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How long will it take Bret Bielema to turn around Arkansas?
Arkansas and Kentucky are the only winless teams in SEC play, combining for an 0-11 mark through Week 11. Both programs are in the midst of a rebuild project behind first-year coaches.
Bret Bielema went 68-24 in seven seasons at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances at the end of his tenure in Madison.
But Bielema has found life in the SEC more difficult than the week-to-week grind in the Big Ten.
Arkansas is 3-7 and has a seven-game losing streak entering next week’s game against Mississippi State.
Kentucky is in a similar situation under first-year coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats won two non-conference games but lost to Western Kentucky and Louisville in games outside of the SEC.
Kentucky has been more competitive in conference games this season, but with Vanderbilt, Georgia and Tennessee remaining, it’s hard to see the Wildcats earning a victory in SEC play.
Arkansas or Kentucky: Which program has a tougher rebuilding project ahead?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a tough call, as both programs and new coaches have a significant rebuilding effort ahead in 2014 and beyond. The balance of power in the SEC has shifted from the East to the West. With Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Auburn all likely to be picked among the top 15-20 teams in the nation next year, the Razorbacks will have a tough time getting bowl eligible. The schedule for Arkansas is just brutal, which features road trips to Auburn, Texas Tech, Mississippi State and Missouri. One positive for coach Bret Bielema is the emergence of a couple of key freshmen, including running back Alex Collins, defensive tackle Darius Philon and offensive linemen Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland. Kentucky is playing better under new coach Mark Stoops, but the Wildcats are likely to go winless in SEC play for the second consecutive season. Stoops is recruiting at a high level, which should allow Kentucky to close the gap in the SEC East. Considering the current climate of the SEC, it’s hard to envision either program taking a huge step forward in 2014. However, I would give Kentucky a slight edge to turn things around faster, especially since the West appears to be the tougher division for the next couple of years.
Both teams are currently languishing in the basement of their respective divisions in the nation's toughest conference. Neither job is going to be easy, but for me the difference comes down to three words - location, location, location. Arkansas is the tougher rebuilding job in the SEC because the Hogs are in the same division as the two-time defending national champions, as well as LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Auburn. Those five teams are bigger brands than Arkansas and appear to have more momentum than the Hogs right now, whether that be related to on the field success or off of it, or a combination of the two. Even Mississippi State is capable of making some noise in one area or the other in any given year.
As far as the East is concerned, I see a much clearer path for Kentucky to work its way up the food chain, if you will, as Georgia and South Carolina are by far the most solid and established programs at the moment, although Florida is capable of righting the ship fairly quickly. Otherwise, the Wildcats have to contend with a rebuilding Tennessee program that's lost plenty of its luster in recent years, the new kids on the SEC block in Missouri and a Vanderbilt team that has made some strides in recent years, but still has a long ways to go and some natural obstacles (such as facilities, academics, tradition, etc.) it will always have to overcome. Kentucky may be at the bottom right now, but I think it's path of resistance isn't anywhere near as clogged as Arkansas' appears to be. Bret Bielema took a solid Wisconsin program and helped it reach the next level during his tenure in Madison. He's starting over in Fayetteville with far less in the cupboard and an even bigger hill to climb in the SEC West than what he faced on a yearly basis in the Big Ten.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
My first instinct is that Kentucky is always the tougher rebuilding job, but I’m not so sure in this landscape. First, “rebuilding” is different at Kentucky than it is at Arkansas. Rich Brooks is beloved at UK after winning seven games every year and going to bowls. Arkansas believes it should compete for national championships every year, whether or not that’s realistic. Kentucky is following a clear recruiting blueprint of going into Ohio and grabbing players who Ohio State didn’t want or those who’d rather play in the SEC for Kentucky than play for a second-tier team in the Big Ten. That’s a formula proven to work at Kentucky, even if it might tougher with Louisville in the ACC. Arkansas, though, has to recruit Texas and the Southeast. The best Texas kids are going to go to Texas or Oklahoma, and if they want to play in the SEC, they can go to Texas A&M. Evaluation is going to be paramount for Arkansas, especially as teams like Auburn and Ole Miss are on the rebound in the West.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com and Crystal Ball Run
Rebuilding at Kentucky is always going to be the biggest project to take on. While things look bleak for Arkansas right now, the Razorbacks are in a position where football comes first and there is a history of actual success on the football field to build off of. Arkansas does seem to have some bigger challenges in terms of recruiting by sharing the same division as Alabama, LSU and now Texas A&M but sometimes that can be a positive as well. All Arkansas needs is the right coach, and it is premature to suggest Bret Bielema is not that guy. The Razorbacks have the facilities and the fan base to help support the program and it should be an easier program to bring in recruits capable of turning things around in a relatively short period of time.
Stephen Schindler (@SteveSchindler)
Arkansas is by far the better program; however, many point to the rigors of the West as a big reason why Bret Bielema will be unable to turn things around in Fayetteville. Let's not act like the SEC East is a cakewalk. With stable programs like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina along with improving programs in Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, Mark Stoops doesn't have any easy wins on the schedule. Sure Stoops is recruiting better at the moment, but I think the lack of true interest and support behind football at Kentucky will eventually hurt recruiting during his tenure. Kentucky has always been basketball first and will always be that way. Make no bones about it, Arkansas is all about their football team. In the coming years, the Razorbacks should be able to move ahead of teams like Mississippi State and Ole Miss and remain on the level of an Auburn on a consistent basis. And who knows what happens to Texas A&M after Johnny Manziel leaves or Alabama if Saban bolts to Texas. I think Kentucky will still be relegated to the last two or three teams in the East, while I see more potential for the Razorbacks to finish in the middle of the pack in the West.
Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
The answer most often is Kentucky. But right now, I think Arkansas is the tougher rebuilding job. The Razorbacks play in a division that features Alabama and LSU at the top and has Auburn and Texas A&M climbing the ranks of the most powerful in the conference. Ole Miss is in great shape and appears to be improving under head coach Hugh Freeze. That leaves Arkansas and Mississippi State to battle it out for the last spot in the West. Arkansas does have a proven head coach in Bret Bielema and talent-rich states like Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas nearby to recruit. But it’s a bad time to be rebuilding considering the state of the other programs inside Arkansas’ division. Kentucky’s road isn’t much easier, but there are spots up for grabs in the SEC East. If quarterback commitment Drew Barker pans out for Kentucky, the Wildcats could be a tough out in the next few years.