Arkansas ready to move up in SEC West

It’s time for the rubber to meet the road.

That’s the attitude in Arkansas, where the Razorbacks enter their third season under coach Bret Bielema. It has been slow-going so far. They were winless in the SEC in year one and 2-6 last season.

Bielema has been well-received and is well-liked in Fayetteville. But it’s time to be more than just competitive and start seeing some results in the win-loss column. The Hogs haven’t had a winning record since Bobby Petrino laid down his Harley-Davidson and passenger in 2011.

“We were a 3-9 and became a 7-6 team,” Bielema said at SEC Media Days. “Seven-and-six is by no means is a landing point. it’s more of a launching point. … After we went 7-6 on my last stop (Wisconsin) we went on to win 10 games every year, three straight championships and had a lot of success. I see a lot of the same things coming for us here. The bottom line is you’ve got to make them happen.”

There are indications Arkansas could take steps some in that direction, especially on offense. Nine starters return on that side of the ball, including all their top skill players and four offensive linemen. The Hogs also brought in offensive coordinator Don Enos from Central Michigan to improve the passing game.

Quarterback Brandon Allen is a senior and is back at the controls after throwing for 2,285 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’ll have back his top two targets in wide receiver Keon Hatcher (43 catches, 558 yards) and tight end Hunter Henry (37-513). Senior running back Jonathan Williams rushed for 1,190 yards and 12 TDs last season.

“I’ve been through the highs and lows since I’ve been here,” said Allen, who is entering his fifth year with Arkansas. “I’ve had a long career here and I can tell that we’re on the right track. We have the talent, we have the people, personnel and coaches. We have everything that we need to have a great season this year. It all comes down to putting it together for those Saturdays.”

There could be some issues on defense. The Razorbacks were second in the league and top 10 nationally in total defense last season but lost three of their best players in defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Darius Philon and safety Alan Turner. It was not lost upon those attending Media Days that Arkansas was the only team to bring three offensive players and no defensive players to this venue.

“I’m a big believer in you earn everything in life,” Bielema said of his all-offense contingent. “Our (belief) is you earn everything. I just believe this is an opportunity that’s so rare and unique and so powerful that you reserve the right for your seniors. I’ve had a lot of juniors that enter the NFL draft that never get their chance, but that’s just kind of the way I operate.”

The schedule could prove problematic for the Hogs making a big leap. They won’t play their first conference game until Week 4 and then it will be a “home game” at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. They’ll play in Knoxville and Tuscaloosa the next two weeks before finally playing Auburn in Fayetteville at Razorback Stadium for the first time in six weeks on Oct. 24.

But playing well away from home is a the sign of a champion.

“The last five SEC West champions are 18-2 on the road,”Bielema pointed out. “… If we lose more than one game on the road, history tells you you’re not going to win the SEC West.”

In this year’s case, just winning more than two conference games will represent an improvement.