As big a stinker as the Belk Bowl was for Arkansas last season, that game never matters — heck, never gets played — if the Razorbacks do what they should have against Missouri.
Instead, Arkansas lost 28-24 in the regular-season finale, setting off a chain of events that would culminate with the Hogs entering the offseason with the sourest of tastes. Virginia Tech’s five-touchdown, second-half rally in the bowl game only exacerbated what the Tigers did in that game in Columbia, Mo. A game that was on lock for a half went into the toilet and the worst team in the SEC rallied to beat what should have been an eight-win Arkansas club.
This season, Missouri’s offense is dynamic and could, in theory, pose serious problems for an Arkansas defense no one is yet sure about. But Mizzou’s defense is arguably worse than Arkansas’ was last year, too. So which will win the day?
That might ultimately decide the game this season: Just where is Arkansas when the season finale kicks off and what does it need to do for the postseason?
SEC Country caps its way-too-early summer prediction and preview series with the Battle Line Rivalry.
Coach: Barry Odom (second season)
Last season: 4-8 (2-6 in SEC, last in East)
Plays Arkansas: Nov. 24 at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark.
2016 by the numbers
- Scoring offense: 31.4 points per game (48th out of 128 FBS teams)
- Passing offense: 295.4 yards per game (20th)
- Rushing offense: 205.1 yards per game (38th)
- Scoring defense: 31.5 points per game (89th)
- Passing defense: 246.8 yards allowed per game (86th)
- Rushing defense: 232.8 yards allowed per game (112th)
The argument could be made that the Tigers’ offense is one of the best in the SEC. Drew Lock is a developing quarterback with a great arm. He has one of the league’s best wideouts in J’Mon Moore (62 grabs for 1,012 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2016) and two more complementary ones in Dimetrios Mason (47 catches) and Johnathon Johnson (24).
Damarea Crockett is back at running back after, uh, a run-in with the law at the end of last season kept him out of the Arkansas game. Crockett, an Arkansas native coincidentally, still ran for double-digit scores and more than 1,000 yards. Ish Witter took his place against the Razorbacks and had 750 yards and 6 scores on the season. He’s back, too. Add to that an offensive line that returns every starter and the Tigers are awfully dangerous on this side of the ball.
Sick of reading good stuff about Mizzou? Stick around. The Tigers were atrocious last year on defense. The 500-plus yards they gave up against Arkansas was actually one of their better games against SEC competition. You see the total numbers of defense above, but in the SEC, Missouri was 12th in scoring defense, 12th against the run and 13th against the pass.
And Missouri’s best pass rusher, top tackler and best cover man from last season are all gone, too. There’s a catch, though. Four of the seven returners who began last year as starters lost time to injury. That includes linebacker Eric Beisel, whom Arkansas fans know well at this point. The Tigers defense will be better — it’s hard to be worse — but let’s not kid anyone. It isn’t going to be top-of-the-SEC caliber.
Missouri vs. Arkansas positional edges
- Quarterback — Arkansas
- Running back — Arkansas
- Receivers — Missouri
- Offensive line — Missouri
- Defensive line — Arkansas
- Linebackers — Arkansas
- Secondary — Arkansas
- Special teams — Missouri
What SEC Country says about Missouri vs. Arkansas
Eric Bolin: If Arkansas enters this game needing a win to secure a bowl bid, the Razorbacks will get it. If Arkansas enters this week already having a bowl bid in pocket, the Razorbacks will win. But if Arkansas enters down on its luck, I could see the Tigers pulling the upset. If that were to happen — along with how I picked the rest of the season — things will have gone south in a hurry. So for now …
Prediction: Arkansas 31, Missouri 28
Jason Kersey: Arkansas should be the favorite heading into the Battle Line Rivalry and should be the better team. But by most standards, Arkansas was the better team a year ago and that didn’t matter. I think it will be close, but I’ll go with the Hogs. Side note: This series needs another good, close game to (hopefully) stay on track to become a legitimate rivalry.
Prediction: Arkansas 32, Missouri 27
Trent Shadid: I could see Missouri potentially getting back to a bowl game with six wins next season. However, I don’t see the Tigers getting one of those six on Black Friday at Arkansas. Based on the way things went last season, the Hogs are bound to be highly motivated. I expect them to exact a bit of revenge with a two-score victory.
Prediction: Arkansas 34, Missouri 20
Projected average final score of Missouri vs. Arkansas
Razorbacks 32, Missouri 25
Arkansas’ projected record
SEC Country: 7-5