Football’s sport within the sport in high gear

By: Wally Hall
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014
Bret Bielema will announce his second signing class in less than two weeks.
Photo by Benjamin Krain
Bret Bielema will announce his second signing class in less than two weeks.

There are several legitimate websites that deal with recruiting. Most rank the players and even the schools pursuing them.

With 13 days left until college football’s national signing date, the rankings probably will change a little, but right now the Arkansas Razorbacks are doing OK. Just OK. At least on paper.

Recruiting is a not an exact science; never has been and never will be.

Injuries, grades and even the level of high school competition can easily change a can’t-miss kid into an average player.

Several years ago I was watching an early fall Razorbacks practice with Bill Gray, a former assistant athletic director who had some coaching experience and was one of the most versatile athletes in Arkansas history.

The Hogs had a highly recruited freshman running back from Texas, and he looked all-world. That comment was made to Gray.

“Maybe all-airport,” he replied quietly. “He looks great in his uniform, but he doesn’t cut well.”

The player had a decent career with the Hogs but was never a star.

Bobby Petrino said he didn’t pay attention to recruiting sites. The former Razorbacks coach evaluated a player’s potential by what he and his staff saw on tape or in their camps.

Yet, from the end of the BCS Championship Game until national signing day Feb. 5, recruiting is the No. 1 college football sport, and it is a sport of its own.

Our man Richard Davenport gets tens of thousands of page hits on our website almost every day this time of the year. Richard covers recruiting 365 days a year and has tons of followers, and in the final days leading up to national signing day his blog has been known to slow down our entire computer system because of its popularity.

Right now - and this is according to just about any recruiting website you visit - the SEC is cleaning up.

Alabama is No. 1 and has one scholarship remaining, but of the top 15 teams, eight are from the SEC.

Currently Tennessee is No. 3, but the Vols have 33 commitments and can sign only 25, so their total score will drop.

The rankings vary a little, but a consensus of the SEC would be Texas A&M (No. 5), LSU (6), Auburn (7), Florida (8), Georgia (11), Kentucky (14), Ole Miss (15), South Carolina (24), Arkansas (29), Missouri (33), Mississippi State (43) and Vanderbilt (75).

Vandy dropped like a brick after Coach James Franklin left and started recruiting players who had committed to the Commodores for his new school, Penn State.

Aside from Tennessee, which has to try to convince eight to walk on for a semester (it’s called grayshirting because you sit out a semester instead of a year), most have scholarships available.

The Razorbacks, who have lots of needs this year, have five more to offer. If Bret Bielema and his staff can get those from their A list, they should move up some, but there is no way they are moving ahead of those top eight SEC schools.

Missouri, coming off one of the greatest seasons in school history, has 25 commitments so it may not move up. It is also a little surprising the Tigers have zero five-star recruits and only two four-star recruits.

There are a handful of five-star recruits who have not made their final decision. Two are from Alabama and one each from Louisiana and Florida, which means if anything the SEC may strengthen its stranglehold on the recruiting class of 2014.

It also means the rich are getting richer.

Recruiting is its own sport, and it is played 365 days a year.

Sports, Pages 15 on 01/23/2014