Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema made the leap from the Big Ten to the SEC, in part because he wanted a new challenge in the toughest league in the country.
Bielema spoke with the AJC and detailed the difference in recruiting in the SEC and answered the question of whether or not the SEC has lived up to the hype yet.
“I don’t know if there’s a lot of difference. Obviously, there’s a lot of competition. But I think the key is, as it is everywhere, you’ve got to identify players that fit your system. It doesn’t really do you a lot of good to sign a guy who doesn’t fit who you are or what you do. I make it a point to tell our staff that I don’t care who is recruiting them. We’ve had kids who have gone on and accomplished great things that were recruited by everybody. We’ve had players that have gone on to be Big Ten players of the year that were never recruited by anybody else. We’ve got to find the ones that fit us and not worry about what everybody else thinks. The emphasis on recruiting stars and preseason rankings – those are all good and pleasant things to talk about but — people win and lose championships, people keep or lose their jobs based on win-loss records. So we’re a little bit more into the postseason rankings than the preseason rankings.”
Has the SEC lived up to the hype?
“It certainly appears to be that way. We’ve done some film analysis, some breakdown of our first four opponents, as well as our first four conference opponents. It’s very apparent that there are great players all over the place no matter which (SEC) school you’re talking about. It seems to me that there’s a strong consistency of defensive linemen who are big, athletic and can run – maybe more athletic than we were accustomed to in the Big Ten. I think the other thing that jumps out is the special teams play. There’s a couple of players that jump out on film, no matter which game you’re watching. (Guys that) can really run, very athletic, and very difficult to bring down in the return game. But also there’s some tough guys to cover as they’re trying to cover their own kicks.”
Bielema notes that the difference in the leagues, just from what he’s seen on film in five months, is – you guessed it – speed! Of course the SEC is known for its big, fast and athletic defensive linemen, but one often overlooked aspect of the game is special teams. Bielema notes the athletes that fly to the football on special teams.
Special teams used to be a ‘make an impact if we can’ unit, but most notably Florida and Alabama, among others, have turned to special teams to win games and really be a difference maker.
Bielema also went on to explain how he will make headway and recruit in the state of Georgia. Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Auburn are all over the state, and it will be interesting to see if Arkansas can make a splash and pull out any big-time prospects.
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