Illini, Tigers hit the gridiron in search of Braggin’ Rights



By Jason Grodsky

It’s been three years since Illinois and Missouri duked it out in a border battle.

Well, on a football field that is.

The Illini and Tigers own one of the fiercest non-conference rivalries in college basketball and annually settle it out on the court in the Braggin’ Rights game in St. Louis. But now the Illini and Tigers will renew their rivalry once again on the gridiron, giving fans from both sides the opportunity to experience the Arch Rivalry without waiting for basketball season.

“I think this is going to be the start of a big rivalry and the excitement and atmosphere for the fans and players will eventually compare to what it’s like at the basketball games,” Illinois senior safety Kevin Mitchell said. “Both schools have good programs and once both teams start winning, everything will start to build up and it will be good for both communities and schools down the road.”

This year’s game will be the 21st meeting between the two schools, which for the Tigers makes the Illini their second most frequent non-conference opponent in team history – behind only Southern Methodist University.

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However, Illinois and Missouri have met just seven times in the past 22 years, and unlike the basketball series, this will only be the fifth game played in St. Louis, whereas the two basketball programs have met in the Gateway City in all but one year since 1980.

“I think it’s nice to play in St. Louis,” Missouri tight end Chase Coffman said at Big 12 media day. “It helps out the Missouri program, lets a lot of the fans from the St. Louis area who might not be able to make it to a game in Columbia or a game in Illinois able to come see a game.”

However, to compare the atmosphere of Saturday’s game with that at the Braggin’ Rights game would be unfair. The Braggin’ Rights series is heading into its 27th season and the fans have built it into what it is today, while the football rivalry is just starting to gain momentum.

But the four-year deal that has Illinois and Missouri scheduled to play in St. Louis has fans and players feeling that the mood in the Edward Jones Dome could eventually rival the excitement that takes place at the Scottrade Center each December.

“The plan seems to be to develop a big rivalry with them, at least that is what the marketing people are trying to do,” Illinois senior defensive lineman Chris Norwell said. “I think we’re going to have a good fan base with a lot of fans traveling down there, and Missouri is going to bring great fans as well, and it’s going to be a great time for everyone involved.”

The Illini players are hoping that their team’s success against Missouri on the basketball court crosses over onto the football field.

Right now Illinois holds an 18-8 advantage over Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights series and has won the last seven meetings. But the Illini are just 7-13 against the Tigers on the football field.

“I think every opener is very important,” head coach Ron Zook said. “But one game does not make a season, and there have been a lot of successful football programs that have won the first game and had some issues thereafter. Missouri is a good football team. This gives us the opportunity to see where we are.”