I covered my first national signing day event in Arkansas in 1999. And many followed thereafter. I still remember veteran sportswriter Harry King’s expression when Little Rock Central defensive lineman Fred Bledsoe told a gaggle of reporters that he picked Arkansas because when he woke up that day he saw a shadow of a hog on his wall. He reportedly had been waffling between Arkansas and Tennessee. King was hardly amused. “Oh, come on,” he huffed.
For many years, that first Wednesday in February was a big day for programs, recruits and fans – like a second Christmas morning. There was plenty of drama. Recruits used hats to announce their decision, putting on the one of the school they chose and some even wore T-shirts under their Sunday bests. And who can forget Arkansas running back Alex Collins’ mother running away with his Arkansas scholarship paperwork.
As we approach the start of the 2022 signing period, the vibe is not the same. No longer is there even a signing day. There are two now (early, which starts on Wednesday, and late), which means the one in February really is anticlimactic. It seems like many of the high-profile recruits already have their decisions made during the early period, so the hat shuffling has quieted considerably.
Recruiting Rankings Still Matter
But there is one component of the recruiting and signing day(s) process that has stood the test of time – recruiting rankings. Some day in this space, I will treat you to my diatribe on recruiting rankings (stars) and those who evaluate and write reviews, but for now I’ll just say that as much as they may annoy me at times and could be better, they are an important measuring stick as coaches look to market programs.
Because I am skeptical of some of the evaluation, some programs that are ranked lower probably have a case to be upset. It may take a bit of spin job to explain why some players were underrated. However, if your team sits inside the Top 20, you blabber that number to anyone who will listen. Even if the evaluators have never seen your prospects play or said evaluator has never played or coached football, that ranking is a status symbol. And it always has been – even way back in 1998 when I had to use dialup internet to pull up the Arkansas football recruiting ranking.
Despite three decommitments in the last couple days, including the losses of blue chip recruits Jaden Hamm and Micah Tease, Arkansas is still currently sitting in a good place – No. 20 in the 247Sports Composite rankings and No. 15 in the Rivals rankings, as of Monday night.
You better believe as Arkansas coach Sam Pittman travels to living rooms nationwide (even with all of today’s gadgetry, the home visit is still a cool and vital part of the recruiting process), he will be sticking his chest out as he tells parents and players about this ranking. “And if we sign you, you could be part of a Top-10 class,” he may say.
I believe the number is vitally important to him. Since the Hogs didn’t exactly wow with a 6-6 record and Liberty Bowl berth this season, Pittman needs something to hang his hat on. He has a rout of Ole Miss and the fact that Arkansas is winning in the recruiting rankings.
Keeping the Arkansas Football Class Together
Pittman and his staff are not only recruiting to improve the ranking but also to preserve it. Since the arrival of Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders to Boulder, Colo., earlier this month, the Buffaloes have become the latest program set on trying to poach members of Arkansas’ talented class.
Sanders has already offered three of Arkansas’ four-star recruits in safety TJ Metcalf, offensive lineman Paris Patterson and the de-committed Tease. Losing two of the three would be disastrous for Pittman and Co., so re-recruiting Metcalf and Patterson — and others, such as tight end Luke Hasz — is as important as persuading other heralded uncommitted recruits.
It isn’t easy being a college coach in the current climate of the portal and NIL deals. Not only are coaches trying to nab each other’s prep recruits, which Kansas’ Lance Leipold just did with previous Arkansas commit Jaden Hamm, but current players are fair game with transfer rules allowing them to be eligible immediately. Couple that with the fact that some programs can offer thousands of dollars in incentives, and a new layer to the recruiting process emerges with the protecting of coveted talent on the current roster.
“I still don’t believe in buying players,” Pittman told the media last week. “I believe in somebody that wants to come to the university and then you talk about what they might be able to do in their name, image and likeness program. The way of football going right now is disturbing a little bit.”
That’s a sentiment many would agree with. They would also agree that even in this crazy, mixed up, bizzarro world that is college football recruiting and transfer portal trolling, one of the cornerstones of the process is still where your program’s name falls and how many stars you’ve collected. Unlike just about everything else, that probably won’t change soon. Pittman’s hope is when the smoke clears, he has something to sell other than NIL opportunities.
More coverage of Arkansas recruiting from BoAS…