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How will Bielema’s fourth season stack up?


This will be Bret Bielema’s fourth season as the Arkansas Razorbacks’ head football coach, and the consensus among the media is that his Hogs will finish in the middle of the pack in the Southeastern Conference Western Division.

Looking back, fourth seasons have been somewhat of a mixed bag for Arkansas football coaches. If history can be used as a predictor, then the summer projections of the media might not be that far off base.

Francis Schmidt, who coached the Hogs from 1922-29, followed up a solid 7-2-1 third season with a disappointing fourth. The Razorbacks went 4-4-1 in 1925, which was the only non-winning season of Schmidt’s seven-year term as Arkansas’s head football coach.

In contrast, Bobby Petrino, who guided the program from 2008-2011, posted his best record with the Razorbacks in his fourth season. The Hogs went 11-2 in 2011 and finished fifth in the nation. It was the first time Arkansas had won 11 games since Lou Holtz led Arkansas to an 11-1 mark and No. 3 finish in the polls in 1977. That season was the first time Arkansas had finished in the Top 10 since Holtz’ 1982 squad came in ninth. Of course, that next spring is when Petrino literally drove his Arkansas career and the Razorback program into a ditch.

Speaking of Holtz, who was at the Razorback helm from 1977-83, his fourth season in 1980 was one of his worst. A year after sharing a Southwest Conference Championship with Houston, the Hogs opened the season rated No. 6 in the nation, but a loss to Texas on Labor Day at Austin led to a disappointing 6-5 regular-season finish. Injuries kept the Hogs from posting a better record. A healthy squad blew Tulane out of the water, 34-15, in the Hall of Fame Bowl to give Arkansas a 7-5 mark. It was the first year for that bowl, and it marked the beginning of the bowl glut that made it common for mediocre teams to still get bowl bids. Holtz will be inducted into the Razorback Hall of Honor in a ceremony on Sept. 2, the evening before Arkansas’ season opener against Louisiana Tech.

Fred Thomsen coached the Razorbacks longer than anyone other than Frank Broyles. Thomsen spent the Great Depression years, 1929-41, as Arkansas’ head coach. His worst record came in his fourth season. The Razorbacks defeated only Baylor in 1932 and finished 1-6-2.

John Barnhill, who was the athletics director that hired Frank Broyles, and the first coach to take Arkansas to the Cotton Bowl, mentored the Hogs from 1946-49. Arkansas went 5-5 in his fourth and final season before he decided to concentrate on being athletic director. The first three coaches Barnhill hired to guide the Razorbacks were all notable names in the annals of college football — Otis Douglas (1950-52), Bowden Wyatt (1953-54), and Jack Mitchell (1955-57) — but all three left for other jobs before making it to four seasons.

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Terry Wood is a writer with 25 years experience covering sports and entertainment. He lives in Springdale and is a lifelong sports fan, movie buff and comic-book reader.

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