Before last night, the Arkansas Razorbacks had not won an SEC conference game in 764 days, and based on what I had seen from Bret Bielema and company over the past two seasons, I was starting to think he may never win one before they sent him out of Fayetteville in a Bekins trucks. Following the debacle with Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith, athletic director Jeff Long was under significant pressure to find a coach who could turn around Arkansas. Surprising many, he turned to Brett Bielema.
Bielema’s first season at Arkansas was less than stellar. The Razorbacks were 3-9 and winless in the SEC. To go winless in that conference is impressive. They, the Razorbacks are in the SEC West, which isn’t easy to win in, but their only three wins game against non-Power 5 teams.
Needless to say, the pitchforks were out for Bielema, and many – including me – thought Bielema was in over his head. I guess I should have been more patient, because it looks like he’s finally figured out a successful formula in Fayetteville.
I’m not too proud to admit that I was wrong about Bret Bielema and Arkansas. When he left Wisconsin for the south in 2012 I was nothing but critical of him and Arkansas for the move. I couldn’t figure out why he’d leave somewhere he could seemingly stay for the rest of his career, but then remembered Wisconsin didn’t pay well and all the money is in the SEC. I didn’t think he’d make it, and now, I don’t think he’ll be leaving anytime soon.
What a difference a year and a SEC win makes.
Time and patience helps, and that’s something Bielema has been preaching since he arrived on scene in the Ozarks.
I don’t think anyone thinks the Razorbacks will be winning the SEC West anytime soon, but with the win over No. 17 LSU Saturday night, they can finally demand respect. And Bielema can finally breathe easier.
Arkansas last won an SEC game on October 13, 2012 beating Kentucky 49-7.
Bielema’s first SEC win came after losing a close game to Mississippi State two weeks earlier 17-10, and losing to Alabama 14-13 a few weeks before that. Next week Arkansas will take on their old rival Ole Miss at home.
In playing in the SEC West, the Razorbacks had played, and lost to, five games to teams ranked in the top 10. Three of those loses – Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State – were by seven points or less. Arkansas defense has been nothing but impressive this year, allowing only Auburn, Texas A&M, and Georgia to score more than 35 points.
Arkansas also hadn’t beaten a ranked team since their victory over Kansas State in the 2012 Cotton Bowl, and hadn’t beaten a ranked conference opponent since their 2011 victory over South Carolina. So, the struggle was real for Razorback fans.
Arkansas now has two chances to become bowl-eligible, and while that may not mean something in terms of national respect, it means a hell of a lot for a team that only won three games last year, and four the previous year with “interim” coach John L. Smith.
If Bielema can get his hard-working team to a bowl game, and win or play very well, the talk of him being replaced with Bobby Petrino can end. For Bielema’s sake it’s time we all forget about that accident three short years ago, and move on. The story was sexy then, but now it’s just downright disrespectful. Disrespectful to someone like Bielema who’s trying to turn Arkansas around, and the football team that has done nothing but get better over the past 25 games, even if it is their first SEC game.
So it would seem Bielema and Arkansas can only up from here. There’s still a ton of work to do before he’s considered a successful Razorback coach, but given the consistent improvement over last season, there’s no reason to believe Bielema and Arkansas can’t achieve reasonably high expectations.
Are you ready to admit you were wrong about Bret Bielema, or is still too soon for you? Leave a comment below, tweet me @damienbowman, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feature image courtesy of Arkansas Razorbacks Instagram account.