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Andy Hodges

Bielema as bad as Ford? Numbers startingly similar

Bret Bielema’s overall winning percentage very similar to Danny Ford’s tenure and style, recruiting could be the culprits.



For those wondering why Bret Bielema is starting to catch some heat from Arkansas fans, here are the problems:

• His overall winning percentage of 48.15 percent is less than the SEC-only percentage of the Bobby Petrino and Houston Nutt years.

• To equal Danny Ford’s tenure in the SEC (40 percent), the Hogs will have to win six of the seven remaining SEC games. To match Ford’s overall winning percentage, the Hogs will have to win all nine of their remaining games.

Those supporting Bielema will argue that he inherited a program beset with problems on and off the field that required a major rebuild.

While I don’t agree with that, it’s the argument that is made.

Even if he did inherit a dumpster fire, he didn’t inherit a program beset with NCAA scholarship limitations or restrictions, a massive amount of transfers or a rash of career-ending injuries.

No, he inherited a program that had 12 or so players arrested on one thing or another over the previous couple of years and their grade point averages weren’t very good.

In my opinion, there was more talent on the team in 2013 than he has now. It was young and inexperienced, but it was better.

The coaching staff in 2013 was better than the present staff, too, in my opinion.

No, Bielema was coming to a program and a culture where a traditional ground-and-pound style of offense has never been very popular with the fan base, but he was going to do it his way because he had “won” three Big 10 championships doing that.

His former boss at Wisconsin, Barry Alvarez, said Monday at the Little Rock Touchdown Club that’s what Bielema wanted to do.

“I think I know what Bret wants to do,” Alvarez said. “Bret’s gonna be very similar to what we’ve done. I see his lines, big lines, physical teams, but you have to evaluate what’s coming out.”

That last part is critical. The part about evaluating what you can recruit.

And that is where Bielema has created his own problems.

In Texas, where Arkansas has traditionally had success recruiting, they aren’t doing nearly as well.

In an area of the country where speed is favored over size and bulk, Bielema has tried to get what he can, but his style hasn’t exactly been something the better players are lining up to play in.

His comments to the Texas High School coaches a few years ago didn’t help either.

Dismissing teams that didn’t huddle, didn’t use a fullback or tight end probably wasn’t the best way to sell his programs to some of the most influential people in the recruiting process.

In college football today, teams that don’t have a quarterback who is a running threat aren’t winning anything.

Look at the College Football Playoff for all three years.

One team, Alabama, has won it (in 2015) with a pro-style quarterback … barely. It was too close for comfort for the Tide’s Nick Saban, who put Jalen Hurts in the next season.

In fact, Alabama in 2014 and 2015 were the only two of the 12 teams in the history of the playoff to even make the playoffs with a true dropback style, called pro style, quarterback.

And now even the Crimson Tide have gone with much more up-tempo style on offense, spreading it out and Saban stressing all offseason and in the early games they have to improve their passing attack.

It’s never been my belief that schemes win ballgames. It’s players.

But, as Saban pointed out in the offseason, the players want to play in an up-tempo style and it’s what gives his team the most trouble.

Was Bielema a good hire back in December of 2012 for athletics director Jeff Long?

Actually, it was probably the best he could, whether he would admit it or not. I didn’t think his style was a good fit then and said so.

But Long, who totally mismanaged the situation after being forced to fire Bobby Petrino, doubled down on the screwup by having to turn to Bielema after missing out on the A list.

Yes, Bielema had three straight Rose Bowl teams, but only one had an outright championship game title they backed into.

• In 2010, the Badgers finished in a three-way tie with Ohio State and Michigan State, but got to the Rose Bowl after beating the Buckeyes, but losing to the Spartans. They finished ranked behind Ohio State in the final polls.

• In 2011, Wisconsin finished tied with Penn State, but the Nittany Lions were in NCAA jail after the Jerry Sandusky firestorm. After losing in the Rose Bowl, the Badgers finished 10th in one poll, 11th in another.

• In 2012, the Badgers finished third in the Big 10 West with a 4-4 conference record, but both Ohio State and Penn State couldn’t go anywhere because of NCAA issues and they backed into the title game, where they destroyed Nebraska.

For context, to match what he accomplished at Wisconsin, the Hogs would have to repeat their 2015 season and have Alabama and Ole Miss both be on probation that year.

But the bottom line remains that Bielema hasn’t recruited particularly well in a style where speed trumps size every year these days.

Don’t look back five or six years and say it worked then, because college football has changed and what worked then doesn’t work today.

Recent history has shown it doesn’t take more than three years to know what you have in a coach with a new system.

Go look at Colorado last season for the most comparable example.

No, it appears that Bielema is stubbornly going to continue to do it his way, which is cause to examine some more recent history.

Les Miles kept trying to do it his way at LSU, which obviously wasn’t working.

Except Bielema doesn’t have any national titles to ride for an extra year or two.


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