Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Bielema believes Hogs on schedule


FAYETTEVILLE – Assessments off the Arkansas Razorbacks’ prospects for 2014 coming off their 3-9 overall/0-8 in the SEC 2013 season often intersect at these conclusions.

No. 1: The Razorbacks may prove significantly improved in coach Bret Bielema’s second year than they were for his first.

No. 2: Even markedly significant improvement still may not reflect much, if at all, in the won-lost record because Arkansas’ schedule is so tough.

Addressing a gathering sponsored Wednesday by the Little Rock daily newspaper, Bielema, even before being asked about it, already had made light of the heavy schedule, including opening Aug. 30 at reigning SEC champion Auburn.

“We have been voted the toughest schedule in college football,” Bielema said. “Last year I think we were at four or five.”

Bielema went deadpan.

“We wanted to improve and this year we jumped to No. 1,” Bielema said dryly. “It was awesome. I came here for a challenge, right?”

Bielema came from Wisconsin to Arkansas taking on the challenge to coach the Razorbacks to their first-ever SEC football championship, but he certainly understands and has heard before the theory that the Hogs could play significantly better than a 3-9 team in 2014 yet finish not much better than 3-9.

“I think that’s because people see our record from a year ago and they see the same quarterback (fourth-year junior Brandon Allen),” Bielema said. “Even though I think he (Allen) is going to be much improved, I know some people right away think unless we change the person, the same person is going to arrive with the same results.”

Bielema said it’s up to him and the offensive staff to assure Allen that he’ll make a significant difference just by executing better than a year ago.

“Well, that’s why you coach,” Bielema said. “To make people better. But I think the general perception that we may not see the improvement in our wins and losses is out of respect as to who our opponents are. You open up with Auburn and you have two nonconference opponents in Texas Tech (Sept. 13 in Lubbock, Texas) and Northern Illinois (Sept. 20 in Fayetteville) that we probably won’t be a favorite in, I would imagine. Northern Illinois has been to two BCS games and Texas Tech is coming off a very, very good year with a lot of players coming back. So I don’t see it as a slap in the face. I see it as a compliment to our opponents.”

Meanwhile, Bielema says there is cause to compliment his Razorbacks for their considerable academic and off the field successes compared to the 2011 season that went 11-2 on the field for Bobby Petrino and 4-8 in 2012 under John L. Smith.

“Other than wins not being where I want them to be, everything about the program is 1,000 percent better than when I came here,” Bielema said. “From GPA to drug testing to community service, APR, everything is straight up. And it’s just a matter of time before that makes the wins come up as well. Unfortunately it takes a little bit of time.”

Bielema said time is on Arkansas’ side to improve on the field if the off the field aspects continue their rapid improvement.

“Unless something dramatic happens, every kid in our program is eligible to compete in our first ballgame, which is really unprecedented. We finished the spring semester with the highest GPA since Jeff (Long, the athletic director) has been here. Certainly since I have been here for sure. Our GPA has gotten higher every semester since I have been here and we have had the highest graduation rate as well.”

All that eventually will add up on the field, Bielema believes.

“You have a guy that can think right and do everything they are supposed to away from the game,” Bielema said, “there is a really good chance they are going to do what you want them to during the game.”