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Bret Bielema has a tough job in his first season.
Arkansas had a year to forget in 2012. After crashing his motorcycle and lying about the details of the incident, Bobby Petrino was fired as the team’s head coach in April. Athletic director Jeff Long hired former assistant John L. Smith to be the interim coach, but the Razorbacks weren’t the same team.
Fast forward to 2013 and there’s a different feeling surrounding this team.
After a successful seven-year run at Wisconsin, Arkansas pulled Bret Bielema away from Madison. And Bielema should be a good fit in Fayetteville, especially with his run-first mentality on offense.
Arkansas was ranked by most a top 10-15 team before Petrino’s dismissal, so there’s still talent in the program.
Can Bielema get the Hogs back on track in 2013?
What will Arkansas' record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Arkansas' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
|8/31 UL Lafayette|
|9/14 Southern Miss|
|9/21 at Rutgers|
|9/28 Texas A&M|
|10/5 at Florida|
|10/12 South Carolina|
|10/19 at Alabama|
|11/9 at Ole Miss|
|11/23 Mississippi State|
|11/29 at LSU|
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
New coach Bret Bielema didn’t get many favors from the schedule makers in 2013. Arkansas drew Florida and South Carolina – two top-15 teams – in crossover play with the East Division, and the Razorbacks have to play at Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss. Additionally, Arkansas has tough non-conference games against UL Lafayette and Rutgers. Considering the Razorbacks have a new coaching staff and must break in a new quarterback, getting to a bowl game would be a successful year in Fayetteville. Arkansas does have some pieces to work with, including freshman running back Alex Collins, along with one of the SEC’s best offensive lines. I have the Razorbacks beating South Carolina – Arkansas has won the last three in Fayetteville – but it’s more of a feeling this team only wins one game in SEC play. The Razorbacks certainly have some potential. But the transition to a new coaching staff and the first year for Brandon Allen at quarterback will keep the Razorbacks out of a bowl game.
SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo)
This could be the most difficult SEC team to figure out, new QB, coach and all. In 2011 they went an impressive 11-2 and followed that up last year going 4-8. Getting Bret Bielema was the biggest hiring surprise of the off season. What does Bret get in return? These 5 games starting week 4: at Rutgers, Texas A&M, at Florida, South Carolina, at Alabama. Now with that stretch laid out, I feel they could go 4-0 to start the season in their non-conference game. I like the direction of the program under Bret (Stay away from motorcycles), just not this season. Name to remember: Alex Collins, RB
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The cupboard is more stark than fans in Fayetteville realize and it could mean a long, rough season for Arkansas this year. Bobby Petrino is an elite coach who levels the "talent' playing field with his game management on Saturdays, but he destroyed the roster in the process. Huge swing games like a road trip to Rutgers could shape this season very quickly. Otherwise, there are very few chances for upsets for this rebuilt team — Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, at best. One or two upsets and the Hogs have an outside chance at a bowl game, but make no mistake, six wins is the high water mark for this team.
Arkansas reeled in a pretty big fish when it lured Bret Bielema from Wisconsin, but the former Big Ten coach is going to find out two things fairly quickly - 1) the cupboard is a little more bare right now in Fayetteville compared to Madison and 2) why the SEC is considered the toughest league in the country. Whether Bielema can build a Wisconsin-type program at Arkansas and succeed in the SEC is its own separate question, and one that will have to wait because it's going to take a few recruiting classes for him to even get to that point.
As far as 2013 goes, the season may get off to a promising start thanks to a light non-conference slate, although that road trip to Piscataway to play Rutgers will be tough, but that is probably the lone highlight that Razorback fans can look forward to. Otherwise, it could be a long and painful three months of SEC play, especially with Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama lined up out of the gates. With the lack of experience and production returning on offense and a lot of unproven options on defense, Bielema may be "one and done" this season, in terms of SEC wins.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
We said the same thing about Kentucky and Ole Miss: The SEC schedule does these teams no favors in helping them trying to reach the next step. Arkansas can’t even catch a Kentucky, Missouri, Auburn or Mississippi State during late September and October. Arkansas is going to struggle, but there’s a glimmer of hope there, especially once Bielema gets things moving. He’ll have an OK defensive line and an elite center, which isn’t a bad place to start. Trouble is, he has little else. Arkansas may have some success later in the season if they can get through that October gauntlet in one piece. But facing the Sun Belt favorite in the opener and a quality AAC team on the road in September will be problematic.
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