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College football: Week 1

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.

“Be patient.”

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.

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