COLUMBIA — Barring a scheduling miracle, Saturday will be the final game of the Missouri-Illinois football rivalry, corporately labeled as the Arch Rivalry.
Illinois, which has lost every game in the most recent edition of the matchup, decided not to continue the neutral-site contest so it could schedule another home game in Champaign.
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said that he will be sad to see the game go, comparing the atmosphere in St. Louis to that of a bowl game. But it would be silly of Missouri to cry over losing Illinois as an annual opponent.
If you want to generalize, the national championship under the current BCS system comes down to the champion of the two toughest conferences in college football — the SEC and the Big 12. In that same system, one loss on the schedule could blemish a national championship-worthy season.
With the in-conference competition guaranteed to be challenging in the Big 12 and with a BCS system that undervalues strength of schedule beyond conference strength, there is no real benefit for the Tigers — or Illinois — to challenge themselves early in the season. Big 12 coaches have caught on to this idea: They are scheduling more "cupcakes" before conference play starts.
The football history between Illinois and Missouri might seem storied, but it is sporadic at best — hardly on the same level as Missouri's other border rivalry with Kansas or even with Iowa State.
Missouri has already replaced Illinois, theoretically at least, on future football schedules with home-and-home series against Arizona State and Indiana. Combine that with the possibility of a round-robin Big 12 football schedule, nine games where every team plays each other, and the strength of schedule for Missouri football going forward appears daunting, even with the lower-ranked schools coming to Columbia.
But on the flip side, the game is still Illinois versus Missouri. It's still a border battle.
Will you miss the Missouri-Illinois football game in St. Louis?