Preview 2017: Arkansas Needs To Show Fans More Success
Arkansas has been fine under head coach Bret Bielema. Now it has to start showing more.
Arkansas fans need a peek.
They need to see what consistent winning and high-end success might look like.
They need to see something, anything, to prove that Hog football maybe, possibly, could grow into a something bigger than just going to another also-ran SEC bowl.
Arkansas doesn’t have to win the SEC West to make the season a success, but eight wins can’t be the high-mark for head coach Bret Bielema. That’s not why he was hired.
He was supposed to recruit great running backs (check) who ran behind a ton of really big offensive linemen (check) as part of an efficient attack (unchecked) that held the ball for seemingly interminable lengths of time (double-check) to offset the lack of talent compared to the Alabamas and LSUs of the SEC.
So far, he’s 2-2 against LSU and 0-4 against Alabama, but it’s become more than that. It’s one thing to lose in the SEC, but Arkansas got tagged by a bad Missouri team last season. It got blown out by Texas A&M and Auburn, and got rolled by Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl loss.
It’s not just that the Hogs lost. It’s that they need to be in the mix for the SEC’s top bowl slots.
Arkansas has showed it can be amazing when it’s on – like it was in the blowout win over Florida last season – but it doesn’t last. Ripping up the Gators 31-10 doesn’t mean much when it’s sandwiched in between losses to Auburn and LSU by a combined score of 94-13.
Under Bielema, Arkansas is supposed to be the bully. It’s supposed to be the team that occasionally runs for 350 yards in the first three quarters, and then, up by 30, runs for another 100 more.
It’s supposed to be the team that everyone has to worry about, even if it’s not SEC West-title good. It’s supposed to be the team that punishes, so even if you come away with a win, you pay for it.
And, occasionally, SEC West title hopes should still be alive in mid-November. So far under Bielema, this just hasn’t been that sort of a team.
It’s been fine. Bielema had to reboot the entire machine after everything imploded following the end of the Bobby Petrino era, but even taking out the 3-9 first season that was winless in conference play, he’s just 22-17 overall over the last three years and 10-14 in the SEC.
It’s okay to be 0-4 against Alabama. It’s not okay to be 10-19 against everyone else in the conference.
And now it’s Year Five. Now is when the full recruiting cycle will have run its course, and everything should be in place to come up with a big, ten-win sort of season.
The O line that struggled so much last year is loaded with veterans – and size – to pave the way for what should be a great ground game, even with star RB Rawleigh Williams having to retire with a neck injury.
Austin Allen is a good, veteran quarterback who can keep everything moving, but where are the receivers? The passing attack could be a concern early on, but under Bielema, that’s where the ground game and defense are supposed to kick in.
The move to the 3-4 defense has a budding star in McTelvin Agim up front, but the success might come down to the young linebackers who have to start getting into the backfield more. With three starters back in the secondary, that could be the early plus as long as the pass rush is coming.
It’s going to be another good team, but can it be a great one? Can it bust through the mediocrity and win at least nine games? Success brings the attitude, and Arkansas needs both.
The head coach has both on the resume, and now Hog fans need a little of that, too.