FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bret Bielema promised to win the Southeastern Conference shortly he was hired at Arkansas.
For all of the progress Bielema has made, the second-year coach is still looking for that first SEC win.
It’s a task that doesn’t get any easier this week when the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2 SEC) host an Alabama team that’s won the last two meetings between the schools by a combined 104-0 – though Bielema is more focused on Arkansas’ progress this season than the daunting task of facing the No. 7 Crimson Tide (4-1, 1-1).
”If we were regressing, or we weren’t moving forward, if there weren’t so many positive things, I think it would become a bigger issue than it was, or is,” Bielema said. ”I know it’s going to come to an end; it’s just a matter of when it comes to an end is probably another question.”
Arkansas’ last SEC win came against Kentucky in 2012, the year after former coach Bobby Petrino was fired and John L. Smith was put in charge for the 4-8 season that led to Bielema’s hiring from Wisconsin.
Bielema failed to win a conference game last year, Arkansas’ first winless season in the SEC since joining the league in 1992. This season, the Razorbacks have shown marked improvement through their first five games – leading the SEC in rushing and very nearly defeating Texas A&M two weeks ago before losing in overtime.
”Arkansas is really probably the most improved team in the country in terms of if you want to compare from last year to this year,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ”They’ve really played very, very well all season long, had a great chance to beat A&M, came up a little short in the end.”
While the Razorbacks have clearly played better this season compared to a year ago, when they lost their final nine games of the season, the SEC losing streak has continued with losses against No. 2 Auburn and the Aggies. The losing stretch is Arkansas’ worst in conference play since a 20-game losing streak from 1940-43, when the Razorbacks were a member of the Southwest Conference.
It’s been especially difficult to handle for Arkansas fans after a two-year stretch during the 2010 and `11 seasons when the school was a combined 21-5 and among the SEC’s elite.
Bielema hasn’t been a part of all of the conference woes during his time with the Razorbacks, but the last 11 losses have come under his watch.
Last year’s 52-0 loss to Alabama is among those, though Bielema said Monday he is more concerned about Arkansas’ emotional recovery from the bitter loss to Texas A&M than any kind of hangover against the Crimson Tide.
”There are a lot of guys in our room that are playing that had nothing to do with that score a year ago,” Bielema said. ”Definitely me, I wasn’t involved in the year ahead of that. There hasn’t been any of that.”
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this report.