Bielema, Pinkel 'fiction' comments fire up new Arkansas-Missouri rivalry

Chris Graythen

Arkansas has an underrated rivalry with LSU, but the Razorbacks don't really have a definitive rival. Until now?

Since their arrival to the SEC during the league's 1992 expansion, Arkansas has struggled to complement a history of great college football with a true end-of-season rival. The SEC manufactured LSU as the Hogs' season ender, going so far as to promote the game with a Thanksgiving Friday time slot and a weird trophy.

It's hard to call LSU "the" rival for Arkansas, considering that the Tigers have bigger rivals and the Razorbacks have so many of them, historically.

If both teams can be good at the same time, the SEC-protected border rivalry of Arkansas and Missouri could be a good one. Arkansas and Ole Miss share a rivalry due to their proximity, and it heightened after Houston Nutt left the Razorbacks for the Rebels. Going back even further, Arkansas and Texas were fierce Southwest Conference rivals until the Razorbacks left for the SEC in 1991.

But the Tigers never really returned that passion, and now the addition of Missouri in 2012 gives the northwest region of the new SEC a chance to make history together. Not that Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema -- himself a veteran of the rivalry trophy-laden Big Ten -- is concerned who the Hogs finish up with.

"[The game] is forced or whatever it is, it is what it is. I really believe no matter what the situation is, you wrap your arms around it and make it great," Bielema said Wednesday. "We've been told we're gonna play Missouri as our permanent crossover. That's awesome. For us to get to play the team that represented the East and the team that represented the West [in the SEC Championship]? Nobody else gets to have that schedule. It was voted toughest schedule in the country. To play on a Friday, it being Missouri, a border battle, all the recruiting things and little things around it, it can be something special."

Arkansas didn't have many great moments in its 0-8 campaign in Bielema's inaugural season, but the Razorbacks saved their best for last, nearly taking down LSU in Baton Rouge before falling 31-27. It was Arkansas's third straight loss in a rivalry that hasn't been very competitive — LSU leads the all-time series 37-20-2 — but is underrated in that it has given us some surprisingly good games in the past decade. There was No. 1 LSU's 50-48 home loss to Arkansas in 2007, a one-point Arkansas win the following year and a three-point LSU win the year after that. Even since 2010, the game has featured teams ranked fifth and 12th, and first and third.

Missouri fans seem to be eager to embrace the rivalry, and Bielema's recent past of criticizing up-tempo offenses -- like those of Missouri, Auburn, and Mizzou's former conference -- should fit nicely into fan argument from West Memphis to St. Louis.

Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel complimented Arkansas as an exciting rival earlier on Wednesday, but also fanned the ongoing player safety debate spearheaded by Bielema:

"I don't know where all this started with," he said. "I just know this, okay: never once in all those years in the fastest league I think that plays football in the Big 12 did I have my team doctor, my trainer, any of my coordinators walk into my office and say, I'm concerned about the health of our football team. It didn't happen ever. Didn't happen last year or the year before. It's another form of football. I think it's great that that's another component to football and being creative.

"But I don't buy the health issue in any way. It's never happened. No one has ever come into me all those years and said, Gosh, I'm really concerned about the health of our teams playing these fast‑paced offenses. I think it's fiction. Fiction based on that.  Never even come up before."

Bielema's retort:

Arkansas and Missouri will meet on Thanksgiving Friday this season. We're confident they'll build a great history of disagreements in the meantime.

Kevin Trahan contributed to this story.

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