Early August spoiled us, didn’t it?
The temperatures were much cooler than usual, and the humidity was down.
Then, as we knew it would, the real Arkansas summer returned.
So it is that tens of thousands of Arkansans will bake in the sun at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the Bret Bielema era opens at the University of Arkansas.
The personable Bielema has won the residents of this state over with dozens of appearances across Arkansas since the first of the year. It figures that he would connect with residents of what’s still very much a rural state. After all, this is a guy who grew up on a 2,500-hog farm in northwest Illinois. He’s a product of Prophetstown, a community of only 2,000 that was once described by a writer as “a quintessential Midwest town that every bit resembles a Norman Rockwell painting.”
Bielema, I’m told, is the most famous person to come from Prophetstown since Wabokieshiek, a half-Winnebago, half-Sauk Indian prophet.
Bielema is a man who works hard and plays hard. He was an 11-pound baby born with chicken pox and quarantined from the other babies in his first days of life. On that 80-acre farm, he learned a strong work ethic. Along with two older brothers, he helped his parents before and after school. There were hogs to feed and pens to clean.
“Some of my buddies got to do other things more recreationally oriented, while I was busy with the pigs,” Bielema once told an interviewer. “One thing about living on a farm, you can’t miss any work. Those pigs need attention every single day. It was a lot of real hard work on all our parts, but it was rewarding.”
Yes, Arnie and Marilyn Bielema raised a youngest son who isn’t afraid of long hours.
“There was work to be done, and that’s all there was to it,” Bielema once said. “So we did it. Every day before school, I’d get up at 4:30 and do the chores, and after everything was done with school for the day, I’d come home and do the chores until night, study for a while and go to sleep before doing it again the next day.
“When I tell my players about work ethic, that’s kind of what I’m talking about, rolling your sleeves up and getting the job done when it needs to get done. That applies to living on a farm and, in a lot of ways, that applies to the football field, too.”
He would have made a good farmer. Looking at the results at Wisconsin, he’s a good football coach.
This year will be a challenge as Bielema attempts to revive a football program that must compete in the rugged Southeastern Conference. Arkansas has been to the SEC title game but has never won it in more than two decades in the league. There’s no reason to believe that first championship is going to occur anytime soon.
To hungry Razorback fans, let’s repeat what we said at the start of the Danny Ford era.
Let’s repeat what we said at the start of the Houston Dale Nutt era.
Let’s repeat what we said at the start of the Bobby Petrino era.
Let’s not repeat what we said at the start of the John L. “Smiley” Smith era, though. Those are words not to be used in polite company.
Thank goodness college football season has arrived. On to the picks for Week 1:
Arkansas 39, Louisiana-Lafayette 31 — First of all, I refuse to go along with this “Louisiana” stuff. The Hogs are playing Louisiana-Lafayette, not Louisiana. I’m amazed at the number of people across the country who have made Louisiana-Lafayette over Arkansas sort of a “chic pick” for Week 1. Let’s get this point out of the way: No SEC team (even a bad one) should lose to a Sun Belt team. That’s not to say Saturday’s game won’t be close. It likely will be. Louisiana-Lafayette posted a 9-4 record a year ago and Coach Mark Hudspeth (I covered him on a regular basis when he was at North Alabama in the Gulf South Conference) is the real deal. Hudspeth is 18-8 as the head coach in Lafayette and 84-29 overall as a college head coach. Look for him to take a job at a school in one of the Big Five conferences in the next couple of seasons. Remember Petrino’s first game at Arkansas? It was close. Just as the Hogs did back then, they’ll find a way to win Saturday.
UCA 41, Incarnate Word 20 — I hope to be inside Estes Stadium tonight as the Bears, ranked No. 6 nationally in the FCS coaches’ poll, begin the 2013 campaign. Incarnate Word has received some national attention because the old weed-lover himself, Ricky Williams, is on the coaching staff there. I can’t hear Williams’ name without thinking of Mike Ditka in that wig in early 1999 as he gave up all of the Saints’ draft choices in order to get Williams. As a Saints fan, I still have yet to forgive Coach Ditka. Fortunately for the Bears of UCA, the former Heisman Trophy winner, who gained 6,279 yards during his college career at Texas, will be on the sideline rather than the field. Incarnate Word was just 2-9 a year ago. I’m glad it’s Steve Sullivan and not me having to say “Incarnate Word” over and over on the radio. That doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?
ASU 49, UAPB 22 — On Saturday night in Jonesboro, it’s also the beginning of a new era. It’s the fourth era in four seasons in the event you’re keeping count. Those following the ASU program seem to like what they’ve seen of Bryan Harsin, the Red Wolves’ new head coach. Maybe he will stay around for more than one season. It was Harsin’s good fortune that defensive coordinator John Thompson chose to stay in Jonesboro. Thompson knows what he’s doing. Both UAPB and ASU had conference championship seasons a year ago. Monte Coleman, whose overall record is now 29-27 as the head coach at UAPB, thinks he has the talent needed to compete for a second consecutive SWAC title. However, on a hot night in Craighead County, the Golden Lions’ lack of depth will show during the second half.
To say that no SEC team (no matter how bad) should ever lose to a SunBelt team is a pompous and uninformed statement to make. The undeniable fact is that while the top teams in the SEC such as Bama, LSU, and Georgia are undeniably among the best in the country the bottom teams such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Vandy and Auburn could be beaten by a number of good mid-major schools across the college football landscape. I seem to remember a couple of examples last year, not that you need be reminded though because i’m certain that’s where the pointedness of the Sun Belt shot came from. In the days of spread offenses and dual threat QB’s the size advantage on the lines that larger schools have over smaller ones have been somewhat neutralized..especially the traditional bottom of the barrell schools like the ones I mentioned. Not that you would know that though since you obviously don’t watch football that’s not SEC related. That’s a shame too because there are actually some pretty good teams that don’t play in the SEC!
Well said Ed. While there’s no debating that the top of the SEC is the best in the country… the bottom of the SEC is nothing special. Teams like Arkansas, Kentucky, Miss St, Mizzou, and Vandy just live on the reputations of the good teams. “We’re in the SEC!” And? How many times have you won it? Quit riding coattails and acknowledge that you’re not what makes the SEC tough, you’re just a leach.
Hahaha. This is funny. UF squeaked by ULL on a blocked punt. ULM beat Arkansas. As the gentleman above me said, The SEC is an elite conference, but not all the teams are elite. It’s laughable you are considered a sports writer.
Look out, Rex! You’ve got some of the more delusional folk from The Den on your case now.
Delusional? Those are facts. ASU beat Texas AM, ULM beat UAF, and other SEC teams have lost to Mid Majors. Even Alabama lost to one a few years back.
Based of what I’ve read from Mr. Nelson, he goes to more games of small colleges than anyone I know of in this state. For pete’s sake he is president of Arkansas’ Independent Colleges & Universities, composed of Ouachita Baptist, Lyon, Hendrix, Harding, John Brown, Philander Smith, University of the Ozarks, William’s Baptist, Crowley’s Ridge, CBC. He has also written more about non-SEC football in this state than anyone else I’ve read, including doing a good job of hyping the expansion of small college football at both Hendrix and Lyon. If anything I get annoyed with Mr. Nelson for not being more Hogcentric. Please do some research before going after someone. FYI there are some pretty good college teams that don’t play on the Bowl Championship level in this state.
Keep doing a great job Rex.
I hate to break it to you but Arkansas State has been in D1 for years and years. Within the last 4 or 5 years they have just started to get better. They are not among the biggest colleges in FBS yet but they are a far cry from the FCS and Juco schools that you listed. Even putting them in the same category is ignorant and dissmissive.
As much as pig fans like to think they are the only school in Arkansas, that is an incorrect statement. If you look at the end of the year FBS ranking last year you may notice another Arkansas team ranked above them. Also, some preseason polls this year have ASU over the pigs. Get used to it cause “little brother” is growing up. It is just a matter of time…
Go Hogs! GO redwolves! Kick arsh this sat. Both programs are great teams to follow..why be little the other? UofA just happens to be in the SEC. But I tell you if you put stAte in the SEC..the perception will change and levelling the playing field of perception. Even as they are in the Sbelt…they are respected in my side of Town (Atl, Geogia)….in fact many people here are intrigue about the redwolves…its a shame for the state of Arkansas not to do the same as it seems.
My take? At least two SEC losses against Sbelt teams.
Tim pretty well handled the response to your comment, Ed. This is a good example of the importance of knowing what you’re talking about before putting fingers to keyboard. I will see about 20 college football games in person this year if things go according to plan. Probably only three of those will involve SEC teams (the two Razorback games in Little Rock and the Liberty Bowl). In the first 10 days of the season, I plan to have seen both of the state’s FBS teams, both FCS teams and its lone Division III team. Then I will go to work seeing all the Division II teams. So much for not watching any football that is not SEC related, as you so knowingly stated. I didn’t say an SEC team will never lose to a Sun Belt team. They can and sometimes will. I said they should never lose given the difference in athletic budgets. I certainly stand by that. Join me in attending some Division II games, Ed. You might have fun — Rex
The asu people continue to show their stupidity. The fact is, they’ve always had a program that exists solely for a couple thousand white-haired diehards to try to compete with the only D-1 program in this state in Arkansas.
To do so, they’ve had to financially rape the student body for decades. Couple that with the borderline law breaking with shifted funds to keep the football program afloat, and it equals a disgusting, putrid, festering situation. The students go into debt, but “hey, we and about 5,000 others get to see a football game! (Don’t worry about attendance figures, we always inflate those massively)”
If the people running that cow college in Jonesboro had any decency, they’d do the right thing and kill off the football program. It serves no purpose. After all, winning the Sun Belt is like getting third place at the Special Olympics.