There hasn’t been a whole lot for Arkansas football fans to cheer about as the end of 2023 rapidly approaches. That trend continued Tuesday morning when highly-touted in-state prospect Courtney Crutchfield committed to Missouri instead of staying home to play for the Hogs.
Crutchfield, a four-star wide receiver from Pine Bluff, is currently the top-rated player in the state by 247Sports and the 12th-rated receiver in the country. Now, he’s also on his way to Columbia to play for Eli Drinkwitz after being committed to Sam Pittman and Arkansas for nearly eight months.
The loss of Crutchfield is exacerbated by the fact that the Hogs lost another commitment on Monday night. Four-star running back Jadan Baugh officially announced his decommitment from the Razorbacks just 12 hours before Crutchfield’s decision.
Unlike Crutchfield, though, Baugh likely isn’t headed to Missouri. That’s a win in-and-of itself considering a concerning trend developing of Arkansas losing players to their “Battle Line” rivals.
Eli Drinkwitz Holds Upper Hand vs Sam Pittman
The rivalry between the Arkansas and Missouri football programs has gone a little deeper in recent years given the parallels of the two coaches’ tenures and a major recruiting overlap. Both Eli Drinkwitz and Sam Pittman are entering their fifth seasons at their respective schools after being hired during the same offseason.
Drinkwitz, a graduate of Arkansas Tech with strong ties to the state, reportedly passed on the Arkansas job in favor of Missouri during the 2019 coaching search, which yielded Pittman in Fayetteville. That added wrinkle makes it sting just a bit more when Razorback fans see the success the Tigers are enjoying.
Both Pittman and Drinkwitz ended the 2022 seasons in the same boat, finishing 6-6 on the season before their bowl games. Arkansas was able to win the Liberty Bowl over Kansas and improve to 7-6 though, while Missouri lost to Wake Forest in the Gasparilla Bowl and fell to 6-7.
While Pittman ended 2023 firmly on the hot seat, Drinkwitz was able to dispel any questions about his job security with a 10-2 record. For Hog fans, the gastritis-inducing cherry on top was a dominant 48-14 win in Fayetteville.
The bile just kept on coming in the immediate aftermath of Crutchfield’s announcement, when Drinkwitz made a direct jab at Pittman with a celebration GIF extracted from the low point of that game:
The STP stands for “Something to Prove,” and there’s no question in four games against Arkansas Drinkwitz has done just that on a couple of fronts. He’s improved his on-field record to 3-1 over Pittman the past four years while also proving he’s an A+ troll.
The former Springdale assistant coach has already been able to bankroll this season’s success into an impressive transfer portal class and, now, a bolstered high school recruiting class with the addition of Crutchfield.
Losing Crutchfield plays into a disturbing trend of losing in-state players to Missouri. In the past losing to Mizzou has happened with other high-profile recruits, too – Dorial Green-Beckham, anybody? – but DGB was also a Missouri native.
The schools are fairly close and very similar in their tradition and general standing in the college football landscape. The Tigers have consistently enjoyed more success since joining the SEC in 2012, but the Razorbacks have had a better program historically.
Where things are starting to change now, though, is that Arkansas has never had an issue beating out teams like Missouri when it came to their most-prioritized and top-rated hometown prospects.
Drinkwitz Creating Arkansas Pipeline
In the past, it was one thing for Arkansas to lose out on high-level in-state talent to the Alabamas, LSUs or Oklahomas of the world.
Nick Saban, after all, came into Arkansas’ backyard and took guys like the late Altee Tenpenny and Joshua Frazier in back-to-back recruiting cycles (2013 and 2014). In the mid 1980s, Pine Bluff’s Eric Mitchell – an electrifying Parade All-American QB for the Zebras – decided to take his talents to Norman, Okla., to play for Barry Switzer.
However, it becomes a bigger concern when you see Eli Drinkwitz and Missouri doing it.
In Drinkwitz’ first three recruiting classes with the Tigers, he failed to nab a single recruit from the state of Arkansas. In last year’s recruiting cycle, Missouri landed four-star tight end Jordon Harris, a Pine Bluff product who wasn’t offered by the Hogs. With Crutchfield committing this cycle, he will be the third Arkansas native in the Tigers’ 2024 class – joining his high school teammate Austyn Dendy (RB) and Valley View’s Brian Huff (LB).
The Pine Bluff-to-Missouri pipeline is clearly being established with these last two recruiting classes and, for Arkansas’ sake, one has to hope it doesn’t spread or develop any further than that.
However, there’s a major reason why Missouri is starting to have so much recruiting success and it’s something that could harm the Hogs’ long-term outlook.
Arkansas Football Needs to Become a “Show Me” Program
Going back to an earlier point, Eli Drinkwitz and Sam Pittman were sitting in similar boats following the 2022 season. So, what exactly changed for Missouri to win 10 games and Arkansas fail to make a bowl game?
Missouri is known as the “Show Me State” and the Tigers, particularly in football, leaned into that motto over the last few years.
The “Tiger Scholarship Fund” is Missouri’s name, image and likeness (NIL) collective and it allows fans of the Tigers to “show” everyone that they are serious about football. The TSF allows everyday fans access to donate however much money they want to a specific sport, on par with other healthy NIL collectives across college sports.
This was bolstered by recent legislation that allows Missouri high school athletes to begin profiting from NIL while still in high school, so long as they sign a letter of intent to attend a public university in Missouri. Of course, with the University of Missouri being the state’s flagship public school, they stand to benefit the most from this new law.
Since the TSF was Missouri’s original NIL collective, they’ve had four years to iron out any issues and grow their athletic fundraising arm – similar to the collectives at Ole Miss and Auburn.
Arkansas, on the other hand, just hit the reset button on their original initiative – OneArkansas. Their new Arkansas Edge collective operates similar to that of Missouri’s TSF, though time will be needed to get it anywhere close to that of Missouri, Ole Miss or Auburn.
The Razorbacks having to rejigger things after that original NIL initiative has cost them extremely valuable time. They’re fighting from behind and paying the price right now.
Eli Drinkwitz certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s an innovative offensive mind, who has had little staff turnover during his tenure at Missouri. That familiarity backed by a powerful NIL collective proved to be a lethal combination for the Tigers this past season and its strength is showing in recruiting now as well.
For Arkansas to compete in this new version of college football, they must again become the kind of “show me” program Missouri has been this year both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
To make up for lost time, fans need to stop gnashing their teeth so much and use Courtney Crutchfield’s decision as a motivation to get serious about putting this new Arkansas Edge collective to use. On the field, players must show they can execute an exciting and competent offense with Bobby Petrino. The Arkansas football program is getting raked over the coals some for this loss and recent de-commitments, but that might be just the heat it needs to get things back on track.
Most importantly, though, it’s time to show recruits – especially those in your own backyard – that Arkansas is the place to be.
See the latest on Arkansas football signing day here:
Matt Besser thinks Walmart owes Arkansas the #1 recruit every year plus a nice gold throne.
Hear him out:
More coverage of Courtney Crutchfield and Arkansas football from BoAS…
Instant reaction from the Missouri football side on the moment of truth starting at 49:35 here: