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July 16, 2014

SEC Football Media Days: Wednesday

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was not accustomed to what occurred during his first year in Fayetteville.

In six seasons as Wisconsin coach, Bielema posted a 68-24 record. The Badgers won the Big Ten title and appeared in the Rose Bowl following the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Then, Bielema took over a Razorbacks program which was in disarray following the dismissal of Bobby Petrino and the disastrous one season under interim coach John L. Smith. Bielema, who believes in the run, took over a roster built for the pass.

So, it should not have been surprising that Arkansas struggled to a 3-9 record in 2013. The Hogs were 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference. However, it must be pointed out that the Razorbacks came close to pulling out victories in the last two games - a 24-17 loss to Mississippi State and a 31-27 loss to LSU.

Bielema doesn't want to think about last season. He said that all he needed was a minute to discuss his first season with the Hogs. Bielema is attempting to rebuild a program which had quickly bottomed out after the Petrino off-the-field fiasco.

"The first thing I have to make our players and coaches understand is that a lot of teams lose the game before they win it," said Bielema at SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover (Ala.) on Thursday. "A lot of times you do things that prevent you from winning.

"I'm not taking anything away from what the other team does. But, as a coach, you have to be mindful of what did you do to prevent it. If you don't have any answers, you have a problem. If you can't do it, don't call it. Don't try to get the players to do it. Understand what our players can execute."

Naturally, people felt that Bielema's Big Ten background hindered him in his initial season at Arkansas. Bielema has made changes and, as a result, expects a better product.

"I had been able to have a tremendous amount of success at Wisconsin," Bielema said. "That's why I came to Arkansas. I didn't come here to lose. I didn't expect to go 3-9. On the same account, I didn't expect to win (SEC) my first year. What I've done is sustain what I believe helps you win.

"The only way to change the results of a 3-9 season is to change what you're doing. We still have a certain type of offense and defense. We're just going to do it a lot better. We've done a lot of little things that are going to affect the big picture. My belief is year two is going to be better than year one."

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Arkansas has 14 returning starters, including quarterback Brandon Allen. The Hogs may have the SEC's best one-two punch at running back with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, both of whom rushed for at least 900 yards last season.

Bielema intends to stay with what brought him all those victories and championships in the Big Ten at Wisconsin.

"I biggest thing I took away after the season is that you have to be true to who you are and what you've been," Bielema said. "Don't flinch. A lot of times some teams go through adversity, for sure a team that doesn't win a game in its conference. They are going to change out their philosophy.

"I believe you have to so what you do better. You're going to change personnel, change the way you do things and the way you communicate. But, we're going to stick to our principles and do them better."


MISSOURI

Respect is the No. 1 goal for Tigers coach Gary Pinkel. Following an injury-plagued 5-7 record in a debut season in the SEC, Missouri rebounded to win 12 games and the Eastern Division title a year ago. SEC observers certainly feel that the Tigers belong in the self-proclaimed best conference in America.

It will certainly be challenging for Pinkel to match last season's achievements. Missouri returns only eight starters from the 2013 team. But, keep in mind that Pinkel has guided the Tigers to bowl games in nine of the past 11 years.

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"When I became the head football coach at Missouri, I wanted to be respected in the Big 12," Pinkel said. "Now, it's about being respected in the SEC and nationally. Not only do you have responsibility to your school, but to the league also.

"I just want to be respected. You do that not just in winning football games. Our graduation rate is one of the best in the country and our APR rankings are in the top ten."

Being a veteran coach, Pinkel downplayed the fact that Missouri surprised everyone by reaching the SEC championship game last year.

"Obviously, last season was very, very positive coming off the year we had before," Pinkel said. "(According to analysts), it was not the injuries. It was just we weren't very good and we shouldn't be in the SEC. Well, we stayed healthy and it gave us a chance.

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"I'll go back to (2012). If I would have coached better, we could have won one more game and could have gone to a bowl. But, this is a new year. We want to compete at a high level. That's our challenge this year as we go into year No. 3."

If Missouri is going to be a contender in the SEC East again, quarterback Maty Mauk must play well. As James Franklin's backup last season, the redshirt freshman Mauk passed for nearly 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"Maty's a very natural leader," Pinkel said. "I knew that when he was in high school. He was one of those guys who loves to compete. He's a dual-threat guy. He can put a lot of pressure on the defense. Maty has a great work ethic. The players know it and respect the way he leads."

In an era in which much emphasis is placed on recruiting rankings, Missouri has been an anomaly. According to Pinkel, Missouri is the eighth winningest BCS program in the past five years and ranks about No. 30 in recruiting.

"Our recruiting process is different," Pinkel said. "We have a system we believe in. Our player development program is second to none. We call it 'Mizzou made.' We're doing a lot of good things.

"We have never looked once at how many stars a guy has next to him. I don't care where we are ranked. We have a system in place and we do a very good job of developing players."

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