The winner between Missouri and Arkansas in the budding Battle Line Rivalry will receive a hefty prize Friday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
A new 4-foot, 180-pound trophy — “Like a midget three-technique,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema told reporters earlier in the week — was commissioned for the second game in the permanent cross-division rivalry series.
“As the history develops between these two teams, I’m sure that trophy will obviously be important for each team,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “If you have it, you want to keep it, and if you don’t, you want to get it.”
It’s the latest signal that the SEC is committed to fostering a new and lasting rivalry for the Tigers, who wrap up their fourth season in the conference at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Fayetteville, Ark.
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“I’m very certain that this game against Arkansas … is going to grow and … it’s going to get even bigger and bigger with our fan base as time goes on,” Pinkel said. “...Potentially, it could be as good as any (rivalry) in the country.”
It’s just not right now.
“Here’s an interesting thing: We’re playing Arkansas, and they’re our rivals, and none of us have ever been to their stadium,” Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. “So we’re all looking forward to that.”
As Missouri-Arkansas ramps up, it’s never been more clear that the old Border War with Kansas is dead.
After this season, no Tigers player will have been on the sidelines for a game with the Jayhawks.
Missouri’s nine fifth-year seniors — Corbin Berkstresser, Kentrell Brothers, Cortland Browning, Taylor Chappell, Clarence Green, Wesley Leftwich, Connor McGovern, Brad McNulty and Ian Simon — represent the final generation of players with direct ties to the Kansas rivalry.
“That’s strange,” Pinkel said. “It is strange, because what a rival that was. It was really something special. Hopefully, that game, we’ll get together and get that game going again, because I still think that would be a great nonconference game to play every year.”
Pinkel suggested a home-and-away split with occasional games at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
The passion, at least from MU’s side, remains.
“You don’t even mention Kansas in the locker room,” Simon said. “There’s enough guys that are from Missouri and guys from the 2011 class that you don’t even mention KU. We don’t even talk about them. We’ll talk about old basketball games, but if they’re on in the locker room, we’re turning them off. That is still there.”
Simon said he still gets chills thinking about the week of practice before the last Missouri-Kansas game in November 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium, calling it “probably one of the most intense weeks of football of my life.”
Of course, the lack of inertia to resume the rivalry from KU’s side means the Border War’s peace accord will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
“It’s sad for the simple fact that the rivalry’s not going to continue, because when I came here, that was a big part of it,” Simon said. “I wanted to play KU. I wanted to be part of that rivalry. I wanted to be a part of the tradition and that hatred, because that’s college football at its finest to me. That’s the essence of college football.”
Simon said there is room for Missouri to build new rivalries and cited South Carolina and Georgia as games that are circled on the calendar each season, but those schools have other traditional rivals.
That leaves the Razorbacks as the Tigers’ best hope for building something that approaches the bitterness of the feud with the Jayhawks.
“Arkansas’s not that, but it’s definitely building into it,” Simon said. “...After last season, Arkansas is definitely going to be one of those games in the future.”