Few things could unite Gophers and Badgers fans quite like seeing former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema eat his words.
Bielema dominated the Gophers as Wisconsin’s head coach, going 7-0 in the rivalry, and infamously rubbed Tim Brewster’s nose in it five years ago, when he went for a two-point conversion with a 25-point lead. Two years later, Bielema jilted Badgers fans when he left for Arkansas.
The Razorbacks went 7-6 last season with a late surge that included decisive wins over Ole Miss, LSU and Texas. This made Arkansas a consensus top-20 pick in the preseason magazines and polls.
After clobbering Texas-El Paso in the opener, Bielema weighed in on the differences between the Big Ten and SEC.
“I spent a lot of time in that other conference,” Bielema said. “Ohio State’s ranked No. 1, and they have one game remaining on their schedule that has anybody ranked right now — Michigan State. We’re going to play eight straight opponents that are ranked.”
First Arkansas had to play Toledo. The Rockets humbled Bielema’s squad 16-12.
Then Texas Tech went to Fayetteville and beat the Razorbacks 35-24. Arkansas entered the season with two returning 1,000-yard rushers — Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins — but Williams suffered a season-ending foot injury in August. No one’s weeping for the Hogs.
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury gloated Saturday about Bielema’s summer appearance at the Texas high school coaches convention. Bielema said Arkansas could play its physical style and dominate teams with wide-open passing attacks.
Kingsbury pointed out Arkansas had been beaten twice “and probably next week by [Texas] A&M, too.”
Kingsbury, the former A&M offensive coordinator, will be pulling for the No. 14 Aggies when they face Arkansas on Saturday. Then the Razorbacks play at Tennessee and at Alabama before facing Auburn.
Arkansas could easily fall to 1-6.
The program needed rebuilding when Bielema got there, after the fallout from coaches Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith. Bielema turned things around by bolstering the running game and the defense.
He tweaked Gophers fans again in 2014 when he got Chanhassen offensive lineman Frank Ragnow to commit to Arkansas. Ragnow made the coaches’ All-SEC freshmen team last year and is among the Razorbacks linemen featured on this year’s media guide.
Last winter, Arkansas extended Bielema’s contract through 2020 and made him the SEC’s eighth coach with a salary of at least $4 million. If he feels heat, he hardly showed it in Monday’s news conference.
Asked about Kingsbury’s comments, Bielema smiled and made a duke-it-out motion.
“It’s a perfect storm,” he said. “I realize we haven’t won in two weeks. It’s an opportunity to jump on and have some fun with it.”
Then Bielema worked in a reference to Arkansas’ 49-28 victory last year over Texas Tech.
“But obviously, it’s all about what have you done for me lately?” Bielema added. “I’m happy [Kingsbury] got a chance to vent. Hopefully he feels a lot better. As a coach who’s been in it for 10 years, I know better than to worry about somebody that’s been around for a couple that’s .500.”
Kingsbury is 15-13 at Texas Tech, heading into Saturday’s game against TCU.
Bielema went 68-24 at Wisconsin, but he’s 11-17 at Arkansas and just 2-14 in the SEC.
“If I’ve got to worry about what I said in July at a high school convention …” Bielema said. “It’s like, ‘Brother, don’t be so sensitive.’ We’re talking about football here.”
Razorbacks fans would prefer less talk, more wins.
• The Gophers aren’t the only Big Ten team that loves its defense. Northwestern leads the nation in scoring defense (5.3 points per game), and four other teams rank in the top 17: Ohio State (12.3), Michigan (12.7), Wisconsin (12.7) and Penn State (14.7). Minnesota (16.7) is tied for 26th.
• Meanwhile, defense is concern No. 1 for new Nebraska coach Mike Riley. The Cornhuskers have surrendered 26 points per game. They’ve given up a conference-high 13 plays longer than 30 yards. The Gophers, by comparison, have allowed two. Nebraska ranks 127th out of 128 FBS teams in pass defense (357 yards per game). The old Blackshirts wouldn’t have it. Nebraska is also the nation’s fourth-most penalized team, committing 10.3 penalties per game.
• Rutgers interim head coach Norries Wilson has been a breath of fresh air, with Kyle Flood serving a three-game suspension, and the team at 1-2, amid a swirl of other bad off-field news. The 6-6 Wilson was a captain and two-year starting offensive lineman for the Gophers before graduating in 1989. The Illinois native was the head coach at Columbia before becoming the running backs coach at Rutgers. Players love his no-nonsense, down-to-earth style.
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Ohio State (3-0): Offensive struggles. QB uncertainty. Almost lost to MAC team. Sound familiar, Gophers fans?
2. Michigan State (3-0): First No. 2 AP ranking since 1966 team of Bubba Smith, Clinton Jones and Gene Washington.
3. Northwestern (3-0): Three opponents (Stanford, Eastern Illinois, Duke) are 6-for-43 on third-down conversions.
4. Iowa (3-0): C.J. Beathard set up game-winning, 57-yard field goal against Pitt with three big scrambles.
5. Wisconsin (2-1): Running back depth has been a big question, and now Corey Clement is out 4-6 more weeks.
6. Gophers (2-1): Ohio will be Minnesota’s first non-Big Ten homecoming opponent since Vanderbilt in 1959.
7. Michigan (2-1): Tough test Saturday at home vs. BYU, but you wonder if the Cougars are emotionally spent.
8. Penn State (2-1, 1-0): Temple sacked Christian Hackenberg 10 times. The Nittany Lions haven’t allowed one since.
9. Nebraska (1-2): Two heartbreaking losses: BYU’s Hail Mary and a comeback that went for naught at Miami.
10. Illinois (2-1): The Illini defense most people were waiting to see surrendered 48 points at North Carolina.
11. Indiana (3-0): Alabama-Birmingham transfer Jordan Howard leads the Big Ten with 507 rushing yards.
12. Maryland (2-1): New starting QB Caleb Rowe threw four touchdown passes — with three interceptions.
13. Rutgers (1-2, 0-1): Hoped to forge a rivalry after beating Penn State last year but got rolled 28-3 this time.
14. Purdue (1-2): Darrell Hazell has changed starting quarterbacks midseason three times in three years.