There will be no speeches. No halftime presentation. Certainly, no tears.
Heck, half the people in attendance might not even know, but Saturday will mark the passing of an era. Fittingly, since the era never really caught on like folks hoped it would, it will pass quietly.
When No. 14 South Carolina plays Arkansas on Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark., it will be the end of the SEC’s most manufactured rivalry. When the two teams joined the league together in 1992, the SEC was split into divisions and each team was assigned a permanent rival from the opposite division. The Gamecocks and Razorbacks, the new guys on the block, got stuck together.
“Well, they’re a team we play every year, we know that,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “Rivalries are more schools close by, ones you play historically, 50, 60 years or more, are generally rivalry games.”
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That’s about all the passion anybody has been able to muster about a series that has included 13 Arkansas wins and eight Gamecock wins in yearly meetings since 1992. The teams never had played before being thrown together by the SEC.
“We have great respect for Arkansas, but I think it’s fair to say our fans never developed the same kind of passionate rivalry about playing Arkansas that, maybe, some other university did playing their Western Division rivalry,” school president Harris Pastides said.
With the addition of two teams to the SEC last season (Texas A&M and Missouri), the South Carolina-Arkansas rivalry was easily the conference’s most expendable. Now, the Razorbacks will have a much more geographically sensible rival in Missouri, while South Carolina will start anew with Texas A&M in 2014 (assuming the conference doesn’t blow up the scheduling model again and end the permanent rivalry format after the 2014 season).
“Hopefully, when (Aggies quarterback) Johnny Manziel leaves, they won’t be quite as good,” Spurrier said. “They could be, they’ve recruited very well, but who knows? Who knows who will be up and who will be down as you go through?”
Five memorable games
As the series ends (the two schools will continue to play as rotating opponents who might meet only every seven years), let’s take a look at five memorable moments.
South Carolina’s first win in Arkansas was highlighted by four touchdown passes from Anthony Wright, who fell one scoring pass short of tying the school record in that category in a 39-13 win.
The Gamecocks’ only win in Fayetteville under Spurrier featured a great day by Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden, who rushed for 189 yards, but Blake Mitchell found Kenny McKinley for a 42-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the third quarter to power a 14-10 win that made the Gamecocks bowl eligible.
South Carolina fell 48-36 in McFadden’s Revenge. He rushed for an SEC-record 323 yards and Arkansas rushed for 541 as a team. Afterward, Spurrier joked the Razorbacks ran up the score by sticking with the run. “Looked like a Division III team trying to play an SEC team. Or maybe a Division III team could have slowed them down a little bit better than we could,” Spurrier said.
Spurrier outdid even himself, rotating quarterbacks Stephen Garcia and Chris Smelley on every snap through the first quarter and rotating liberally the entire game, and the Gamecocks won 34-21. Smelley finished 9-of-19 for 148 yards and a touchdown. Garcia finished 4-of-11 for 71 yards.
After losing three in a row and five of six against the Razorbacks, South Carolina badly needed a win and got it after D.J. Swearinger returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown. Swearinger tossed the ball into the stands after scoring to draw the Gamecocks’ third consecutive personal foul penalty.