With a week and a half before Arkansas opens the 2014 season against Auburn, coach Bret Bielema feels confident he knows where his Razorbacks rank in the overall scale of college football programs.
"I don't think we're No. 76. I don't think we're No. 1," Bielema told reporters before an appearance at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. "I think we're somewhere in between."
Knowing that the head coach thinks his program could be 75th in the country doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for the Razorbacks to turn around last year’s 3-9 season, with a 0-8 record in SEC play. But Bielema did say this year’s Arkansas team was better than the one he took over at Wisconsin in 2006.
"I think we were ranked 76th in the country. We finished 12-1 and No. 5," Bielema said. "I know that rankings do truly not matter. As a player, as a fan, you don't necessarily see things through the eyes of a head coach. I know where we are at."
Bielema points to two games — the 52-0 loss to Alabama and the 52-7 loss to South Carolina — as the only games that Arkansas really let get away. Otherwise, he said, he saw a lot of growth in his team.
However, the schedule isn’t kind for the Razorbacks, who open at Auburn, the defending SEC champion and national championship runner-up, and then play at Texas Tech two weeks later. If there’s some saving grace, the Razorbacks do get Alabama and LSU at home.
Arkansas returns 11 total starters, including starting quarterback Brandon Allen, who played most of the season with a nagging shoulder injury. Allen completed just 49.6 percent of his passes while leading the nation’s 114th-ranked passing offense.
It’s a good thing the Razorbacks have running backs Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall to help carry the offensive load.
Defensively, Arkansas overhauled its defensive staff in an attempt to better a defense that allowed 475.3 yards per game in SEC play. With only four starters returning to a league that’s become more offense-oriented in the past few years, this might be where Arkansas takes a lot of its knocks.
But Bielema is confident his team is showing progress and will continue to do so as the season progresses.
"The thing that we're building is something that will last," Bielema said. "If you build it the right way the first time, you're never going to have to go back and do it again. It should last a long, long time. That's true if you're building a fence, building a house or building a program.
"It may not be a mansion ... but it's definitely going to be a functional living space."
For more Arkansas news, HawgSports.com.
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