LIKE IT IS:

Don’t judge Hogs coach by his first class

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013
STAFF PHOTO SAMANTHA BAKER -- Austin Allen of Fayetteville High School looks downfield for an open receiver in the third quarter of the game against Bentonville High School Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for the 7A football state championship.
Photo by Samantha Baker
STAFF PHOTO SAMANTHA BAKER -- Austin Allen of Fayetteville High School looks downfield for an open receiver in the third quarter of the game against Bentonville High School Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for the 7A football state championship.

— Short of a miracle sprint to the finish line Wednesday, this football recruiting class for the University of Arkansas will not be indicative of Bret Bielema’s future classes.

Bielema and his staff hit the ground running because they knew they were way behind in the recruiting race.

He had the majority of his class already in place at Wisconsin, and when he made the decision to take on the Razorbacks job, he did so knowing it was not going to be easy, at least not at first.

Bielema and his staff have worked so hard it wouldn’t be surprising if they haven’t even had time to find apartments, or look at a single home to buy.

Yet, they have a couple of commitments and managed to get even more visits from guys who were not considering Arkansas until this staff was hired.

As of late last week, the class was ranked 53rd in the nation, which is last in the SEC, two spots behind Kentucky, a basketball school.

That number most likely will improve because the Hogs had only 17 commitments at that time. Just adding bodies would improve the ratings, but it appears Bielema would rather not just add bodies.

He knows he can’t do that if he is going to compete in the SEC two or three years from now and in future years to come.

Understand that it is going to take time, and while most of the Razorbacks Nation is not ready to accept that, the facts are the facts.

Arkansas’ recruiting had been sliding the past two years under Bobby Petrino, whose most productive recruiting class may have been his first, when there was an unusually high number of really good football players, especially receivers, in the state.

Ryan Mallett fell in his lap, and Tyler Wilson was originally going out of state.

Then came the disasters of 2012, which started with the motorcycle wreck and led to the firing of Petrino and a 4-8overall record.

That doesn’t make moms and dads eager to jump on the slow-moving train.

Sure, there should be interest from fans about who signs with the Razorbacks on Wednesday, and there is no way anyone associated with the football program is going to admit out loud that they have to out recruit this class next year and out recruit the next class the year after that and so on and so forth.

It is a fact at every school. Recruiting is the lifeblood of a successful program.

No one, especially in the SEC, is going to win just on coaching.

Want to know why Alabama has won consecutive national championships? Look at the Tide’s recruiting classes three and four years ago.

Nick Saban knows it, and that’s why he has put together the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation this year. Florida has replaced Alabama as the No. 1 recruiting class, but the Gators have a full slate of 25 commitments. The Tide still had three spots to fill going into this weekend, and a couple of four-star recruits will shoot them right back to the top.

Every team in the SEC except for Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee appears ready to sign a top-25 class Wednesday.

Without a doubt that shows the national interest by kids who want to compete not just for Alabama, but against Alabama.

Of the top 10 recruiting classes, five are in the SEC and Ole Miss is No. 11.

No doubt every head football coach in the SEC knows what it takes to compete in the toughest football conference in the country, and that includes Bielema, who has watched the SEC closely.

When given the opportunity to take on an SEC program, even one that has had more than its share of problems and bad publicity, Bielema really didn’t have to think about it.

He welcomed the challenge that a lot of coaches were afraid of and he has a plan, one that starts Wednesday but certainly doesn’t end there.

Sports, Pages 21 on 02/03/2013

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