The 2012 and 2013 seasons are two that Hog fans would just as soon forget. Everyone is aware of the John L. Smith campaign, the one that took every Hog fan’s hopes and dreams and hastily stomped them into oblivion.
The whole season was hard for Hog fans, and anyone around the program really. To see a team that just the year before showed so much improvement, so much promise, go down in flames was beyond difficult. Depending on who you ask, some blame Smith. Some blame Jeff Long since his Smith hire was a mistake, but on the other hand, Smith was probably the only real option at the time since there wasn’t a pool of coaches available and whoever took the job would be “interim.” The majority blame Bobby Petrino.
The latter, to me, is the only logical person to blame. Seeing as it was HIS poor judgement and HIS selfish actions that put the University of Arkansas in a lose-lose situation.
Then came the wait. Who would Jeff Long find to coach the Razorbacks?
The rest we know, is history.
But part of that recent past still lingers in 2014. Sure, the 14 game winless streak of SEC games looms very large, but something that has reared its ugly head dating back before the Petrino mess, dating back to Houston Dale Nutt’s last year in 2008, is the obvious rift in the Arkansas Razorbacks fan base now.
While I understand that there is not, and never will be, a fan base completely in unison, it’s troubling just how far apart its growing.
If if I had to guess, based on this season alone, somewhere around 70% feel that Bret Bielema is doing a good job, whether it’s recruiting, development, or general improvement of the product on the field. Ray Charles could see improvement this season, and most important, his players are most improved in the classroom.
The next 20% feel that Bielema is doing an adequate job, but somehow fail to see on-field improvement.
Not it that big of a discrepancy in agreement, same song, just a different verse.
The final 10% is the group that just flat baffles me and anyone with a common knowledge of football, especially of the college ranks.
This 10% believes that Bret Bielema should be fired immediately, and Jeff Long should crawl back to Bobby Petrino.
I have to believe that these people, who all seem to huddle up on Hogville message boards, aren’t Razorback fans, but merely closet Arkansas State fans. I’ve looked for rhyme, reason and logic but found none.
I have discovered one cause for the disarray in the Hogs fan base, you see, winning cures everything in college football.
When the Hogs won 11 games and went to the Sugar Bowl, you didn’t hear complaints, because the Hogs were winning. And since then, the Hogs have gone 4-7 (1-7) and 3-9 (0-8) since.
Not to worry Razorback fans, this nasty little trend of dismay and disorder is one that won’t continue for long.
This past Saturday, the Hogs took No. 6 Texas A&M to overtime in a game that many national pundits gave the Arkansas Razorbacks no shot of competing in, much less having a chance to win.
Yes, Arkansas lost, and yes, Arkansas is 3-2 (0-2) this season, but those two losses have come to two teams in the top six in the country.
Arkansas as went toe-to-toe with Auburn, who was 13 seconds away from a national title last year, and the Hogs were one penalty from beating A&M.
Whether you like it or not, Bret Bielema has this team competing, and this team believes in his system. This team believes they can compete with anyone in the SEC, and they can. A far cry from the Razorbacks of 2013.
Starting with the largest offensive line in the country, NFL included, to the quarterback who doesn’t have to win the game with his arm, to the stable of relentless running backs who can carry the ball with the patience of a saint, outrun you to the corner, or go right through you, this offense while uncommon, is exactly what will bring Arkansas out of the funk that was the Petrino era.
Before the season started, we all heard how the defense had improved, something Razorback fans have heard through the years, only to find out in SEC play, that they had yet again been deceived.
Not this time.
The improvement is noticeable in the defensive line which figured to be the anchor. The linebackers and secondary were the huge questions. Brooks Ellis and Martrell Spaight have stepped up, filling the spot that has plagued Arkansas in the past. The secondary looked much better Saturday than in years past when a high-powered passing offense would have had 350 yards by half time.
No, the defense isn’t going to be the best in the SEC and probably won’t crack the top 5-6, but in year two of a complete overhaul, this is progress.
The Arkansas Razorbacks are poised to be world beaters this season. They aren’t going to win the SEC West this year, but at the beginning of the season, the expectations were, 4 wins, 5 wins…a few optimistic fans saw 6 and a bowl game.
If the Hogs win six games and make a bowl game this season, I’m not sure how many people will be shocked. Bret Bielema has this team playing angry, with a chip on their shoulder, the size of a 3-9 season.
So while many people agree and some can’t see it, this is the Bielema process, and so far this season, while the record may not reflect that, it certainly is progress.
You can follow James Moseley on Twitter: @james_moseley