Bret Bielema confident Arkansas can build on 2014 success

Like any politician, football coaches have their talking points. If you listen to enough news conferences and conduct enough interviews, you will learn how to spot them.

Even Bret Bielema, who so often strays off course to argue for change regarding the pace of play in college football, has a theme he wants to get across about Arkansas. This year’s involves a different way of looking at last season’s 7-6 finish: "It’s not a landing point, it’s a launching point."

"It’s something I think can launch this program into the highest level of success," he told ESPN.com late last week.

But how do they get there? How does Arkansas go from a team on the rise to a team competing for conference titles?

Bielema, who said players are just now beginning to see that "Two plus two really is four," believes that consistently beating good teams is the key.

Beating LSU 17-0 was the first step. Throttling Ole Miss 30-0 served as reinforcement. And taking care of Texas to end the season? That might have been the biggest eye-opener of all about where Arkansas is headed.

"To beat Texas 31-7 and take a knee three times at the 1-yard line because we could, that instilled a mentality in our guys and a level of confidence," Bielema said.

Adding to that confidence is the addition of new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who gave up a head coaching job at Central Michigan to join Arkansas’ staff.

According to Bielema, Enos’ impact has already been felt by simplifying an offense Bielema thought "got a little wordy" and was "hard for our players to play early and play fast."

"Dan has a little confidence, a little swagger," Bielema said. "He walks in a room and you can feel. The kids feel the energy. It reminds me a lot of the transition we had a year ago when I brought [defensive coordinator] Robb Smith in. It was an uttering and oozing of confidence; it’s a good thing."

With two 1,000-yard rushers returning (Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins), a fifth-year quarterback with loads of starting experience (Brandon Allen), and a tight end who is arguably the best in the conference (Hunter Henry), there is plenty to feel confident about? The play at receiver, which has been uninspiring recently, should only get better. Senior Keon Hatcher, the team’s leading pass-catcher, closed last season with touchdowns in three consecutive games.

But, staying true to his roots, the thing that excites Bielema most is the guys on offense who play with their hands in the dirt.

"[The offensive line] is going to be a huge, huge asset to our program," he said. "We have our best pass-pro play over to our left tackle spot, Denver Kirkland. We moved Dan Skipper from left to right; he’s in a good battle with Brian Wallace for that right tackle spot. We have Sebastian Tretola at left guard, which puts two of better players right next to each other to play a little left-handed football. Frank Ragnow we moved from second-string center to first-string right guard. He looks great. He’s put on 30 pounds in the last few months and still has less than 10 percent body fat and runs like a deer."

He later added: "I think O-line and tight end play could be at a high here, one of the best we’ve had."

The defense will have to adjust without Trey Flowers and Darius Philon up front, and Martrell Spraight at linebacker, but that does little to dissuade Bielema’s excitement.

"Offensively, it’s going to be a lot of fun to sit back and watch these guys work," he said.

For a program that lost nine games and was one of only 17 teams at the FBS level with 30 or fewer touchdowns in 2013, that’s progress.

But, according to Bielema, that progress isn’t complete. It’s what he’ll preach all spring and summer and on into the fall.

Whether his words turn into action, either on the field with his own team or off of it regarding pace of play, remains to be seen. But as Steve Spurrier and so many other coaches describe it, this is Talking Season. You have to say something.