Andy Hodges

After four complete seasons, Hogs haven’t made much improvement

After an admittedly embarrassing loss in the Belk Bowl, Bret Bielema won’t be the one one having to answer questions about the direction of Arkansas’ football program.

Photo by RAZORBACK SPORTS COMMUNICATIONS

Bret Bielema is about to find out the limit on patience of the Razorback fans.

Maybe he knows it. After an epic meltdown in the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech on Thursday night, if he doesn’t, the guess here is he’ll figure it out pretty quickly.

“It’s not OK to accept this,” he said later.

Bielema’s seat was warm after what was the previous meltdown — against Missouri in the final game of the year when the Hogs blew a 24-7 halftime lead.

But this one was worse. It was 24-0 and the Hokies weren’t showing many signs of particularly caring.

Bielema told ESPN Radio on his way to the locker room at halftime that, “we’ll play a four-quarter game … I guarantee it”

It only sounds good later if it works. When it doesn’t, there’s usually a whole string of questions that have to be answered.

“I’m very disappointed,” was his answer later. “I apologize to the fans who made the trip that we couldn’t close this thing out.”

Now he’s going to have to do it on a seat that’s going to get progressively hotter.

When you get helicopter pimped-slapped in the second half of your last two games after leading by 17 and 24, yeah, there’s going to be questions.

Part of the problem is a lack of depth on the team. There are some good players on the roster, but not enough. The dropoff from the first to the second team is just too great.

Steve Spurrier said it back in 2013 after giving up an opening scoring drive in Fayetteville, then watching his Gamecocks roll off 51 unanswered points.

“Bret’s just going to have to recruit his way out of it,” he said then.

The problem is Bielema hasn’t.

His best class was his first. The best players from that class went early to the NFL and they didn’t have enough playmakers ready to go behind them.

Bielema simply hasn’t picked up any ground in recruiting. In the latest 247Sports.com composite rankings, the Hogs average No. 22 in the country.

While that sounds decent on the surface, it’s not making up ground. In the SEC, they rank 10th. In the SEC West, they are sixth, ahead of only Ole Miss who is paying the price for their 2013 and 2016 classes from the NCAA.

Bielema likes to compare things at Arkansas to his time at Wisconsin in the Big 10. While it makes for a good soundbite on TV and sports radio, causing the talking heads to nod and impart that he’s capable of repeating that at Arkansas, it’s not accurate.

It won’t work at Arkansas.

With the Badgers, there was only one or two big games a year Bielema had against teams that recruited better than he did. In the SEC, he plays against five or six teams every year in his own division that are out-recruiting him.

No one can coach players up enough to win in that situation. To compare the two situations is basically lying to the fan base.

While the Big 10 this year may be the best conference, top to bottom, in college football it wasn’t two years ago, much less when Bielema was there.

Of his three Rose Bowl teams he had, one they completely backed in (2012 when Ohio State and Penn State finished ahead of the Badgers, but were ineligible for postseason).

When those teams got to the Rose Bowl, they lost. All three of Bielema’s Rose Bowl teams lost (although he wasn’t coaching the last one after the 2012 season because he was in Fayetteville).

In fact, his bowl record was 2-4 at Wisconsin. Now it’s 4-5 and two of those wins came at Arkansas.

We were told it was a rebuilding project. Some in Fayetteville with the UA said it was a five-year job. If they believed it, then they were either sadly out of touch with the world of college football today or flat-out lying to themselves.

It doesn’t take that long. You can either recruit winning players or you can’t and you know by the third year.

Some of the Hog faithful want it both ways, though.

When Bobby Petrino replaced Houston Nutt in December 2007, many in the media were already making excuses about the total lack of players he inherited.

In three years he had the Hogs in the Sugar Bowl and relevant in the SEC and national pictures.

Of course, the excuses for Bielema are what he inherited in December 2012 was worse.

And, while we’re talking about answering questions, there are a few for Jeff Long, too.

Long’s contract extension for Bielema after the Texas Bowl win has put Arkansas in a position where it’s tough to do anything for at least two years.

With a $15.4 million buyout through the end of next year, then an $11.7 million buyout through 2018, Bielema has job security, particularly with an athletic director that doesn’t seem as concerned about wins and losses as he does the finances.

Schools worried more about finances than wins and championships are usually in the Big 12, although Texas DID just bite the bullet and fire Charlie Strong after just three seasons.

In the SEC, coaches winning 72 percent of their games are run off and, in at least one example, also causing the athletic director and president of the university to be run off as well.

Is it time for Arkansas to figure out if it wants to play for championships?

Or to just make money?

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