Five Things SEC Fans Should Know About Bret Bielema

Jonathan Daniel

So just who is this guy that Arkansas is bringing down from up north?

1. He's a defensive guy from the Fry line.

Most people think of offense with Wisconsin thanks to a long line of outstanding running backs and Russell Wilson's great year there in 2011, but Bielema comes from the defensive side of the ball. He played nose guard for Hayden Fry at Iowa and was a co-defensive coordinator for Bill Synder at Kansas State before becoming Barry Alvarez's DC at Wisconsin.

A long line of coaches came from Fry's coaching tree, including Snyder and Alvarez. Kirk Ferentz, Bo Pelini, Jim Leavitt, and Mark Stoops also have ties to Fry, and the other two Stoops brothers Bob and Mike have ties to both Fry and Snyder like Bielema does. If you want, you can order an instructional DVD on the Kansas State defense from 2003 with him in it. The sample video there has a young, slim, and trim Bielema discussing one way for a defensive lineman to attack a tight end.

2. He's as midwestern as they come.

Bielema's most immediate challenge is finding his fit at Arkansas. He was born in Illinois, played at Iowa, and coached at Iowa and Wisconsin. His two seasons at K-State are the only time he's spent outside the Big Ten, and he famously has an Iowa Hawkeye tattoo on his ankle.

Certainly, prior SEC experience is not necessary to succeed down here. Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Urban Meyer had no experience or ties to the South before they went to LSU, LSU, and Florida, respectively, and they did just fine. Joker Phillips, Gene Chizik, and Ron Zook did have extensive SEC experience prior to their head coaching gigs and all got fired in relatively short order. Still though, his assistant coaching hires will be critical because Florida is the only state in the southeast where he's done much recruiting recently.

And yes, he did grow up on a pig farm.

3. He's got some comments he'll need to walk back.

Bielema has not been one to run from controversy. He made some waves around last signing day when he claimed that some coaches (read: Urban Meyer) were using what he called illegal recruiting tactics. He went so far as to contact Meyer to express some concerns about it. He even said, "We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC in any way, shape, or form."

Meyer wasn't doing anything up there that, well, anyone doesn't do down here. Bielema has also willingly joined the SEC. Either he's going to give an impassioned (and futile) speech about changing the culture of the conference, or he's going to have to do some backpedaling. I'm guessing it'll be the latter.

4. He has won with less.

Despite what you might think from the winning tradition started by Alvarez and continued by Bielema, Wisconsin is not a natural football power. The school only had six bowl appearances before Alvarez's tenure. The state doesn't produce a lot of high end talent, and it's not like it has sunny beaches to entice 17-year-olds to come on up.

Bielema's seven recruiting classes averaged a rank of 48.7 and topped out at No. 34 in 2007 according to the Rivals.com rankings. By comparison over the same span, Ohio State's average rank was 10.6, Michigan's was 13.0, Penn State's was 27.9, and even Illinois's was 40.6. Yet, Wisconsin's .739 winning percentage over the seven seasons is behind only Ohio State's .822.

The state of Arkansas produces more talent than Wisconsin does, but Arkansas the program will probably always be behind regional recruiting powers like Alabama, LSU, and Texas just as UW will always be behind Ohio State and Michigan. Bielema's ability to win at a talent disadvantage according to the recruiting rankings probably was a big reason why Jeff Long went after him. If he can recruit even in the 20s consistently, that will be an improvement over his Wisconsin teams and should give him a decent chance to win there.

5. He'll run up the score if given the chance.

He went for two up 25 points with only a few minutes to go against Minnesota in 2010 because that's what his strategy card said to do. His teams scored more than 50 points 13 times in his seven seasons. In 2010, he put up 70 on both Austin Peay and Northwestern and 83 on Indiana. In 2011, his Badgers scored 62 on Purdue and 59 on both South Dakota and Indiana. This year, his team scored another 62 on poor Indiana and 70 on Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game.

There are some coaches in this conference who only score in about the high 30s or so on Sun Belt and I-AA sacrifices because they treat the games more as practice than anything. That won't be the case with Arkansas under Bielema.

Bonus! He has John Daly's seal of approval.

Next to the ghost of Sam Walton, could anyone in Arkansas provide a better endorsement?

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