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December 4, 2012

Bielema might not be prepared for cutthroat SEC


MORE: Bielema to Arkansas

The process put a short, unnecessary scare into Oklahoma State fans, but it's done nonetheless.

Mike Gundy will not be the next head coach at Arkansas. Instead, that title belongs to Wisconsin's Bret Bielema.

No retractions. No corrections. No incorrect sources. Not this time, anyway. Arkansas has its man. And its man has a challenge.

After the honeymoon tour of press conferences, handshakes and posed photographs, there will be a mess to sort out -- a mess that manifested itself in a 4-8 record. It looms like a funnel cloud overhead.

The dark skies are a foreign backdrop for Bielema. After all, the situation is a bit different than the one that surrounded the last job he accepted.

When he was introduced as the head coach of Wisconsin before the 2006 season, the Badgers were coming off a 10-win season. Bielema didn't have to leave his current school to get a bump, either. He slid from defensive coordinator to head coach without packing a single box.

This time around, the transition won't be so effortless.

"He's going to have to recruit the Midwest still, but he will have to hit the South hard. And I'm not sure if he has the personality to do that," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "We will find out. Winning cures all ills, however. If he can win, then recruits will come."

According to Farrell, the differences between winning in the Big Ten and winning in the SEC aren't in short supply. There's a different booster climate, and the contrast in style of play needs no explanation.

But Bielema's biggest hurdle will be on the recruiting trail. Regardless of who said what about whom, facts are facts. And the fact is that going from a league that nearly had a full-fledged coaching civil war because Urban Meyer recruited a few committed players to the anything-goes world of the SEC will come with culture shock.

Is the transition possible? Of course it is. Bielema has coached in a trio of Rose Bowls and won three consecutive Big Ten titles. He boasts a 68-24 career record. He's won 10 or more games in four different seasons. A hire off the scrap heap this is not.

But, still, there are questions.

"Does his no-nonsense approach work in the cutthroat SEC?" Farrell said. "This is a very interesting hire because they are getting a great coach who is known as a solid but not flashy or spectacular recruiter, a guy who won't like to play the games needed to be played in the SEC to win over kids."

The first order of business when it comes to addressing such concerns, of course, is selling current Arkansas commits on the new direction of the Razorbacks' program. That situation calls for a bit of urgency.

So much for any semblance of an offseason. This year's Bielema family vacation will have to wait.

"I've talked to a couple of Arkansas' commits, and they're really not sure about the guy, to be honest with you," said HawgSports.com recruiting analyst Danny West. "They say, 'Hey, is this a good hire? Because we really don't know the guy.' We're just going to have to wait and see on that, I guess."

Anything beyond that is pure speculation. It's too soon to make any definite projections about which players may join Arkansas' class and which players may leave it. There are, however, a few names to watch.

I expect Alabama running back commit Altee Tenpenny will be one of Bielema's first stops as Arkansas head coach," said Rivals.com Southwest recruiting analyst Jason Howell. "It will be interesting to see what happens with quarterback commitment Austin Allen since his father is on the current staff."



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