It happens every summer, it’s like the heat gets to us.
By mid-July you can tune into any sports radio call-in show, or stand next to the water cooler at work long enough, and you will hear someone predict 11-12 win season coming. With no real logic or reasoning, those rose-colored summer sunglasses have their effect. I’m sure this takes place everywhere, not just the great state of Arkansas. Last summer may have been the worst I have ever seen. Coming off the most successful three-year stretch in Razorback football since the ‘60s, Arkansas fans had grown use to winning, me amongst them. However, predicting an interim head coach to win ten or more games was more than just looking through rose-colored glasses.
It was unrealistic. Very unrealistic.
Smarting from last season and while we’ve yet to put on our shades, what can we expect out of the Razorback football squad in 2013?
Many examples can be found where a new coach brings new life to a program and wins in his first year. Hog Fans don’t have to look far to find one. In Houston Nutt’s first year, 1998, he took the Hogs to a 9 – 3 record. The Razorbacks managed a 4 – 7 mark the year before. Nutt did the same thing a second time at Ole Miss, turning that program from 3 – 8 to 9 – 4. On the flip side other coaches have taken least one year, maybe even two or three to reach great heights. In Bobby Petrino’s first year, Arkansas took its lumps when the Hogs, finished 5 -7, but he built on that to go 8 – 5, 10 – 3, and 11 – 2 in the following years.
The situations above have some stark differences. The style of play that the new coaches brought to the table and talent on hand when they arrived to fit that style played a huge role.
The question for us now is whether there are athletes on campus that fit coach Bielema’s style? Well… not exactly. Not the style he used at Wisconsin anyway.
Arkansas has been built over the last three years to outscore people, plain and simple. Outscore opponents by air is more precise. On offense Bielema has shown a very balanced attack while at Wisconsin in a run first pro-style system. Although he likes to run, he never had year at Wisconsin where his team passed for less the 2,000 yards. That said, unless he hits some home runs on the recruiting trail, the back field might be fairly thin. Arkansas only returns two running backs that saw any real playing time in 2012. One of those two missed most of the season with a broken leg in Kody Walker. The other is true Sophomore Jonathan Williams (who looks like he has a very bright future in front of him). Hopefully, Coach Bielema will keep Kiero Small at fullback.
If Bielema lets new Offense Coordinator Jim Chaney open it up more, something Chaney knows how to do, Coach Bielema might be delighted in the talent he finds already roaming the Hill. But no quarterback on campus has seen substantial SEC action under center. General wisdom is that next spring there will be a fight for the starting job between the two Brandon’s. Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell both have the talent to run the offense. Unfortunately though, having talent and being ready to take on the Tide in Tuscaloosa are two very different things all together.
The other half of Bielema’s success in the Big 10 was based on hard nosed, hard hitting defense. Although some parts of the Arkansas defense progressed as 2012 went on, a hard nosed, hard hitting defense is something Razorback fans haven’t seen in a while. Not from the Hogs anyway. The defense has talent in spots that could be ready to make hits next season, but it will take this staff, not only working on technique, but attitude, to get them ready to make other teams remember playing the Hogs.
Having the right players in the locker room isn’t the only uphill battle facing this new all star staff in 2013. Arkansas faces a brutal, brutal schedule, one of the worst in recent memory. In one stretch the Hogs face Texas A&M, Florida in Gainesville, S. Carolina, then Alabama in Tuscaloosa. All four opponents promise to be Top Ten teams and two are road games with one being in Gainesville, a place Arkansas has never won.
I’m not trying to be negative but rather trying to be realistic about what faces the Hogs come next fall. The Hogs have a chance for a good season, but it simply depends on what your expectations are. Ole Miss had some of the same odds facing them in 2012 with a talent level that was likely in worse shape that what Arkansas faces. The Rebels still managed a seven win season, including their convincing win against Pittsburgh in the Compass Bowl.
It’s way too early to make a Win vs Loses prediction for the 2013 season. There is still a long time before the Hogs take the field in August, and a lot can happen over the summer. Players will leave the program either via their own actions, or by choice. Players can get hurt during spring ball, and we still have yet to see what kind of help Bielema will bring in with his first class. The 5 Juco players he has already signed will be a huge help.
If your expectations are in the right place, you could walk away at the end of season very pleased. If the Hogs can manage at least six wins and a bowl game, Bielema will have the train back on the tracks and headed in the right direction. At least that is what this Hog fan is expecting.