FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas' loss to South Carolina last week marked arguably the lowest point of coach Bret Bielema's career with the Razorbacks, even more than his first season at the school in 2013 when the team went 3-9.
As bad as the 48-22 defeat to the Gamecocks was and as disappointing of a season this has been so far, Arkansas (2-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) is in jeopardy of experiencing new emotional lows over the next two weeks — beginning with a visit to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.
The Razorbacks enter this weekend having lost five of their last seven games dating to last season, and they haven't defeated the Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0) since 2006, losing 10 straight games.
Making matters more daunting is that No. 10 Auburn awaits the week after the visit to Tuscaloosa.
It's hardly the kind of two-game reprieve needed by a program that hasn't defeated a Power Five conference team since downing Mississippi State last November, though Bielema has done his best to remain hopeful about the chances of reaching a fourth straight bowl game.
"I told our guys on Sunday night, if I've ever been around a team that can change their path in a very short fashion, it's these guys right here, right now," Bielema said. "It's not like they're a million miles away."
What does feel miles away for Arkansas fans at the moment is the excitement many felt when Bielema was hired away from Wisconsin following the 2012 season.
Bielema arrived in Fayetteville having earned three Rose Bowl appearances with the Badgers, as well as having won fewer than eight games only once during his seven seasons in Madison.
Eight is the most games he's won in a season so far at Arkansas, doing so in 2015. And with the Alabama-Auburn stretch on tap, along with four more SEC games this season, it appears likely Bielema is on track to win seven or fewer games for a fourth time in five seasons with the Razorbacks.
"We've battled a lot with our injuries and new players and new faces this year, and we haven't got over the hump," Bielema said. "But there's no doubt in my mind we'll get it to where it needs to be."
One injury Bielema will watch closely this week is the throwing shoulder of quarterback Austin Allen. The senior missed the fourth quarter of the South Carolina loss, but he's likely to play this week against the Crimson Tide.
How long Allen will remain in the game against Alabama's fifth-ranked defense is the question many fans are wondering, given the struggles of the Razorbacks offensive line this season.
"The good news is we have good kids who haven't shown any bad signs of losing (hope), any lack of effort, lack of discipline or any in-fighting or anybody going at one another," Bielema said. "It's more of a message of unity and persevering."