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Overhauled Arkansas roster has confidence soaring entering Bret Bielema's third season

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FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Bret Bielema's shoe choice didn't start a Twitter trend, his usual bravado was kept in check and the Arkansas coach spoke for 30 minutes without igniting message boards across the Southeastern Conference.

No, this wasn't a less-quotable or personable Bielema at the Razorbacks' media day Sunday.

Rather, it was the coach of an up-and-coming Arkansas team — one who has waited for two long years to field an overhauled roster capable of winning in the SEC.

Bielema might finally have the talent to compete — if not win — the SEC, but the former Wisconsin coach took a reserved approach to questions about expectations for the Razorbacks on Sunday. Instead of fueling the thought by many that Arkansas is finally ready to emerge from three dark seasons after the post Bobby Petrino scandal and compete for an SEC West title, Bielema preached winning short-term goals.

"Like I always tell our kids, at the end of the rainbow supposedly there's a pot of gold," Bielema said. "No one's ever found it yet, because you try to find it too quick. Enjoy the rainbow, man, and enjoy this process of getting where we need to be."

Bielema famously talked of winning Arkansas' first SEC championship when he was hired away from Wisconsin following the 2012 season, and he's evolved into one of the most entertaining and quirky coaches over his first two seasons.

While his glitzy shoes at SEC media days might have caused amusement across Twitter and beyond last month, Bielema was all business on Sunday.

Whether it was the humility from a combined 2-14 SEC record over his first two seasons coming through, or the quiet confidence born out of Arkansas' resurgence last season, Bielema let it be known he hasn't forgotten his early promise to the Razorbacks.

"I'm not satisfied, I won't be satisfied until we win a championship," Bielema said. "That's my ultimate goal, and that's what it is."

Arkansas capped its 7-6 record last season with a dominating performance in a 31-7 win over Texas in the Texas Bowl, a game which saw the nationally 10th-ranked defense hold the Longhorns to 59 yards of total offense.

While the Razorbacks lost several key players from that defense, including SEC-leading tackler Martrell Spaight, they return a pair of 1,000-yard running backs this season in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins.

They also feature one of the most experienced and talented offensive lines in the country, led by tackle Denver Kirkland and guard Sebastian Tretola.

The overall optimism surrounding the Razorbacks has been a welcomed changed around Fayetteville, and it has resulted in Arkansas being ranked in many of the early preseason polls.

Meanwhile, the overhauled and primarily Bielema-recruited roster has led to some difficult choices for the third-year coach.

"We were trying to find guys my first couple of years, and now we actually had to leave some good players off the roster for camp," Bielema said.

Last season's late surge and this season's excitement has also led to an appreciation inside the Arkansas locker room for how far the team has come — as well as where it might be headed.

"It's fun for sure, a lot more fun than last year at this time," Arkansas linebacker Brooks Ellis said. "Everybody's excited, and that's a first. I've never felt that way before. We know where we can go, but we just have to get there."

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