FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — When Arkansas and Missouri announced the creation of the “Battle Line Rivalry” a few years ago, many fans on both sides rolled their eyes at what was — and still is — a manufactured rivalry without any history or real bad blood.
No matter how many times fans were told this rivalry was real — and a big, fancy trophy that goes to the football winner notwithstanding — this thing just hasn’t taken off and become the full-fledged hatefest that college sports fans love.
Not yet, anyway.
Back in November, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long acknowledged that it would take time. In an interview with SEC Country, Long said, “A rivalry isn’t a rivalry just because we say it is. Of course, a rivalry takes some incredible games that inspire people. Whether it’s an upset that keeps someone from the SEC championship game, or a great play or something that changes the season for one team or the other.
“We know that it’s going to take time for the Missouri game to really build into a rivalry that we all will recognize without question.”
A couple things have happened since Long said those words.
Both of those Mizzou wins can safely be classified as upsets.
So in the spirit of continuing to build this rivalry, what are some other things that could happen in the near future to keep up that momentum?
Eric Beisel keeps talking
Look, I’m almost to the point of endorsing a rivalry name change. Beisel will be a senior next season, but after he’s gone, I’d be all for calling this game the “Beisel Bowl.” Or maybe just re-name the trophy after Beisel.
No one has done more to fuel this fledgling rivalry than Beisel.
But in the meantime, Beisel needs to keep it up. I’m sure Missouri coach Barry Odom will strongly encourage him to keep quiet next November, but c’mon, man. Smack talk — as long, of course, as it doesn’t cross any obvious lines — should be encouraged. It’s fun and it generates interest.
Arkansas takes the muzzle off
Now, that goes both ways. Arkansas players were clearly told after Beisel’s comments that they weren’t to respond. I say this year, take the muzzle off and let them respond.
A couple crossover stars
What would quickly infuse some added heat into this thing is a couple of guys from Missouri becoming Arkansas stars and vice versa. There are some obvious candidates.
Mizzou running back and Little Rock native Damarea Crockett will be a sophomore next season. He was the Tigers’ leading rusher last year as a true freshman but was suspended for the Arkansas game.
Arkansas sophomore fullback Hayden Johnson is a Columbia, Mo., native. Now, fullbacks don’t necessarily put up the numbers to become bona fide “stars,” but what if Johnson were to score a clutch touchdown against the Tigers? Or lay a bone-crushing block?
Then there is Fayetteville High School quarterback Taylor Powell, who signed with Mizzou earlier this month after never receiving an Arkansas offer.
You want intrigue in this rivalry? Powell and Crockett — two Arkansas kids who never got Arkansas offers — putting up big numbers in the SEC and maybe even leading Mizzou to a win over the Hogs would accomplish that pretty quick.
More than anything, though, it’s going to take both programs being good-to-great and playing meaningful, exciting games. And with all due respect to the other athletic programs, it has to start on the football field.
The Battle Line Rivalry is already played on rivalry weekend. They have a national CBS audience to themselves on the day after Thanksgiving. If both of these programs improve and play a tight, thrilling football game that matters next November, that will make a big difference.
Maybe one day, they could even get to a point where they play in late November, then play again a couple weeks later in the SEC Championship Game.
OK, now I’m just being silly.