Jim Harris: Alabama at Arkansas – So You’re Saying There’s a Chance?


Earlier this week, an Arkansas sport talk radio host asked fans where Arkansas might have an edge over Alabama in Saturday night’s game in Fayetteville.


Seriously, that should have been the response: nothing. No advantage. Not even punter, where Arkansas has a good one, Toby Baker, having a great season; Alabama has junior J.K. Scott, who may have been as responsible as anyone for Alabama escaping Fayetteville two years ago with a 14-13 victory.

I can’t recall another Arkansas-Alabama matchup since the first one in the SEC, in 1992, where Alabama looks better at every position vs. the Hogs. Even at quarterback, where junior Austin Allen has been the key difference in the Hogs’ four wins and gave them a fighting chance against Texas A&M, wouldn’t be Bama’s choice over freshman Jalen Hurts, whose spectacular running complements his adequate throws to all-world receivers like Calvin Ridley.

It’s all about recruiting, as usual, and Bret Bielema’s has only been adequate for Arkansas’ program in his four years. In his fourth year, I frankly expected Bielema to have Arkansas in better shape, especially in the offensive and defensive lines.

Does it get any better? Will there ever be a surge in the UA talent program with this staff?

It hasn’t happened to date, and it mirrors previous head coaches Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino: a big splash followed by falling short.

Whether you scan the past three classes or the current commitments, look at the offer sheets (although that’s not foolproof either, just look at one Hog TE who mysteriously had 60-plus big offers and currently resides on the scout team as a redshirt freshman).

Who cares if Rivals/24-7/Scout/ESPN has or hasn’t seen them in one of their camps that are first and foremost designed to bring in gobs of money for those services. The colleges are the true evaluators.

Do some guys fly completely under the radar? Sure, a few. Such as that is, Arkansas or Arkansas State should know who is flying under the Rivals or ESPN radar here in Arkansas. You really think Arkansas is going to find somebody flying under the radar in any of these other southern states? If LSU or Ole Miss hasn’t offered a kid in south Louisiana, he’s either average and they already have that position handled, or he’s average or below average and they just don’t want him, they (LSU/Ole Miss) want better and have better or are getting a better player.

Arkansas is trying to flip a player out of Louisiana who is committed to a struggling FBS program, for gosh sakes. LSU and Ole Miss long ago passed on him, and that’s even with a high school teammate who is great. Is UA offering to maybe flip the teammate? Maybe, but it’s unlikely to accomplish that, since the other kid’s committed school didn’t have to take the calf to get the cow, as coaches say.

Do guys like this sometimes turn out great? You bet. But you’d need to sign a 50-plus signing class like the old days for the law of averages to work out to put you in the same talent realm as the teams signing obviously proven talents, like Alabama.

And please, don’t tell me how this staff has magical powers over all the other staffs out there to deduce who can play, and that Arkansas’ strength coach is the one magical strength coach out there who can take a 2-star and transform him into the equivalent of what Alabama is lining up. If he were that good, Alabama would have paid him $4 million to come and turn their 5 stars into 10 stars and join there staff of dozens of advisers and consultants.

This is the same-ol’ same-ol’ we’ve seen for darn-near 20 years in the SEC when it comes to recruiting stories and how Arkansas matches up with its competition.

Now, don’t give up completely; if Arkansas can keep signing quarterbacks who can really compete, like Austin Allen and Clint Stoerner, then the Hogs will compete with the way they’ve recruited since being in the SEC. If they recruit Pete Burks or Robert Johnson or Casey Dick, or try to play a good talent too early, then they are mediocre. The defense is relatively always the same, the offensive line can be the biggest in college football or medium-sized and the results tend to be the same (lots better if there is a 5-star in-state product like Shawn Andrews in there), and the kicking coverages are always going to be manned with lesser talents and overachieving walkons who get exposed against teams like Alabama putting 4- and 5-star stud backups on their kicking games.

When Arkansas recruited out of Texas well, it could compete regularly with the best Alabama had (though, remember, they were pretty well manhandled and overachieved behind a competitive quarterback who could throw it in the 1980 Sugar Bowl against a 12-0 Alabama) and the best Oklahoma had and the Longhorns on a semi-regular basis and could beat the Aggies and most of the SWC and could beat Ole Miss to open the season regularly.

We can debate until the cows come home whether leaving the Texas conference hurt the Texas recruiting more, but I don’t know from 1977 on if it was tremendous anyway, after SMU fully opened its treasure chest. And LSU and Ole Miss and Oklahoma State have all shown that you can get a good number of players out of Texas who are pretty darned good difference makers; and there is no SWC anymore and Arkansas is able to get beau coup amount of students out of Texas who don’t play football, so it would seem like they could recruit football players to make up half the out-of-state incoming football class, at least. They play up to two games a year in Texas every year, and A&M brings SEC headlines now to the big papers and TV stations in Dallas and Houston, so Arkansas is going to be covered almost like the old SWC days. It can be done, but Bielema needs recruiters on his staff the way Frank had on his staff, with the likes of Jimmy Johnson, Jack Davis, Leroy Montgomery and the like.

And Bielema has to close out-of-state recruits the way Broyles did or at least close to the way Danny Ford could, and not the way Lou Holtz or Houston Nutt did. And he has to work harder setting up the recruits to close on (I’m pretty sure he is doing this) better than Bobby Petrino did.

And, before I forget, for Arkansas to do Bielema any favors that Frank and Lou and Ken Hatfield and at times Nutt enjoyed, this state’s high schools must pick it up in coaching and teaching football and training guys to play the game correctly, and to interest the actual athletes out there to play the game and to also make it in school academically. Mississippi at least gets its athletes out for football instead of walking the halls. Of course I’m talking about the athletes throughout the Delta and Little Rock. If Arkansas isn’t going to get any in-state players from the eastern and SE and SW parts of the state in numbers, it should get in whatever conference Kansas and Kansas State and Iowa State are in over the next generation and compete there.

If Arkansas has to get 75 percent of its signing class from out of state and is getting the lower 50 percent of the Division I prospects in those states, then the coaching staff is going to have to be the best money can buy to win like Arkansas fans dream it.

Whew, glad to get that off my chest. Enjoy the game tonight.

alabama at arkansas 2016

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