year's Arkansas team had six players from The State of Missouri on its roster. Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma are the key states for Arkansas recruiting and playing Mizzou each year will help Arkansas get more attention from instate kids. The Razorbacks also get a border rivalry that could become intense. The two schools have already seen a tight recruiting battle take place with Dorial Green-Beckham and expect many more to take place. Missouri is also the school that Arkansas hired Frank Broyles from following the 1957 season. Broyles would go on to become the most known figure in Arkansas Athletics for the next 50 years. While the two schools have only met five times, this rivalry has the potential to be a good one.

South Carolina fans are probably happy to see Arkansas off the schedule. Recently there has been little positive to come from this rivalry for the Gamecocks as the Hogs have won 5 of the last 6 games with 4 of those being blowouts. Arkansas isn't a state that is easy for Gamecock fans to travel to and it isn't a state the Gamecocks have ever done much recruiting in. Gaining A&M as an opponent certainly isn't fan friendly since the two schools are over 1,000 miles from each other. While flying into Houston might be easier from Columbia than flying into Bentonville, it is still about a 100 mile drive from Houston to College Station. One positive for the Gamecocks could be that they will get more notice from Texas recruits, but Steve Spurrier said in September that he didn't expect his program would recruit much in Texas. Personally, I have to agree with Spurrier on this one. Why waste time recruiting 1,000 miles from Columbia when the fertile recruiting states of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia are near? South Carolina really doesn't gain or lose anything from this switch other than getting an A&M team that isn't a top 10 football program like Arkansas is right now.

Missouri seems to possibly lose the most with this switch. While Texas A&M certainly isn't a rival, the Tigers have used The State of Texas as a building block for its program. Last season Missouri had 34 players on its roster from Texas. Missouri will only play once a decade in Texas now and that is certain to hurt its influence in that state with recruits. Gaining Arkansas gives Missouri a border rival, that is similar to what they had with Kansas, but that's a rivalry that is near impossible to replace. If I'm Missouri I would be on the phone with someone in The State of Texas and try and get a yearly game in that state. Houston, Rice, SMU, and new FBS members Texas State and UTSA would certainly welcome Missouri.

Texas A&M doesn't really lose or gain anything in this situation. Missouri isn't a rival and isn't a state where the Aggies need to recruit to. A&M will be able to build on its rivalry with Arkansas and regain one that it has had in the past with LSU. Aggie fans are just happy to be in the SEC and away from the Longhorn influence. A&M isn't likely to recruit South Carolina much and there is no need to considering they are located in a state filled with football talent. Really, the only thing A&M needs to concern itself with right now is how to party in a Cockaboose when they get to Columbia, SC.

It will be interesting to see how these rivalries develop in the coming years. In 100 years from now will Missouri-Arkansas be as heated as Kansas-Mizzou? Will South Carolina and A&M fans embrace their rivalry despite the 1,000 mile difference? Only time will tell us this for certain. Then again with the way College Football Conferences are changing, its possible none of this lasts more than a few seasons.

Matt Barber
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