State of the Hogs: Expectations

How many games do the Hogs have to win to make you happy? It's all about expectations. Bret Bielema's stated goal is an SEC title. He'll have to find balance and defense first.

What do you expect from your football team? How about basketball? What about baseball? How often should those Arkansas teams for the national title?

What makes you happy as a Razorback fan? Do the Hogs need to be in a New Year's Day bowl game to provide satisfaction? How deep do the Hogs need to go in the NCAA basketball tournament? What do the Diamond Hogs have to do? Is it Omaha or bust?

It's all relative, isn't it? If it's a new coach, he gets time. If he's produced of late, perhaps he gets time, too.

I'm thinking in terms of Bret Bielema, Mike Anderson and Dave Van Horn. All are sitting in a decent spot with Arkansas fans.

Bielema is in the true honeymoon stage. He's got several years to get things installed in his football program before fans began to grumble.

The new football coach is off to a roaring start with his first hires as head coach. His coordinators and line coaches are all high quality.

Those outside of Arkansas quick to criticize almost everything Razorback nod their heads up and down when you mention Jim Chaney, Chris Ash, Sam Pittman and Charlie Partridge. Those are respected coaches. Strength and conditioning man Ben Herbert gets kudos, too.

Anderson is on the right track, too. He's dispelled critiques who said his style won't attract big men with two signees with national reputations, Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley.

Both are in the 6-10 range and also appear to have skills to play at a fast pace. Both will help the Hogs become more formidable on the defensive end and with rebounding next season.

Yes, Anderson is making headway, especially with an obvious desire to increase toughness, something the Hogs lacked down the stretch in his first year as UA coach. Depth is improved. I was impressed with the way Anderson's team battled during an incredibly tough early schedule, perhaps the most vicious since the Hogs raised attendance in the 1970s to the point that they could afford rent-a-wins.

Baseball is rolling. Ranked No. 1 by at least one pre-season national publication and coming off a No. 3 finish at the College World Series, it's probably the UA sport that will have the most difficult time meeting expectations this season. SEC baseball is an almost impossible row to hoe.

It's kind of like the Yankees and Red Sox playing each other every weekend. Someone is going to lose and if you are .500 at the end of the year against each other, you probably did decent.

I measure what Van Horn does in the postseason almost as a better gauge of the season than the SEC. The league games get you ready for the real deal and just about everything is easier in a regional than the SEC postseason tournament. Plenty of good teams make quick exits in Hoover, Ala.

Back to Bielema and his task to rebuild from a 4-8 season and the Bobby Petrino to John L. Smith disaster. I was one of the many to underestimate what should have been expected. Obviously, leadership is worth a bunch. And depth should never be underestimated, especially at linebacker and cornerback.

How long is it going to take for Bielema to achieve his stated goal, to give Arkansas fans something they've never experienced, an SEC title? There have been only three trips to the SEC title game and only once did the Hogs appear equipped to compete and that year only until Reggie Fish decided to back track to the 5-yard line in an attempt to field a punt.

I do like Bielema's slant on expectations. I've scratched my head a bit over the last five years as many have talked about a national title. That was the Petrino mantra. Over and over there were mentions of the national championship at Razorback Clubs or media briefings. I wondered if it was not better to shoot for the SEC title first?

I guess Bielema gets it. Perhaps Jeff Long, the UA athletic director who hired him, coached him a little. The road to the national title goes through Atlanta. Shoot for an SEC title first.

It's hard to know how long that takes. But my first guess would center on figuring out how long it takes for the Hogs to play defense.

Bielema gets that, too. It appears Long understands that as well.

Play defense and everything gets easier. Run the ball and your defense gets better. I've always felt that.

I love the forward pass, but I was told from an early age that dependence on the passing game gives you incredible highs and as many incredible lows.

I loved hearing the word balance in Bielema's entrance talks. That's what Chaney preached in his first media visit after being named offensive playcaller.

I don't know what has to happen first to get to Atlanta, balance or defense. Perhaps all of that comes together at once.

Petrino liked to talk about the need for that one final right bounce of the ball. If you have balance and defense, it's likely the ball bounces right much more often.

I don't fret about the number of years. I don't fret about the number of wins next year. Whether or not the Hogs win five, six or seven, it's apparent they are headed down the right road with Bret Bielema and his approach of balance and defense.

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