The Razorbacks need a rival … now
story by Gary Brown, president of College Sports Matchups (CSM is a content partner with The City Wire)
Arkansas has a problem. It is a pretty significant one, too.
Answer this question: Who is the great rival for Arkansas in football? See. Most of the old-timers reading this said Texas real fast, while those who have grown up in the SEC age might think of the boot and LSU as the coveted trophy.
Arkansas does not have a clear cut rival in football and any cinema fan can tell you that without a villain to root against a movie is just not as good. An even bigger problem is most schools Arkansas may want to deem as their potential “biggest” rival already has one, or two, playing that role in front of the Razorbacks.
To illustrate this point consider the following teams that inflame the passions of Razorback fans:
Besides playing the Longhorns in the rare bowl pairing these days, Texas never thought of the Hogs as the team to beat even in the Southwest Conference days. If you polled fans of the Horns they would list their friends from College Station and Oklahoma before even starting to think about the Razorbacks. Here in the modern age of college football Texas Tech would probably even rank higher.
The Sooners are just next door and both schools recruit many of the same players, but to be a real rival you have to play each other. These two don’t get together very often. Who is ahead of Arkansas on the “must beat” list for Oklahoma? Texas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska for sure.
Now for a few teams the Razorbacks play each year.
The Boot is a really great trophy and both teams get excited playing for it, but the battle for it is far from the most important each year for LSU fans. Topping the list is the battle to beat former Tiger coach, and Alabama head man, Nick Saban. Right behind the Tide is Urban Meyer and his Gators. Most people who wear purple would probably even say Ole Miss and Auburn ignite more passion each year.
Razorback fans can be cheered with the LSU game though. Give it another decade or so, and it might just become the rival game the Hogs need. Remember, the Tigers have been playing all of their SEC West foes but Arkansas on a consistent basis since 1932.
While this game is usually a great barometer for how each team will perform over the season, it is far from the top game for Tide fans each year. The Hogs have to get behind Auburn, Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss. Arkansas will even be behind the occasional Alabama game with Florida and Georgia.
• Ole Miss
Here is another potential rivalry game given more time. Both schools recruit much of the same ground, there is the Houston Nutt factor and the schools have some history prior to the Hogs joining the SEC. For this game to climb higher on the list for Rebel fans everywhere the stakes have to increase. There needs to be an SEC championship at stake on a somewhat consistent basis. Arkansas has the potential to make this happen, but Ole Miss has a long way to go before they become a league title contender each fall.
Who are some potential non-conference teams that could grow into great rivalry games?
• Arkansas State
Yes, the long held belief that the school in Jonesboro does not deserve to be on the field with Arkansas is legitimate. That idea is driven by the thought that nothing good can come from the Razorbacks playing the Red Wolves, and that is mostly true. Win big and everyone’s expectations are met. Play a close game and, well, the world will stop. Lose and the howling will never stop.
The upside is it gives central Arkansas fans a natural Little Rock game and will put an end to those old bumper stickers that show a Razorback running from the Indian mascot Arkansas State used before the NCAA banned these types of mascots for schools not named Florida State.
IF this game was played each year it could be counted as an Arkansas win before the schedule is even printed. One stipulation Arkansas State would have to agree to is the Razorbacks would never have to travel to Jonesboro.
This is the one that makes the most sense. In reality the Tigers don’t have a natural enemy either. While the “Arch Rivalry” with Illinois started in 1896, though the actual arch was not finished until 1965, this game just does not seem to have the drama or passion a great rivalry should. Kansas and Kansas State also can’t fill the rival role as they have greater dislike for each other and Nebraska than the Tigers.
Arkansas and Missouri would be the natural creation of a rivalry between two schools that need someone to hate. Besides sharing a common border both have a passionate fan base who feel their teams are often overlooked by their fellow conference members. Beyond the football field Arkansas and Missouri share strong traditions in basketball.
Playing the Tigers would make for a difficult game out of conference each year, but that would be a plus for the Razorbacks on the national stage and recruiting in Missouri could be boosted by the game.
Finding a most hated team, which shares the sentiment, is important to Arkansas. A football program needs it. Would Ohio State be “The” without Michigan? What color would the river be without OU-Texas?
You can be sure that Star Wars would not have been as big without Darth Vader.