After abruptly leaving Wisconsin to take the Arkansas job, Bret Bielema’s first season in the SEC couldn’t have gone worse on the field. The Razorbacks went 3-1 in the non-conference schedule, and then promptly put up a goose egg in conference play, losing all eight contests to finish 3-9.
Despite the rough transition from the Big Ten, Bielema maintains that his program is improving in every way, just not in the win-loss column.
“If you sat down and interviewed my AD, I think he would tell you in every aspect other than wins, you can't do anything but be happy with what we've done,” Bielema said. “We've increased GPA, accountability, our APR. All those things are skyrocketing. Our kids aren't getting in trouble. We're doing positive things that lead me to believe they're learning and understanding what we're asking them to do. When that thing comes full circle, we're going to start to win. When we win, it's going to be able to maintain a winning style than this other thing that we've been living through.”
It won’t get any easier for Bielema’s Hogs. The next chance for his first SEC win comes in week one against the defending league champions, Auburn.
“To play Auburn up front, to play a team that played in the national championship game, can be nothing but a positive,” Bielema said. “It's a motivating factor for us year‑round, from the time it was announced to where we are today. If I show (the team) Auburn in the national championship game, I’ll probably get their attention in a hurry. There’s a lot of common ground between us and Auburn.”
A few moments of clarity
A good portion of Bielema’s time at the mic involved him clarifying comments he has made in the past. He was outspoken in his criticism of fast-paced offenses as it related to player safety last year and he’ll get a heavy dose of one of the fastest offenses in the country when the Hogs travel to face Gus Malzahn’s Tigers.
Malzahn obviously disagrees with Bielema on the issue, but Bielema said the two coaches still manage to have respect for one another and communicate from time to time.
“Gus runs an offensive style and philosophy that is completely opposite of what I believe in, but who can argue with his success? That makes me respect him even more. As far as communicating, we've talked on the phone a couple different times about different issues. None of them have been player‑safety related, I can assure you of that,” Bielema said.
Additionally, Bielema cleared the air on a comment he made that was perceived as a shot at Oklahoma after it accepted the transfer of dismissed Mizzou wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
Bielema said he would not accept a transfer who was “a rebound off any law enforcement or drug issues.” He said he was asked about taking in UNLV transfer Cameron Jefferson, who was allowed to transfer due to the Rebels’ low APR score.
“The quote that got blown up, I didn't even know the day that I gave an interview, the story that another player had transferred to a different school that we used to recruit," Bielema said. "What I said about it pertaining to Cameron is here is a person that had no social issues. When I take a transfer like in that situation, I'm going to take someone that I believe enhances our program.”
That settles that, I suppose.
Bielema’s squad lost by fewer than 10 points in each of its final three games to Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU. There’s got to be a win in that schedule somewhere, right? Now that the team has experienced those close, bitter defeats, Bielema thinks so.
“We did a wholesale change. We're still a certain type of offense, defense. We're going to put an emphasis on special teams. We're just going to do it a lot better. We've done a lot of little things that are going to affect the big picture,” Bielema said. “I get excited because the things we've done have shown they can win in this league. Year two, although we don't know the record yet, my full heart belief is it's going to be better than year one. That's going to be determined on a weekly basis, but I do know it's going to be better.”
Having key players like running back Alex Collins, quarterback Brandon Allen and defensive end Trey Flowers back certainly helps, too.
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