Last season: 3-9 (0-8)
All-time record: 687-469-40
SEC titles: None
Opener: at Auburn on Aug. 30
COMING TUESDAY: Auburn
Now that was different.
After guiding Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls in his final three seasons as a Big Ten coach, Bret Bielema found tougher going in the Southeastern Conference. His debut year at Arkansas consisted of three victories to open the season and nine losses to close it, with the Razorbacks going 0-8 in SEC play for the first time since entering the league in 1992.
Bielema has provided more entertainment off the field since arriving in Fayetteville, and his blueprint will remain in rebuilding a program that won 13 Southwest Conference championships but still seeks its first in the SEC.
"The biggest thing I took away, especially after the season, is to be true to who you are and what you've been," Bielema said last week at SEC media days. "You're going to change the little things absolutely. You're going to change personnel and change the way you communicate, but you don't change the core fundamentals of what you believe in.
"I'm not going to a no-huddle, hurry-up offense. We're going to stick to our principles and do it better."
Bielema and Alabama coach Nick Saban share a desire to limit the pace of up-tempo offenses, citing player safety as a reason, while Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Ole Miss's Hugh Freeze have been the most outspoken in demanding proof that faster play results in more injuries. Yet Bielema did take a dig at Saban last year by pointing out Saban's record at Michigan State can't compare to his with the Badgers.
Throw in Bielema's wife, Jen, posting "karma" on Twitter last September after Wisconsin suffered a controversial loss at Arizona State, and the first family of Arkansas football overshadowed the team itself.
"He's an incredible guy, and what you see is what you get," 6-foot-7 senior guard Brey Cook said. "He's the same way on social media and in public and behind the scenes."
If there is a silver lining in an 0-8 SEC season, it's that the Razorbacks were far more competitive in November. Arkansas suffered a 52-7 loss to South Carolina and a 52-0 loss to Alabama in October, but the Razorbacks closed by losing to Mississippi State in overtime and to LSU on a 49-yard touchdown pass with 1:15 remaining.
"I think the first thing I have to make our players understand is that every game is won or lost but that a lot of teams lose the game before they ever win it," Bielema said. "If you don't understand that, it's probably why you don't coach, but there are a lot of times you do things that prevent you from winning."
Brandon Allen, the only SEC starting quarterback who failed to complete 50 percent of his passes last season, returns for his junior year. Allen fended off challenges this spring for another go-around with the 1-2 tailback punch of junior Jonathan Williams and sophomore Alex Collins, who led all freshmen nationally last year with 1,026 yards.
Seven starters return on offense compared to six on defense, which will be under the guidance of Robb Smith, the program's fourth defensive coordinator in four years.
"I want to make that a positive," senior defensive end Trey Flowers said. "If I can learn four defenses in four years, it shows how coachable I am, but the challenge we face is the terminology and how we communicate."
Arkansas opens its second season under Bielema at defending league champion Auburn, and it doesn't get much easier from there. The Razorbacks have a road game at Texas Tech and face Georgia and Missouri from the other half of the conference in addition to its West Division gauntlet.
Nicholls State, Northern Illinois and UAB could be the only opponents the Razorbacks are favored to defeat this season, but they aren't expecting a 3-9 repeat.
"Our kids aren't getting into trouble," Bielema said. "We're doing positive things that lead me to believe they're learning and understanding what we're asking them to do. When that thing comes full circle, we're going to start to win. When we win, we're going to maintain a winning style longer than this other thing we've been living through."
Said Flowers: "I know under Coach Bielema that we're taking this program to a winning record. We had an 11-win season my freshman year, so I understand what it takes to win."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...