Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Recruiting week big after Arkansas loses fifth straight
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema heads off the field following the Razorbacks' 52-0 loss to Alabama Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Arkansas' red helmets were the only surprise Saturday night.
The rest went according to script as No. 1 Alabama easily beat the Razorbacks 52-0 at Bryant-Denny Stadium for its seventh consecutive win in a once-competitive series. The Crimson Tide improved to 7-0 and rolled en route to what could be their fourth national championship season in five years.
Arkansas, on the other hand, hits a much needed off week on the heels of its eighth consecutive Southeastern Conference loss. The Razorbacks haven't won a conference matchup in more than a year - their longest drought ever - and have lost 11 of their last 13 SEC games.
The 0-4 conference start is their worst since 2005. The five-game losing streak is the program's longest since 1997. The forgettable superlatives go on and on.
The outcome Saturday night was predictable for a pair of teams hoping to play the same style with completely different talent pools. Alabama's crop of five-star starters and backups were too much for a group of Razorbacks collectively ranked toward the bottom of the conference in recent recruiting classes.
For the first time in some time, you could line up both teams and not point out a better Razorbacks player at any position. No one could have predicted last December that Bret Bielema's rebuilding project at Arkansas would be so daunting.
Bielema and his coaching staff deserve some blame for the product on the field during one of the worst stretches in program history. But the bulk of the problem lies within an inferior personnel to the majority of SEC teams.
Reality is beginning to set in that recruiting rankings really do matter when you try to do the same thing as everyone else.
As competition has improved each week, the Razorbacks have looked a little worse than they did the week before. Their loss margins have steadily increased each game - 4 at Rutgers, 12 against Texas A&M, 20 at Florida, 45 against South Carolina and 52 at Alabama.
Arkansas now enters its most important week of the season to this point. Not only will the Razorbacks get a chance to recover and perhaps regroup, but coaches will be on the road evaluating talent for future recruiting classes.
Scout has rated the Razorbacks' last four recruiting classes as Nos. 34, 17, 19 and 35 nationally. Those numbers translate to Nos. 11, 7, 8 and 12 among SEC teams.
Twenty-two players from the 2010 and 2011 classes didn't finish their four years with the Razorbacks. None went to the NFL Draft.
Winless halfway through the conference season and with a tough November stretch ahead, Arkansas might not win again this season. To avoid more nights like these, the Razorbacks can't afford to lose again in February.