Welcome to SEC Country’s weekly Arkansas sports mailbag with reporter Eric W. Bolin. In this edition, we discuss the future of Bret Bielema, who might be coming next, why Arkansas football recruiting is treading water and the truth that Arkansas is, in fact, a baseball school.
The worst-case scenario
Let’s say Arkansas loses to Texas A&M next weekend, is Bielema done on the Hill? If so who’s your pick for next hog coach??
First things first.
No. Bret Bielema is not out of a job if Arkansas loses to Texas A&M. Not technically. The SEC appears to be down this year, other than Alabama, of course. Auburn’s offense stinks so far. LSU can’t throw (still). Mississippi State’s defense still has lots of questions. So does Florida’s offense. South Carolina has been more lucky than good. No one believes Ole Miss will keep lighting up the scoreboard. Georgia is hanging on by a string.
Every team in the SEC has issues right now. All of them. Arkansas’ issues may or may not be worse than all those others. It just appears worse because we are all so close to it. But it’s possible the other places are just as big a mess and if that’s the case, the Razorbacks still could pull off a seven- or eight-win season.
All that being said, what’s the likelihood they do that if they lose to Texas A&M? Not very good. I have said for over a year now, and very publicly, Bielema is a smart man. Athletic director Jeff Long is a smart man. If things go south this year, they both will see the writing on the wall. They will figure something out together.
Let me put it this way: If Arkansas loses to Texas A&M, I’d bet Bret Bielema is not the coach of the Razorbacks for the 2018 season. I just wouldn’t bet my house on it.
Paul Rhoads a future head coach?
Thoughts on Paul Rhoads as a coach? Is he ready for another shot at being a head coach, or is he a career assistant? Is he SEC caliber coach? – Razr World
This question ties in a bit to the second part of the question above. Some are pondering if Paul Rhoads is a potential coach in waiting.
Honestly, it would be hard for me to say. I seriously doubt Rhoads came to Arkansas as defensive coordinator thinking he was the heir apparent at coach. Usually, coach-in-waiting situations involve an older, about-to-retire head man bringing on a younger protegé type. At 50, Rhoads is a bit older than Bielema, though not by much.
Long would be silly not to consider Rhoads for the job if Bielema isn’t the coach next year. And I can almost guarantee you Rhoads wants another head coaching job. Almost guaranteed. I don’t know that for certain, but I’ve got a pretty good idea based on what he has said in the past.
No, really, why so many walk-on starters?
What is the real reason Arkansas has a walk-on starting at right guard? – Electric Jethro
Busts. It’s that easy. Arkansas recruiting has been top-30 classes in the Bret Bielema era. Sometimes top 25. But those rankings are at the time the class is signed. Not a soul has played FBS football when those rankings come out.
Typically, top-30 recruiting classes play like that. This last couple of batches just haven’t. That’s why Arkansas seems to have plateaued, record-wise, and why you’re seeing non-scholarship players push hard.
They like to say, “Well, Ty Clary is a blueshirt. He’s going to get a scholarship.” And that’s fine. But he came to campus without one. He is paying for his first season of college football — as a starter in the SEC, no less — out of his own pocket. Or his parents’ own pocket. Whatever.
He’s doing that because Jalen Merrick, Deion Malone, Brian Wallace, Jake Heinrich and Zach Rogers have not clicked as well as their star rankings would suggest. It doesn’t mean any of them are bad players. What it means is they’re not as good as advertised.
Baseball recruiting is great. Football recruiting is not?
If Arkansas can recruit the third-best baseball class, why can’t Arkansas football make the top 10? – Robert Handford
In fairness to Arkansas football, it’s a completely different ball game. Literally and figuratively. Arkansas baseball has been very good for a very long time. Arkansas football has not.
Consider, too, the way baseball scholarships work. A team can carry as many as 35 players on its active roster. Coaches only have 11.7 scholarships to give out, though. Most players on baseball scholarships at Arkansas are on partial scholarships. It isn’t 11 individuals get full-rides and seven guys get a 10 percent scholarship.
Coach Dave Van Horn has proved his teams can get deep into the postseason. He’s proved he can put players in pro baseball and into the major leagues. Don’t underestimate what an alum such as Andrew Benintendi, now a star rookie for the Boston Red Sox, can do for a program.
Diamond Hogs rule the roost
Are we a baseball school? – Jonathan Weaver
Really, though, yes. If you base it off the big three sports, then baseball is capital. The football Razorbacks always will draw the most money. They have the biggest stadium and the sport is America’s favorite.
Baseball is more niche than it used to be, but at Arkansas, though, baseball never has disappeared from people’s minds. That Baum Stadium can draw 10,000 spectators easily is a testament to the sport’s power.
Until the Diamond Hogs struggle through down seasons, year after year, it’s going to be the king of campus.
The best since…?
Is this the best team Dave Van Horn has had at Arkansas? Will they have the best season? – Drew Smith/TreyMcBride
On paper, this year’s Arkansas team is mighty close to the best ever. There is a catch with that, though.
Lots of the players who make it that good on paper are young. Freshmen, even. Benintendi was a regular as a freshman, but he was a slightly above average player that year. Don’t go crazy with what you expect out of the first-year guys.
Still, I’m very likely to mark Arkansas down as a top-3 finisher in the SEC. They have a good shot at going to the College World Series. They’re loaded.
Potential power outage?
Considering we lost guys like Stephan and Spanberger, is the baseball team going to have a dropoff in power across the board? Meaning home runs and strikeouts?
No one anticipated the season Trevor Stephan had on the mound last year. Few anticipated the season Chad Spanberger had. Both were selected in the 2017 MLB Draft, and someone will step into their roles.
I can’t promise anyone is going to hit the 20 home runs Spanberger did, but Arkansas’ roster should combine to hit as many, if not more, team home runs next year.
Pitching might see the strikeout numbers go down a little, but I tend to think not. If the staff is healthy, two players returning to form could make it an even higher-strikeout team.
Scouting Isaiah Campbell?
What can we expect from Isaiah Campbell? Will he be a guy that can make up for the loss of Stephan? 2nd or 3rd day starter? – Riley McFerran
It depends on his health. If he’s all the way back from his arm injury, he will be the pitcher most likely to step in for Stephan. He has filthy stuff and was among the top-100 draft prospects before last season. Of course, the injury meant he was out of commission, and arm troubles are always tough.
In theory, though, he is a No. 2 weekend starter — depending on how Van Horn wants to roll his rotation, that is. Van Horn doesn’t always throw his ace on Fridays, which means Campbell could start the opening game of the weekend, too.
But, as said, it’s going to depend on health.