Whether Missouri fans like it, the Southeastern Conference continues to push Arkansas as the program’s rival despite the lack of tension and history between the two fanbases.
The Razorbacks are the Tigers’ permanent non-division opponent in the SEC’s current eight-game conference football schedule, which also consists of six division opponents and one rotating non-division team in a system that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.
Conference commissioner Greg Sankey addressed scheduling in his opening speech at SEC Media Days on Monday, and he likes his league’s current model.
Three Power Five conferences — the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten — utilize nine-game conference schedules, which Sankey doesn’t seem to be a fan of, or at the very least doesn’t believe to be necessary. He made sure to mention the all-SEC national title game in January, along with the league’s nine bowl eligible teams from this past season.
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“Our success as a league should not be attributed simply to our scheduling philosophy, but year after year, our best teams have produced the best team in the country,” he said. “The facts candidly speak for themselves.”
Since Missouri departed the Big 12 for the SEC, the Tigers haven’t had anything comparable to Kansas as a rival, and both sides have skeptics about their yearly game on Black Friday, which has been labeled as the Battle Line Rivalry.
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk recently said Mizzou coaches believe their rival varies depending on the sport.
“It was a variety of opponents that (the coaches) felt maybe were their top two or three,” Sterk said. “I think you have long memories. The Kansas rivalry was a good one and Norm Stewart’s still around to promote that and tell stories. I enjoy those and I think that’s good.”
Missouri is 3-1 against Arkansas in the Battle Line Rivalry game, and the Tigers have tried to create some tension. In their first meeting, the Tigers’ captains refused to shake hands with the Hogs before the opening coin toss. And then there’s former linebacker Eric Beisel, who pronounced the state as “Ar-kansas.” He said it would be a bad idea for the Hogs to even get on a plane to head to the game.
When asked on Tuesday who he thought was the Razorbacks’ greatest rival, new Arkansas coach Chad Morris picked his own team, but he acknowledged that there could be a few answers.
“We talk about the team that’s capable of defeating us and that’s ourselves,” he said. “I do know that we play several trophy games. I’m excited about that.
“Apparently there’s a lot of rivalries. As I travel each state, each person has their own rival.”
Sankey characterized the rivalries that have developed from the league’s 6-1-1 format as “healthy.”
Georgia safety J.R. Reed said Auburn was the first school he thought of when asked about the team’s rival, but the two teams haven’t played since 2014 and won’t again until 2021 under the league’s current format.
Reed later listed a few in-division teams, such as Florida and Tennessee, as possible rivals. Then he said that answer can change.
“(It) all depends on who’s popping at the time,” he said.
Arkansas defensive back Santos Ramirez was asked by reporters the best way to stop Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, who threw for 448 yards and five touchdowns against the Razorbacks in a 48-45 win last season.
“Pressure,” he said. “You don’t get pressure on him, it’s going to turn into 7-on-7 and we don’t want that with Drew Lock. You have to keep him on his toes.”
Tigers get commitment
Missouri landed a commitment from Chris Shearin, a defensive back from IMG Academy in Florida. Shearin would have been the Tigers’ second pledge from the national powerhouse had wide receiver Shamar Nash not flipped his commitment to Arkansas in June.
Shearin also had offers from Maryland, Duke, West Virginia and North Carolina State. Missouri now has six commitments for its 2019 class.
Rule changes explained
Steve Shaw, the SEC coordinator of football officials, addressed reporters Tuesday about the latest rule changes to college football.
The most significant one will alter kickoffs. If a player makes a fair catch anywhere inside the 25-yard line, it will function as a touchback, and his team will start its drive on the 25.
In an effort to speed up the game, the play clock will reset to 40 seconds after kickoffs and touchdowns. Shaw said the league shaved six minutes off its average game time this past season.
Shaw displayed video of one Missouri run to the outside to explain another rule change. In the video, a Mizzou running back blocked a defensive back below the waist more than five yards downfield. Players are no longer allowed to do that.
Even when players are within five yards from the line of scrimmage, blocks below the waist now must attack a defender straight on. Blockers can not take a side angle to go for someone’s legs.
Shaw also showed videos of field-goal blocks that involved leaping over the kicking team’s blockers. Players are still allowed to do that — but only if they lined up within one yard of the line of scrimmage. A player cannot run forward into a leap.