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The Bielema Era: What Have We Learned?

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Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has a 22-22 overall record with the Razorbacks.

About five years ago, under former head coach Bobby Petrino, Arkansas Razorback football was riding high. And even though the team lost to Ohio State in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, Petrino’s squad was positioned for future success.

Unfortunately, Petrino wasn’t as adept at riding a motorcycle as he was coaching football. When Petrino wrecked his own hog in an infamous 2012 crash, the Razorback football team immediately felt the impact.

"We've put a in lot of hard work over these last four years to get where we're at,'' former Arkansas running back Knile Davis told the Associated Press in 2012. "Just to see it go down the drain in 24 hours is just, you know, it hurts. But we can't do anything but move forward.''

Arkansas football began rebuilding Dec. 4, 2012, when Wisconsin’s head football coach Bret Bielema announced he was leaving the Badgers and heading to Fayetteville. That rebuild has been steady, but has it been strong enough – or fast enough – to keep a die-hard fan base satisfied?

“They are going to be slim in a lot of spots. It’s going to take them 3 years to get a good foundation,” Anonymous Southeastern Conference coaches told Athlon Sports in 2013.

They were right. 

In year four, Bielema is almost where he needs to be to compete in the SEC, but not quite yet.

When Bielema took over the head coaching job, his 3-9 start (0-8 in the SEC) was not promising, but fans knew what he could do. Bielema’s seven straight winning-record seasons at Wisconsin were impressive and his three straight Rose Bowl appearances were even more eye-popping.

Since his arrival on The Hill, Bielema’s Hogs have improved slowly but surely each season. He’s been able to secure a top-25 recruiting class each of the past three seasons, leading to strong depth at each position.

Arkansas showed glimpses of hope in 2014 with dominating SEC wins over LSU and Ole Miss late in the season. In 2015, they rebounded for five SEC wins after a pitiful start that included a home loss to Toledo.

Under Bielema, Hog fans have been able to enjoy bowl wins over Texas and Kansas State. It seems that trend can continue if Bielema can consistently recruit top-tier talent, but more than that will be a tough task as long as Alabama head coach Nick Saban is competing in the same division. 

Bielema’s time in Fayetteville has been an uphill adventure so far, but it’s hard to tell how much longer he can keep it up. Have the Hogs hit their ceiling under their latest head coach or can they finally break into the top level of SEC elite?

The Bielema Era has been solid. But it won’t be truly appreciated until he can replicate at least one of the better seasons he had in Wisconsin. Down South, football is everything. Bielema knows it. That’s why he’s here.

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