SEC Coach Rankings: Day 3

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJune 5, 2014 

Arkansas Mississippi Football

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema reacts to a play during an NCAA college football game against Mississippi at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, in Oxford, Miss. Last year's 3-9 record marked the first time Bielema had ever had a losing season as a head coach.

BRUCE NEWMAN — AP

Editor's note: Bryant. Vaught. Jordan. Dooley. Neyland. These are just a handful of the coaches (among many others) who have come to define the Southeastern Conference due to their dynamic personalities and remarkable success on the field. But who are the top coaches roaming the sidelines of SEC schools today? Ryan Black gives his take, counting down from 14-1. Today, the series moves on to No. 12.

12. Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Record: 71-33 overall (68-24 at Wisconsin from 2006-12; went 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC last season in first year with Razorbacks)

National championships: 0

SEC championships: 0

SEC division titles: 0

Bielema was difficult to place in these rankings.

On resume alone, he should place among the top five or six coaches in the league. The problem is, all of that success came in Wisconsin. (Nine-plus wins in a season five times, three straight Big Ten titles from 2010-12 and three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances.)

(It should be noted he wasn't the coach for the final Rose Bowl, as he had already taken the job at Arkansas.)

Since this list is taking stock of the coaches in the SEC, however, the results versus conference brethren takes precedence. In that area, Bielema struggled immensely, going 3-9 overall in his first year with the Razorbacks. More importantly, he didn't pick up a single win (0-8) against league foes. It marked the first time since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992 that it went winless in conference play.

Will things get any better this fall? Possibly.

As previously noted, Brandon Allen has established himself as the unquestioned starter at quarterback. The Razorbacks also boast a pair of talented running backs in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. They also have two of their top three receivers (Hunter Henry and Keon Hatcher) back in 2014.

Defensively, they have a cornerstone to build around in reigning All-SEC selection Trey Flowers. The area where they'll hope to have the most improvement is getting the ball away from opponents. Last year, the Razorbacks ranked last in the SEC (and 111th in the country) in turnovers forced, coming up with just 14.

It won't take long to judge Arkansas' progress, as it has a major measuring stick in Game 1, heading on the road to face defending SEC champion Auburn in the season opener. And it's possible things could get worse before they get better. In addition to its SEC slate, Arkansas will also face a pair of tough non-conference foes in Texas Tech and Northern Illinois. That means the only two contests that look like "gimme" wins on paper are Nicholls State and Alabama-Birmingham.

Yes, Bielema took over a program in shambles following the embarrassing end of the Bobby Petrino era and the ensuing tumultuous 2012 campaign under interim coach John L. Smith. But last year was far worse than anyone expected. Does that mean Bielema's job would be in jeopardy if the team doesn't make noticeable strides this year? One would think so given the cutthroat nature of the SEC.

Then again, his time at Wisconsin is evidence of his coaching acumen, and as bad as 2013 was, it's not as if Bielema forgot everything he knew overnight.

The problem is, if he doesn't recapture some of that magic soon, his days in Fayetteville might be numbered.

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