LITTLE ROCK — Missouri’s No. 15 is uniquely qualified to trim years off the time normally required to build a football rivalry.
He is Dorial Green-Beckham, ranked the No. 1 wide receiver in the country out of high school, and the reason some Arkansas media — convinced that Green-Beckham would be a Razorback — traveled to Springfield in February 2012 to document his commitment. Razorback fans who envisioned the 6-foot-6 Green-Beckham on the receiving end of dozens of Tyler Wilson passes were crushed when he decided to remain in his home state.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving week 2014 and the run-up to the first Southeastern Conference meeting between two teams based 300 miles apart. Early on, Green-Beckham will be asked about picking the Tigers over the Razorbacks and re-affirmation of his choice would start the ball rolling. Add in a Green-Beckham pass reception for the winning touchdown in the final minute, a follow-up quote from the receiver, and, presto, a rivalry is born.
The animosity between the two schools in basketball does not rubber stamp the football game with such passion. Football needs something more sport-specific, a rallying point on one side or the other. The basketball rivalry was born when Mike Anderson left Missouri for Arkansas and grew when Anderson and his successor, Frank Haith, exchanged words last March.
Geographically, the game is a natural whereas Arkansas vs. South Carolina of the Eastern Division every year was simply a convenience that occurred when both entered the SEC. Razorback coach Bret Bielema mentioned this week that Arkansas and Missouri cross paths while recruiting, but a heated rivalry needs a reason for one fan base to despise the other team. A traitor who rubs in it would provide such legs.
Swapping Missouri for LSU on the holiday weekend might not sit well with Arkansas fans who fret about the loss of national television exposure, but it should benefit the Razorbacks in the long run.
First, it is easier to beat the Tigers from up North than it is to defeat the group from down South. Second, Missouri football is inferior to that at South Carolina. Third, if Arkansas is 9-2 or 10-1 in late November, CBS will make room for the Razorbacks vs. Missouri. Finally, Arkansas vs. LSU on Nov. 15 — a week after the traditional LSU-Alabama showdown — will be on national television if the game merits such exposure.
Half-joking, Bielema said Arkansas’ open weeks prior to both Alabama and LSU might have been part of a compromise for moving Arkansas-LSU away from Thanksgiving.
Arkansas vs. Auburn in the 2014 season opener is part of an SEC plan to have teams play conference games in the first three weeks of the year, Bielema said prior to his appearance at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. Nine of the 14 teams meet that standard and three others play league games in the fourth week. Tennessee and Missouri do not begin league play until Sept. 27.
Based on the current power structure in the SEC, the 2014 schedule is more fair to Western Division teams in pursuit of Alabama than the 2013 edition. This year, Arkansas has Florida and South Carolina while LSU has Georgia and Florida, and Alabama meets none of the three teams in the upper echelon.
Next year, Arkansas’ only game against one of the big three is Georgia. LSU drops Georgia and Alabama picks up Florida. Auburn is the only team in the Western Division with two of the top three from the East. Neither of the Mississippi schools play the Gators, Bulldogs, or Gamecocks, but both have a game with Vanderbilt.
Other than rearranging the Thanksgiving weekend opponents of Arkansas and LSU, there is nothing definitive beyond 2014. A year from now, another one-year schedule is likely. After that comes the long-range schedule.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.