Bret Bielema’s Shot at 9-Game Pac-12 Schedule is Absurd


Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema has a knack for hot takes. Last year, he used the death of a Cal linebacker to aid his crusade against hurry-up offenses.

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Now he’s out to debunk what he believes are misconceptions about the validity to the Pac-12’s model of a nine-game schedule.

At this week’s SEC meetings, Bielema gave advocates of the nine-game schedule a jab to the chin.

It’s quite the underhanded shot at the Pac-12, who in 2006 became the first modern conference to adopt a nine-game schedule.

And it’s quite ironic, given that many SEC schools have a tough time allowing the Pac-12 to add even one game against an SEC foe to their schedule, due to soft out-of-conference scheduling. Bielema’s Arkansas being one of the most guilty.

So in light of the scorching hot take, here’s five reasons why Bielema’s remarks about the power of the SEC’s eight-game schedule vs. a nine-game schedule is utterly absurd:

1. Bielema’s 2013 Arkansas team lost to Rutgers

You can’t talk about how impossible winning SEC games are if you’re an SEC coach of an SEC team that loses a non-SEC game to Rutgers. The same Rutgers team that needed three whole overtimes to beat SMU.

2. While at Wisconsin, Bielema was 0-3 vs. the Pac-12 in Pac-12 stadiums

You can’t talk about how much harder an SEC schedule is compared to a longer Pac-12 schedule when you’ve never beaten a bowl-eligible Pac-12 team.

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Bielema’s three wins against the Pac-12 were all in Madison, coming against 5-win Washington State in 2007, 6-win ASU in 2010 and 3-win Oregon State in 2011.

His three losses? An upset loss to Oregon State in 2012 and a pair of Rose Bowl losses to Oregon and Stanford.

3. Arkansas was outscored 120-33 in last two games vs. Pac-12

Bielema was several years and belt sizes from his Arkansas tenure the last time the Razorbacks played the Pac-12 in 2005 and 2006.

Yet despite that, it’s probably not a good idea to condemn the Pac-12’s schedule compared to the SEC schedule when the school you’re coaching at was outscored 70-17 and 50-16 against USC.

The latter of which came not only in Fayetteville, but with an Arkansas team that was ranked as high as No. 5 and won the almighty SEC West.

4. 84% of Pac-12 South Teams were ranked last year

Lots of talk around college football revolves around how dominant the SEC West is. That’s a fair claim, with the likes of Auburn, Alabama and LSU all winning BCS championships in the last decade.

But despite not having a representative in the College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 South was the most competitive division in college football last year.

Five of the division’s six teams finished in the Top 21 of the final AP poll. That’s with a full nine-game conference slate.

Bret Bielema watches a play during a game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Among those teams were division-winner Arizona, who had perhaps the biggest road win of the season last year at Oregon. Only Virginia Tech’s Week 2 win at Ohio State may have been bigger.

Utah had big wins over USC and UCLA, while USC beat Arizona, and UCLA beat ASU, who bested USC on a Hail Mary. Even winless and dead-last Colorado took division runner-up UCLA to double overtime.

Compare that to the SEC west, who finished the season with just four ranked teams, all whom lost their bowl games.

5. Bielema is conviently ignoring the real reason why the SEC doesn’t want a 9-game schedule

As with using player safety as a rallying cry against hurry-up offenses, the elite strength of schedule in an eight-game schedule is a fallacy when compared to nine games.

The real reason Bielema is against nine games? By doing so, SEC teams would greatly diminish their chances of winning a national championship or making the College Football Playoff.

For years, the SEC has molded their schedules to make them the most advantageous for winning titles. And they’re incredibly good at it.

Just look at 2012. No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Kansas State lost conference games in late November on the same day No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia, No. 7 Florida and No. 9 Texas A&M all beat FCS teams.

Lo and behold, the conference avoided Texas A&M’s season-wrecking win at Alabama from costing a title game bid, as the Tide got right back in the thick of things with a Week 12 win over Western Carolina.

Modifying a schedule that baits human and computer polls to continually rank SEC schools higher is a crafty move. Drafting up a nine-game schedule goes against everything the conference has done to create an advantage.

With a nine-game schedule, the SEC West likely would fall in a similar position of the Pac-12 South of late, where all of the divisional contenders beat each other up and finish outside of the national picture.

Being outside of the national picture means fewer chances for big bowls, fewer high-profile recruits and fewer overall dollars.

It also means more losses, which in turn means more chances to get fired by an SEC program ripe with high expectations.

At the end of the day, Bielema isn’t wrong for being against a nine-game schedule, as there are plenty of valid criticisms to support his general disapproval. Chest beating isn’t one of them.

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