With the SEC season less than four months away, here’s a look at how the conference’s coaches rank in 2015.
Bio: Bret Bielema kicked off his head coaching career at Wisconsin by succeeding Barry Alvarez, the winningest coach in program history. Alvarez, who still serves as the school’s athletic director, chose Bielema as his replacement after serving two years as the team’s defensive coordinator.
The Badgers won 17 of their first 18 games under the new coach, which represented the second-best start in Big Ten history. Bielema led Wisconsin to three consecutive Big Ten championships (2010-12) and earned conference Coach of the Year honors in 2006.
In 2012, he replaced John L. Smith at Arkansas following a 4-8 season. The Razorbacks’ struggles coincided with the forced dismissal of Bobby Petrino eight months prior. Bielema went winless in conference games during his debut season, but bounced back with a 7-6 (2-6 SEC) overall record in 2014.
Kansas State (Co-DC)
Reason For Ranking: Bielema has garnered hype for his turnaround season, but I’m just not sold. His style is one-dimensional and relies too heavily on the rushing attack. Arkansas’ starting quarterback Brandon Allen threw for the least amount of yards among SEC passers who started in 13 games.
Arkansas ranked fifth in rushing attempts among SEC teams, but was the only team in the top-5 without a mobile quarterback. Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins were the only teammates to rush for more than 200 attempts each.
To his credit, Bielema held wins against inflated ranked opponents LSU and Mississippi in consecutive games, but otherwise garnered hype based on his ability to stay in close games. However, Arkansas’ one-dimensional offense will not be enough to reach the upper echelon of the SEC and the coach will need to adapt in order to achieve more success.
9/5 – UTEP – Fayetteville
9/12 – Toledo – Little Rock
9/19 – Texas Tech – Fayetteville
9/26 – Texas A&M – Arlington
10/3 – Tennessee – Knoxville
10/10 – Alabama – Tuscaloosa
10/17 – Bye
10/24 – Auburn – Fayetteville
10/31 – UT Martin – Fayetteville
11/7 – Ole Miss – Oxford
11/14 – LSU – Baton Rouge
11/21 – Mississippi State – Fayetteville
11/28 – Missouri – Fayetteville (Possibly changed to 11/27 for the Friday after Thanksgiving)
2015 Outlook: Arkansas has the benefit of playing inferior non-conference opponents early for the second consecutive season. But the Razorbacks’ schedule becomes more difficult as the season progresses — aside from a matchup against UT-Martin.
Arkansas’ SEC East opponents are a rising Tennessee team and cross-conference rival Missouri, the reigning two-time division champions. Otherwise, the Razorbacks have a typically difficult schedule against SEC West opponents that have had two years to familiarize with Bielema’s run-heavy attack.
The Razorbacks running game will be strong but shouldn’t provide enough to contend in a difficult division. Arkansas will likely find itself last in the division with the annual contenders making big offseason moves to improve personnel.