A little over a year ago in this space, I said Bret Bielema can and must improve upon his Wisconsin recruiting at Arkansas to win on the level he did in Madison.
And at certain positions (such as offensive line), it’s looks like the coaching staff did an excellent job, but others (only signing one player designated as a safety) will likely cause some heads to be scratched.
The Arkansas recruiting class’ overall rating – give or take #30 nationally and #11 in the SEC – is pretty much on par with where Arkansas’ classes traditionally rank, and maybe slightly ahead of his average class ranking at Wisconsin (although the #30 class would typically yield a much higher Big Ten ranking than #11).
It is important to remember, however, that Bielema was not hired at Arkansas because of his history of bringing in recruiting classes landing him on the front page of Rivals or 24/7 every year. His resume is filled with stories of players developing under his tutelage and emerging as All-Conference, All-America, or even All-Pro. Of course, the odds on all of Arkansas’ new batch of 2*-3* recruits earning such status are long, but some likely will.
Often, when a coach says recruiting rankings don’t matter, it comes across as coachspeak. It’s easy to find stories of when recruiting rankings have gotten players wrong even though the last several SEC and national champions all have highly rated recruiting classes in common. And it doesn’t take away the fact that said coaches did try to recruit more highly rated players throughout the year but couldn’t land them.
However, when Bielema says they don’t matter, it can be taken more earnestly due to his background. As we’ve noted before, Bielema himself is a former walk-on who earned his way into a team captaincy. That’s a very fundamental element of who he is. That set the stage for his entire professional career. That doesn’t mean that Bielema doesn’t know he needs supremely talented players to win at Arkansas. We have a whole year of recruiting reports proving he knows precisely that. But it does mean he probably does completely honestly believe he can get those player to work just as hard and improve just as much as he did in college at Iowa.
The question is how many of those guys can he be successful in developing. We won’t know the answer to that for a while, but it’s an answer that will have a major impact on his success at Arkansas.
Hopefully, it will be more successful than his early-morning Signing Day prediction (Full disclosure: the main reason for this column is to bring this up. I just can’t let this slide.)
Great start to the day and looking forward to many more fax and emails that make grown men dance around like little school girls… #woopig
— Bret Bielema (@BretBielema) February 5, 2014
I’d love to do a search of dancing school girls to get a better idea of what the Razorback coaching staff might have looked like Wednesday morning, but then I realized that’s not something I need The Wife seeing in my search history. But I assume it looks something like Homer Simpson skipping through The Land of Chocolate.
Unfortunately, that tweet was sent about 20 minutes before Solomon Thomas pulled out a mini Stanford tree from under his table and marked the “No” box on Arkansas’ “Do you like me?” note.
It’s very similar to Bielema’s statement during the week of last fall’s Auburn game: ”the greatest thing that can help us in our recruiting department is the more failure the Philadelphia Eagles have.” The Eagles were 3-5 at the time. After that quote they finished 7-1 and won the NFC East. We’re just left to our imaginations how highly Arkansas could have ranked if Philadelphia missed the playoffs.
But hey, I’ve certainly made my share of bad predictions as well. And the day wasn’t lost after Thomas’ disappointing announcement. The Razorbacks did sign JoJo Robinson, who could potentially help the team at wide receiver immediately. Sure, if you followed recruiting closely it seemed like his signature was a foregone conclusion, but coaches also reportedly thought they’d land Thomas and Demetrius Jackson as well, and it didn’t happen. So the coaches can feel free to dance the night away during their slumber party.
Bielema’s well-known for developing the players he recruits, just as he’s also well-known for occasionally saying goofy things. Unfortunately, ever since the 2012 motorcycle accident, Arkansas has been known more for punchlines than for winning. But if Bielema and his coaches are successful in turning their new recruits into a winning college football team, he can say whatever he wants. And stay up as late as he likes.
And for the record, the 2015 recruiting class is off to a hot start. It’s shaping up to be potentially Arkansas’ highest rated class in several years. Not that ratings matter, of course.