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While watching most of the five bowl games on Jan. 1 -- all involving Southeastern Conference teams -- the nagging thoughts were consistent.

How has the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville football program slipped so far that it isn't close to the radar, and can it really ever be competitive with the likes of Georgia or any team from the SEC West?

Have the Hogs played in their last Cotton Bowl?

This dilemma started with John L. Smith, a nice guy who seemed to literally have forgotten more football than most people know, apparently including him.

It soon became obvious that the only way he was getting interim removed from his title as head coach would be in another state.

An entire recruiting class was affected.

Former Athletic Director Jeff Long seemed to remedy his Smith mistake a few months later when he hired Bret Bielema as head coach of the Razorbacks.

Bielema was highly successful at Wisconsin, where he played smash-mouth football with outrageously large offensive linemen. His program became known for its offensive line play.

This isn't a history lesson, but he was 68-24 overall and 37-19 in Big 10 play. That's winning football by any definition.

Yet, in five seasons at Arkansas he was 29-34 and 11-29 in SEC play. His best season was 2015 when he went 8-5, which was his second worst record with the Badgers. He did go 7-6 with Wisconsin in 2008.

There were some hints at what might have gone wrong when his former boss, Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, spoke at the Little Rock Touchdown Club last season. Alvarez said it isn't a problem to find 6-5, 300-pound offensive linemen in Wisconsin, but if you move you might need to adjust how you recruit.

Speed rules in the South, and it wasn't until his final two years that Bielema seemed to really go after speed, but it was too late. In his last two seasons, the Razorbacks were 4-12 in SEC play, and thank goodness for Mississippi because two of those wins were over Ole Miss and one more was over Mississippi State.

When talk about Bielema's buyout began, Long was fired, and Bielema soon followed. Last week after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge ruled it was learned Bielema's secret agreement with the UA that was hidden in the Razorback Foundation superseded his UA contracts, guaranteeing him a $15.4 million payoff. Or including his salary about $3 million per SEC win over five years.

Bielema hadn't cleaned out his office when the UA went after Gus Malzahn, who used the Hogs to get a huge raise to stay at Auburn, but more than a week was lost with the flirting.

When Chad Morris was hired he had less than 10 days to recruit for the early signing period. He lost two in-state commitments to other schools and signed just eight.

He did that with a skeleton coaching crew.

It is expected that he will fill out his staff this week including a defensive coordinator. Indications seem to be that will be John Chavis who had success at Tennessee and LSU before going to Texas A&M. The Aggies just gave up 646 yards in a 55-52 loss to Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl, but no player was arrested for shoplifting.

Exactly where Morris goes from here with staff and recruiting it, needs to be the beginning of the rebuilding for the Razorbacks, but that's exactly what the new staff faces, a rebuilding almost from the ground up.

It took six years for the Razorbacks to get where they were last season, and it will take at least half of that to even be competitive with the SEC teams who aren't playing for the national championship.

Sports on 01/03/2018

Print Headline: Mountain will be big for the Hogs to climb

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