During chunks of this season, it was determined — sometimes quietly, through off-record or deep-background conversations with Arkansas personnel; sometimes less overtly, but aloud — the biggest problem Arkansas football had this season was a lack of players. Recruiting, it’s been said, had taken a dive. That was, supposedly, the single-biggest reason Arkansas struggled defensively, especially, this season.
And while there is some measure of truth to that, when such declarations are made, the suggestion that goes with it seems to be “it ain’t like it used to be.” That’s where I take umbrage.
Our Trent Shadid did a re-grade of Arkansas’ 2012 recruiting class, the last one for Bobby Petrino, who was fired two months after signing day that year. The Razorbacks were at the top of their stature this century at the time, having put together back-to-back double-digit winnning seasons. If ever there was, based on actual on-field play, a time for Arkansas to haul talent in, it was that year.
Shadid covers the finer details, but the bottom line ends up the same, a common thing most of you readers and longtime fans know: It’s really, really hard to recruit to Arkansas.
It’s possible, perhaps, with a near-perfect staff, one blended with coaches who are both excellent tacticians and excellent pitchmen, Arkansas could manage to crack a top 10, top 15 national ranking. Getting such a staff is damn difficult, especially the way the group is currently comprised, isn’t it?
Bielema tends to lean more toward a geographical recruiting strategy over a positional one. Meaning, certain coaches recruit certain parts of the country. They do, to an extent, recruit their positions, too, but more they focus on areas. Barry Lunney Jr. handles Arkansas. Michael Smith is the Louisiana guy. Dan Enos and Kurt Anderson are up in the Midwest. Vernon Hargreaves is in Florida. Rory Segrest handles Alabama and Georgia. Paul Rhoads and Reggie Mitchell serve as sort of rovers, some Texas, some Florida. Mitchell, according to Shadid (our superb recruiting writer) is the most positional-style recruiter of the bunch.
Notice what you don’t see in there: a Texas focus. Until Arkansas can recruit Texas with more success, the whole excuse/reason of “players aren’t good enough” is going to continue. Either that, or Florida is going to have to become near lockdown territory.
Here’s the thing, though. Look at the roster now. These are the scholarship players (the 2016 roster) from Texas or Florida.
- DE Deatrich Wise Jr. — up and down last couple seasons as a starter but has NFL potential.
- DT Taiwan Johnson — three-year starter, effective, not overpowering.
- CB DJ Dean — fell out of favor his senior season but was good for two seasons prior; mostly a starter.
- K Cole Hedlund — mediocre freshman season; bad sophomore one, in which he lost his job a few games in.
- RB Rawleigh Williams III — led SEC in yards rushing this past season, his second, after breaking neck in year one.
- C/G Zach Rogers — played on a couple dozen snaps — give or take — over two seasons so far.
- RB Devwah Whaley — seems to be a knockout, a potential future star after one season.
- WR Kofi Boateng — redshirted his freshman season after tearing up his knee.
- S Micahh Smith — redshirted this past season, his first on campus.
- C/G Jake Raulerson — a transfer, so not naturally recruited, lost starting job halfway through season.
- DL Jonathan Marshall — arrived late this fall, did not play his freshman season.
- S De’Andre Coley — cracked rotation as a junior reserve safety this past season.
- DE/OLB Randy Ramsey — flashed potential and finally stayed on the team a full season without incident; could be a player going forward.
- G Hjalte Froholdt — started all season at left guard with mixed results.
- G/T Jalen Merrick — second- and third-teamer this past season, his redshirt freshman season.
- CB Ryan Pulley — arguably the team’s best cornerback all season, his sophomore season.
- S Deon Edwards — redshirted this past season; his first on campus.
- LB Alexy Jean-Baptiste – redshirted this past season; his first on campus.
A couple studs. A couple role players. A lot of unknowns. Sounds like Arkansas football.
Don’t go to your local hardware/outdoors stores to buy pitchforks Thursday. They’re gonna be all out.
People across Arkansas are stocking up for a march to Bud Walton Arena, anxious for someone’s head after Arkansas lost its second straight SEC game, and third in four games to start the conference slate, Tuesday night against Mississippi State, 84-78.
Arkansas was, by every single account, supposed to win. The Razorbacks are more talented than Mississippi State. They’re more experienced. They were at home. Arkansas lost anyway, and every person on the fence about whether the early-season nonconference success was a mirage just fell off. Not a soul was happy, obviously. Most wanted significant changes.
And for the first time all season, after weeks of telling you, “Hold on,” I’m giving you permission — like you need it from me — to be livid.
It’s not that losing to Mississippi State was unacceptable. The Bulldogs actually aren’t all that bad. The thing is this: The SEC is still an eat-you-alive conference. Teams across the middle of the pack cannibalize all season long. For Arkansas to separate itself from that pack, the Hogs have to beat teams like Mississippi State. They have to make a move up into the top three or four of the conference.
The Razorbacks don’t have another projected NCAA Tournament team on the schedule that comes to Bud Walton Arena. Accordingly, losing another game at BWA would be near-damning. And now, after the Mississippi State game, an extra game or two might have to be won on the road to get things back to legit.
Arkansas isn’t dead after losing to Mississippi State. I’ve always said Arkansas needs to be no worse than one game below .500 by the time the Razorbacks play Oklahoma State at the end of January. I stand by that. But they’re two games below now with two of their final three games on the road, where they’ve struggled for years.
Gut check time.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
It’s not #uncommon for political organizations in states to throw parties on the night of the presidential inauguration. The biggest parties are, of course, typically reserved for the political party whose president was elected.
Arkansas, the red state it is, voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, so it figured on a grand get-together.
Turns out, nope. The gala was canceled, per this story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, because, apparently, practically no one wanted to celebrate the event.