Rivalries are like friendships.
Strange comparison, I know. But hear me out. We all have friends who live out of town. Some of them you don’t see for five years. The best friendships, though, are the ones you don’t see for five years and then the next time you see him or her in person, it’s as if you just saw each other yesterday.
And then there are the friendships based almost exclusively on proximity. Maybe it’s a neighbor, a co-worker or a parent from your kids’ football team.
Those friendships are symbolic of the two kinds of rivalries which tend to exist in modern sports.
That old friend you might not see as often as you would like? That’s the historical rivalry. That’s Missouri vs. kansas. It doesn’t matter how long they go without playing. kU is and forever will be Mizzou’s true rival.
Arkansas? That’s all about proximity. The Razorbacks are that friend from work who you probably wouldn’t talk to if you didn’t work with one another. If Mizzou and Arkansas didn’t play every year, would we really miss it? Maybe. I’m not so sure. It’s given us some moments. But, to be honest, the stakes simply haven’t mattered enough on the Arkansas side to really get both fan bases revved up. Maybe that will change over time. Maybe the Barry Odom factor adds some spice. But, for now, it feels “flat” compared to Missouri’s biggest rivalry right now.
Enter South Carolina. Enter Missouri’s true rivalry week.
This is the week that matters for Missouri. The Tigers’ closest “peer program” in the SEC East is South Carolina. The two teams have nearly identical resumes this season. Heck, the resumes for both programs since the Tigers entered the conference are eerily similar.
This is Missouri’s 10th season in the Southeastern Conference. In that 10-year span, the Tigers hold an overall record of 67-54 with a conference record of 36-43. In that same stretch, South Carolina is 65-56 with a 35-45 record against conference foes.
It’s one thing to be similar in terms of program success. It’s another thing entirely when you’re on similar trajectories as programs.
Missouri’s peak status in the SEC came in the Tigers’ second and third years in the conference, posting back-to-back SEC East titles under head coach Gary Pinkel. At that point, Pinkel had been at Missouri for more than a decade, and he’ll go down as one of - if not the - best football coaches in program history.
South Carolina? Similar story, as you might imagine. One could make a strong argument South Carolina’s best four-year stretch in program history took place from 2010-2013.
Both programs have been looking to regain that early 2010’s form ever since. The beauty of this series began in earnest in 2013, and it really hasn’t looked back ever since.
The 2013 game between Missouri and South Carolina will forever be one I remember. I still can’t believe he missed that kick. I shudder every time someone mentions the name “Connor Shaw.”
And that wasn’t the only game you remember from this series. There was the Maty Mauk comeback in 2014, Drew Lock’s first career win in 2015, the monsoon game in 2018. This series has been ripe for comebacks, memorable moments and games you leave wondering to yourself, “what the heck did I just watch?”
Saturday will simply be the latest chapter in this rivalry. Missouri vs. South Carolina will never replace the Border War. It’s not on the same level as Braggin’ Rights. It’s different, but it’s fun. It’s organic. It’s two peer programs looking to regain the status they held in the early 2010’s.
I have no idea how Saturday will play out. I can’t wait to watch it unfold.
Welcome to rivalry week. For real this time.