State of the Hogs: Get Used to It

Fans love Bret Bielema's progress as Arkansas opens the season in the national polls. It appears to be just a launching point.

It's not a surprise after the strong finish last season, but it is still big news. The Arkansas football team is back in the national polls for the first time under coach Bret Bielema.

Get used to it.

I have been high on Bret Bielema's building approach with an eye towards the defense ever since Jeff Long introduced him as head coach. Now starting his third season, I think Bielema will have Arkansas in the poll for a long time.

Why? It's his total approach to the program that includes academics, nutrition and family. I think those areas are under valued by many college football coaches. I think his care for the players will pay big dividends. It's clear the players get it and will play hard for Bielema.

Now, the fundamentals he teaches as far as blocking and tackling are critical, too. His ability to develop linemen doesn't hurt, either.

There have been good coaches at Arkansas and a few that qualify as great. Frank Broyles was the best, although Ken Hatfield's record is nothing short of excellent, too. I think Broyles and Bielema compare for their ability to recruit, overall touch in coaching and a wonderful presence at Razorback Clubs. Like Broyles, Bielema is very good with the national media.

Broyles was involved in every area. He was innovative and so is Bielema, although some point to an old school approach as far as smashmouth football. I say innovative because he's on the cutting edge in many areas, including the first to abandon two-a-days and the move to the latest technology. Bielema's Arkansas team will be among the first to utilize the Virtual Reality technology to train players.

It appears that Bielema's approval rating with Arkansas fans is off the charts. I can't remember anyone being higher, except maybe after Broyles won the 1964 National Championship. It was pretty high after the first year of Lou Holtz, but by year three things had slipped a little. Hatfield's best teams (back-to-back trips to the Cotton Bowl) both ended the year with losses, causing some grumbling.

Yet, Bielema has yet to win an SEC road game. He often points to that failing. He continues to say the Hogs haven't arrived, just reached the launching point.

Perhaps the ranking Thursday by the coaches is sign that the Hogs are really at the launching point. I think it's going to be a good ride.

That doesn't mean this season won't be difficult. There are no easy games in the SEC. Of the seven other SEC teams ranked in the coaches polls, six are on the schedule this year.

So what will it take to make Arkansas fans happy? Certainly, there needs to be improvement after 7-6 to keep the faithful feeling good.

There was a consistent number of wins given by fans polled on the Hawgs Illustrated message board. Most think eight would be good, but nine would make them happy. I started a thread on our premium message board on what would make you happy.

One poster said it simply, be competitive. He added, “Anyone that knows anything about college football will tell you that the SEC is the best league, hands down, and that the SEC West is the best of the best. I really believe that this team is the best we've had since the days of Broyles and Hatfield. Having made that point, It is obvious that we are gonna be tough to deal with. We've got to win some road games. It looks like the Tide may be a bit down but they are still Alabama … sbout all anyone can expect in this league is to be competitive. We were not for a number of years. Now we are.”

There were good nuggets elsewhere, too. There were some veterans that wanted to tap the breaks a bit with a word of caution. Some were particularly noteworthy.

I didn't write this one, but I wish I had because I'm old, too. Consider this post:

“I'm getting old enough now that I just look for continued improvement with the feeling that we are building a strong, sustainable and steadily improving program. It's all about the journey, boys. I'd be happy if we got one or two more wins this year and felt like we had a chance with everyone else. Oh, and a rematch against Texas and beating the ever living snot out of them one more time would be perfect. Same goes with recruiting.  Steady improvement, building a solid, sustainable, program that is heading in the right direction. I've seen over the years a lot of fans take any improvements 'to the bank' and only double down on the expectations, that inevitably turn out to be too high.  Then they end up getting really upset when those expectations are not met.”

Oh, I like the idea of beating the snot out of Texas again. It would be borderline erotic. That sounds like something Bielema might say at a Razorback Club. Oh, yeah, he did and he repeated it at SEC Media Days.

It's that kind of stuff which confirms my opinion that Bret Bielema is perfect for Arkansas – and the fans are getting used to it.

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