That’s just how it goes at Arkansas, right?
In the life of a Razorback fan there are unbelievable highs followed by crushing lows. Sign the nation’s top quarterback prospect only to have him transfer after a tumultuous year on campus. Finish consecutive seasons in the Top 10 just to have the architect of it all run his motorcycle, mistress and the football program (at least temporarily) into a ditch outside of town.
Woe Pig Sooie seems a much more appropriate rallying cry at times.
So of course Bret Bielema’s first national signing day was bound to bring some sort of punch to the gut. It came in the form of Alex Collins, a highly touted running back who days earlier had declared on national television he was a lock for Arkansas, rather than hometown Miami.
Then, in the most bizarre signing day twist yet — and let’s stress the “YET” because this will eventually be outdone by somebody somewhere else — Collins couldn’t fax back his letter of intent to Arkansas because his mom snatched it and ran away from the high school.
Collins’ story is so odd, so frustrating and so national that it was unavoidable on signing day. It became the story of the day, eclipsing Ole Miss and former Arkansas State coach Hugh Freeze coming out of nowhere to sign a class regarded as one of the Top 10 in college football.
Because the Collins story was unavoidable locally and nationally, it is easy to overlook what else happened for Arkansas on signing day. Whatever Collins decides (apparently he will sign), it shouldn’t be overlooked what Bielema and the Arkansas staff managed in their short time on campus.
As I put it on Twitter (@cbahn): “Bielema’s on the job 15 minutes, Arkansas is coming off 4-7 and puts this class together. Not too shabby, huh?” Granted, that was pre-Collins drama. Still, I think the sentiment holds up with or without him.
Recruiting services are not high on the class in the context of the SEC. Arkansas is in the bottom third of the league in the rankings and — allow me to be Captain Obvious here — that must improve if the program can ever close the gap between itself and Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in the SEC West.
What provides reason to believe the gap could one day close is how the staff finished strong with a limited period of time recruiting for Arkansas. Depending on the evaluation service the Razorbacks’ 2013 recruiting class was ranked anywhere from 22-34. That represents a jump of 20 spots in some rankings from where Arkansas was in the final month before signing day.
Seeing the way Bielema and staff identified needs (defensive backs, running backs, offensive linemen), flipped prospects (let’s not forget about four-star Miami product Denver Kirkland choosing Arkansas) and got a jump on 2014, was impressive. It’s natural to wonder what they can do with a full year to prepare for signing day.
Arkansas coaches operated without assigned, natural geographic areas for this recruiting class. They’ll do that eventually, but this year instead crisscrossed the country — Hawaii to New Jersey and points in between — leaning on past relationships from previous jobs in hopes of landing players.
Coaches showed a willingness to work at recruiting. It seems like they don’t view it as a necessary evil, but a part of the job they embrace. From here it looks like a staff that will grind as hard at recruiting as they do in the film room or on the practice field. That attitude is a must to survive against guys like Nick Saban, Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn.
And while it’s a little thing, let’s also not overlook the creativity shown in the way they embraced social media. Throughout the recruiting process they used Twitter to communicate with fans and share indirect messages with recruits. For an example look no further than last night in the midst of all the Collins drama.
Collins’ favorite dressing is apparently ranch. He wears No. 3.
So there was Charlie Partridge posting a picture of three celery stalks in ranch dressing on Wednesday. This came a couple hours after Partridge simply tweeted “Poise” as Twitter was in full meltdown mode of the missing papers.
These guys seem to get it.
Now, as we know from past experience nothing guarantees the staff improves its recruiting efforts this year. Perhaps, like the last staff, their best class inexplicably remains their first. That seems unlikely, though.
What Bielema and the Razorback coaches showed over the last six to eight weeks are signs that they understand how to recruit.
Honestly, it looks promising enough that fans can allow themselves to get their hopes up without fixating on all the drama of the past.