FAYETTEVILLE — Bret Bielema has entered uncharted territory as a head coach in his first season at Arkansas.
With two games remaining, the first-year Razorbacks coach knows he’ll miss a bowl game for the first time in his eight seasons as a head coach.
It will be the second straight season without a bowl appearance for Arkansas (3-7, 0-6 Southeastern Conference), which hasn’t won a game since a 24-3 victory over Southern Mississippi on Sept. 14.
The seven-game losing streak is tied for the longest in school history, matching the 1990 team under then first-year coach Jack Crowe. It’s a streak Bielema and the Razorbacks hope to snap next week when they face Mississippi State in Little Rock after their second bye of the season.
Bielema never lost more than four games in a row during his seven seasons at Wisconsin.
A loss against the Bulldogs, however, would give him the longest losing streak in Arkansas history — a program that started playing football in 1894.
The losses have taken their toll on a fan base still reeling from the Bobby Petrino scandal, though Bielema has done his best to remain upbeat about the future.
It’s a future he started looking toward following last week’s loss to Mississippi, a defeat that ensured the Razorbacks would miss out on a bowl game — and the December practices that go along with a postseason appearance.
Arkansas has spent time this week focusing on the development of its younger players, including what Bielema said was a lively scrimmage. He’s also added extra time to next week’s practice schedule for the younger players, while making it clear he hasn’t given up hope of winning this season.
"It’s critical to get a win every week," Bielema said. "I told our seniors, we’re going to do everything in our power these last two weeks to give them daily preparation to win."
Following the game against Mississippi State, Arkansas ends its season with a visit to No. 21 LSU, which will likely be Arkansas’ sixth game against a ranked opponent this season.
Bielema is hesitant to call either the Mississippi State or LSU games must-wins. He’d love a win to help Arkansas avoid its first winless conference season since 1942, but he doesn’t believe any momentum from that would carry over to next year.
"What happens in these next two weeks, I don’t think has any effect on what we’re doing or how we’re going about it," Bielema said. "It would obviously be a positive step in the right direction for people to talk about it and indicate it. But we’re not approaching this next week’s game as a must-win. All of them have been must-wins for us. I don’t know how to approach it any differently."