Arkansas gets it, and Auburn doesn’t.
That’s a logical reaction to those two Southeastern Conference West Division schools’ hirings of football coaches Tuesday.
Arkansas, which had a brief flirtation with LSU coach Les Miles last week, opened some eyes by hiring Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, whose name didn’t surface in connection with the Razorbacks until news of the hiring broke.
Auburn hired Gus Malzahn, head coach at Arkansas State, who was a well-regarded offensive coordinator at Auburn during the War Eagles’ BCS championship run two years ago.
Both are solid coaches, and how good each choice was will be decided by wins and losses in the coming years.
But Arkansas’ hiring of Bielema seems to make the most sense of the two.
Both programs are looking to win national championships, and both are capable of doing so. Auburn was a 14-0 national champion two years ago. And last season, Arkansas’ only losses were to BCS finalists Alabama and LSU.
And that’s the issue.
Right now any team in the country that wants to win a national championship is likely to encounter one, if not both, of those programs along the way. But Arkansas and Auburn run into them every season — on their schedule and in their path to an SEC West title.
At a time when most programs are counting on rapid-fire points to elevate them into the national title picture, LSU and Alabama have shown that the tried-and-true formula of physical, balanced offense, physical and fast defense, as well as exceptional special teams still works best.
The Tigers and the Crimson Tide have each won two of the past nine BCS titles, and Alabama will play for another next month. LSU came within a minute of taking Bama’s place in the SEC title game.
Florida coach Will Muschamp had a similar experience to Arkansas in his first season last year. Physically his team couldn’t match up with Bama and LSU, losing to them by a combined 58 points.
So Muschamp, who was defensive coordinator at LSU when Tide coach Nick Saban was the Tigers head coach, adopted an if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em approach during the offseason.
His team got stronger and more physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage. On Oct. 6, the Gators beat LSU 14-6 at its own game, smothering the Tigers offense and wearing down their defense with a punishing running game.
Now the Gators are No. 3 in the BCS and capable of meeting the Tide and the Tigers on their terms.
Arkansas found a guy whose Wisconsin teams have made three consecutive Rose Bowls playing a physical, traditional style. Auburn’s guy got to where he is as an architect of a new-age offense. Both schools found capable coaches, but chose very different approaches.
Saban and Miles aren’t looking over their shoulders, but if they do down the road, they’re more likely to see a Razorback than a War Eagle.
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