Bret Bielema has draw a lot of attention during his short tenure at Arkansas.
After a winless first season in the SEC and various off-the-field headlines concerning pace of play and one particular head coach at Auburn, it's safe to say that the majority of this attention has not been positive.
But Bielema understands what he has gotten himself into. He understands the deep and treacherous waters of the toughest league in the nation. And to his credit, he is sticking with his game plan — the same one that won him three consecutive Big Ten championships at Wisconsin.
Arkansas should boast one of the best running games in the SEC, but that doesn't mean the Hogs will be able to move out of the SEC West cellar. This team should be improved in Bielema's second season, but will that translate into wins with one of the toughest schedules in the league this fall?
2014 Arkansas Schedule Analysis
The Razorbacks have the unenviable task of taking on the defending SEC champs on the road in the season opener. It would be a brutal game even if there wasn’t a budding rivalry between the two head coaches, so fans can be assured that Auburn’s Gus Malzahn won’t overlook the winless Hogs in Week 1. After a guaranteed win over Nicholls State in Week 2, the Hogs take to the road again to face pass-happy, up-tempo Texas Tech and Red Raider cult hero Kliff Kingsbury. Bielema will have to face two of the fastest offenses in the nation in the first three weeks and a 1-2 record is more than likely against the BCS runner-up and a former Southwest Conference rival.
Must-wins and home cooking
There aren’t many wins to be had on Arkansas' schedule so the must-win games carry even more importance for Bielema. Northern Illinois and UAB at home in Weeks 4 and 9 are obvious must-win situations and the Hogs should handle both with ease. In between, however, the Hogs will face Texas A&M in Arlington, Alabama in Fayetteville and Georgia in Little Rock. While not all of the games are true home games, Arkansas won’t play a true road game between Sept. 13 (Week 3) and Nov. 1 (Week 10). This gives the Razorbacks a chance to pull an upset and just one victory against either the Aggies or Bulldogs could create momentum for a team that failed to win an SEC game last year.
Divisional swing games
The Razorbacks played well at times a year ago despite losing all eight SEC contests. The Hogs fought valiantly against Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU. In 2014, there are three divisional swing games that could provide Arkansas with a much-needed boost of confidence heading into the offseason. Road trips to begin and end November at Mississippi State and Missouri respectively will be tough, but a win in either isn’t out of the question. Between those two road trips are hugely important home games within the division against Ole Miss and LSU. Both are winnable for Arkansas and a solid finish to the season with just one or two upsets could mean the difference between a forgettable season and one that features a bowl trip.
Arkansas was winless in the league last year for a reason. The Hogs weren’t very good. That said, this team lost the final three games of the season by a grand total of 21 points — against quality teams — and played well in other contests (Rutgers, Texas A&M). If the Razorbacks can develop some balance on offense, pull an upset or two at home in swing games (LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia) and snag a critical road win against lower-tiered SEC West teams (Mississippi State, Texas A&M) then there is an outside, albeit extremely outside, chance Bielema can get this team to a bowl game.