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Athlon Ranks Bielema Third Best Coach in SEC; 18th Nationally Behind Bobby Petrino

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It is the summer. These are the talking points.

Auburn v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The summer months are all about ranking players and by their positions, teams, stadiums and even coaches in order to stimulate interest leading up to the first weekend. It’s one of several staples of each offseason, and it’s back.

Today, Athlon Sports came out with its ranking of all 128 head coaches in college football and a few things stand out. First, Bret Bielema comes in third in the Southeastern Conference behind only Nick Saban and Hugh Freeze.

Here is Athlon’s explanation for ranking Bielema third in the league:

Bielema inherited a program in need of repair after a 4-8 mark under John L. Smith in 2012. Establishing a foundation for success took a year, as the Razorbacks went 3-9 in Bielema’s debut, but there were signs of progress late in the 2013 season. Arkansas used that momentum to finish 7-6 in 2014, which included a 31-7 Texas Bowl blowout over Texas. And the Razorbacks took another step forward in 2015, finishing 8-5 and 5-3 in conference play and just outside of the top 25 in the final Associated Press poll. Considering how difficult the SEC West is, going from 0-8 in conference play (2013) to 5-3 (2015) is quite an accomplishment for Bielema. Entering 2016, it’s clear Bielema has this program trending up and on stable ground.

There are a lot of good coaches in the league, and Arkansas fans should feel proud their head coach is among the best. Just a few years after Bielema took over the train wreck Bobby Petrino and JLS left him, he’s created a personalized model – Real American Football – making the Razorbacks a team no one wants to play. You have to wonder how many other coaches in the league could pull this off as quickly as he did.

Now, Razorbacks fans, here’s the interesting part. On the list of 128 coaches, Bielema comes in in the top 20, which is solid. But he’s behind Bobby Petrino (No. 12). The explanation:

If this list was just based on the X’s and O’s ability of a coach, Petrino would be ranked No. 2 in the ACC over Clemson’s Dabo Swinney. In his second stint with the Cardinals, Petrino – regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive-minded coaches – is 17-9 over the last two seasons and has Louisville projected to finish among the nation’s top 25 teams for 2016. Petrino also has stops on his resume from Arkansas (2008-11) and WKU (2013), with a four-year run at Louisville from 2003-06. Entering 2016, Petrino has the program on stable ground and poised to be a consistent top 25 team over the next few seasons.

Petrino is named ahead of coaches like Chris Petersen, Mark Richt, Hugh Freeze, Butch Jones and Houston’s Todd Herman along with Bielema. Do you agree with it? Disagree?

Petrino has always been known as a coach who pays close attention to detail on the offensive side. I think he’s a top 20-25 coach, but 12 may be a bit too high. Do you think Bielema at No. 18 is a fair assessment? And who in front of him would you have to move if you don’t?

Oh, and Paul Petrino comes in nicely at No. 120. Ring that bell.