This weekend at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium one of the first annual rivalries of the University of Arkansas’ tenure in the Southeastern Conference will come to an end. It is doubtful that Razorback fans will be all that nostalgic about the end to the yearly meetings between Arkansas and South Carolina. The Razorbacks and Gamecocks both entered the league in time for the 1992 football season and therefore were destined to be paired together.
The truth is that some feel the two schools were named "permanent rivals" on the football field much in the same manner as a teacher chooses dance partners in a junior high P.E. class or the last kid standing on the wall finds his way to the kickball team with the final pick of the playground draft. It just happened to work out that way.
And while this annual matchup of permanent cross-divisional foes has lacked the fervor of Arkansas vs. Texas or South Carolina vs. Clemson, it has often largely determined the season fate for both teams, especially for the Razorbacks. Arkansas leads the overall series with South Carolina 13-8, including wins in three of the last four years.
But more importantly consider that in the 13 seasons in which the Razorbacks defeated the Gamecocks since 1992, Arkansas went on to earn a bowl game berth 11 times. Only in the first two years of the series (1992, 1993) did the Razorbacks beat the Gamecocks and fail to earn a post-season bid. All three appearances in the SEC Football Championship Game came after season wins over South Carolina.
Conversely, in the eight seasons South Carolina has won the annual matchup, Arkansas has only rebounded to make a bowl game once (2000). So how important has this game been over the past 21 years? Although not carrying the same passion as the Battle for the Boot with LSU and some classics with Alabama, the Gamecocks have historically been the barometer game for the Razorbacks and their post-season hopes.
In its relatively short history, the series has produced many memorable games and moments beginning with the first time the two teams met. There was much anticipation for Arkansas’ first football season in the SEC. But after a season opening loss to The Citadel in 1992, Arkansas head coach Jack Crowe was fired the day after the game and Joe Kines was named as the interim coach. Kines was charged with the task of leading the Razorbacks in their first SEC game six days later in Columbia. In one of the most improbable wins in the series, Arkansas dominated its new conference mate 45-7 after one of the most tumultuous weeks in school history.
One year later, the long-haired, brash, but extremely talented South Carolina quarterback Steve Tanneyhill led the Gamecocks into Fayetteville for one of the first true big games in Arkansas’ early tenure in the SEC. The crowd at Razorback Stadium was a fever pitch and Arkansas came away with an 18-17 win over the No. 19 Gamecocks.
Two years later, the series turned into a showcase for an emerging star in the Razorback backfield. Malvern’s Madre Hill etched his name in the record books with a remarkable performance. Hill rushed 31 times for 178 yards against the Gamecocks, but it was his six rushing touchdowns that set him apart from any other Razorback, in a record that still stands today. Arkansas won 51-21 on its way to its first SEC Championship Game.
In 1998, Arkansas entered the game 5-0 under first-year head coach Houston Nutt. The Hogs had hammered Alabama at home, but a trip to Columbia would be the first conference road test for the team. The Razorbacks passed with flying colors racking up a 41-28 win earning their sixth consecutive victory in a streak that would reach nine in a row before coming to an end at Tennessee.
Unfortunately, not every game in the series was memorable in a positive way for the Razorbacks. In 2000, Arkansas traveled to South Carolina and came back home bruised and beaten, literally. The Gamecocks won the game handily 27-7, but the game was most notable for a series of unfortunate events for Arkansas signal callers. Razorback quarterback Robby Hampton started the game and played under center until he sprained a finger and was forced to the sideline. Redshirt freshman quarterback Zak Clark came in and showed some potential until he sprained an ankle and was sidelined. Insert Nashville, Ark., native Jared McBride came on, but two plays later he was done for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Coaches debated putting in wide receiver Gerald Howard, who ran an option attack in high school, but instead Hampton came back off the bench to finish the game.
War Memorial Stadium was the scene for a CBS Sports nationally televised matchup between Arkansas and South Carolina in 2001. The Razorbacks were in desperate need of a marquee victory after suffering consecutive losses to Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia earlier in the season. The Gamecocks provided just that opportunity as they rolled into Central Arkansas as the No. 9 team in the country. A defensive struggle found Arkansas clinging to a 10-7 lead with less than a minute remaining. South Carolina lined up to attempt a game-tying field goal. But the football never made the uprights, it was swatted out of the air by Razorback defensive end Carlos Hall. What would become known as the "Block in the Rock" saved the game and gave Arkansas its first SEC victory of the season.
In 2006, Arkansas rolled into Columbia a winner of seven straight games, following a season opening loss to Southern California. The stakes were high as not only were the Razorbacks fighting for a berth in the SEC Championship Game, but also in the balance was a potential visit from ESPN’s Gameday if the Hogs could record the victory. The No. 12 Razorbacks rallied to the cause and in the process Darren McFadden became a household name in college football. McFadden thrust himself into the Heisman Trophy race with 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns in leading Arkansas to a 26-20 win. The next week, the University of Arkansas hosted College Gameday in Fayetteville and McFadden went on to win the Doak Walker Award and finish as the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
If it was the 2006 South Carolina game that vaulted McFadden into the limelight, it was his 2007 performance against the Gamecocks that elevated him back to a Heisman Trophy front runner and secured his legacy at Arkansas. On a night where the field was named after former Arkansas football coach and athletic director Frank Broyles, it was McFadden who turned in the legendary performance. The Little Rock native rushed for an SEC and school record 321 yards on 34 carries becoming the first Razorback to rush for more than 300 yards in a game. But it wasn’t just McFadden running the Gamecocks over as fellow tailback Felix Jones also rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns. The two combined for an NCAA record 487 combined rushing yards by teammates in a single game.
In 2010, Arkansas dominated South Carolina on the ground and through the air. Quarterback Ryan Mallett threw for 303 yards and a touchdown while Knile Davis rushed for 110 yards and three scores in a 41-20 win in Columbia. The Razorbacks were on their way to their first BCS berth in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
A year later it was a showdown between two top-10 teams in Fayetteville. Dennis Johnson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and Jarius Wright earned 103 yards receiving as Arkansas outscored South Carolina 44-28 to go to 8-1. The Razorbacks went on to beat Kansas State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
After further review this series that many on both sides don’t claim to be among the most celebrated rivalries in the SEC has churned out a high volume of memorable moments and performances in its first 21 editions. The two teams will continue to meet on occasion as part of the league rotation, but not each year as we have grown accustomed.
So as we prepare for the final installment of this annual game, it once again carries notable significance. Just as in years past, the game could be pivotal to the Razorbacks’ bowl hopes. Arkansas is in the middle of the toughest stretch of the season and a win over South Carolina would help steady the Razorbacks after three tough losses.
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema also hopes that his dynamic running back duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams can carry on Arkansas’ rushing tradition in the series. After all, both the single game rushing yards (McFadden) and rushing touchdowns (Hill) school records have come against the Gamecocks. Will Williams and Collins be the next McFadden and Jones?
Maybe Saturday can be a start to answering those questions on a day when we say goodbye to the uncelebrated, but vastly underrated annual SEC rivalry between the Razorbacks and the Gamecocks.
Razorback Road is a weekly column published on Thursdays by Associate Athletic Director for Public Relations Kevin Trainor. Trainor is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and has worked for Razorback Athletics for more than 20 years.