A lot of life is perspective. Politics. Your love-life. Employment. Nothing is ever as bad as it seems, but nor is it as good as it seems. But as humans, we tend to put things into the binary: things are either good or bad. In sports this applies itself, too. The chestnut holds, “If you ain’t getting better, you’re getting worse.”
Things being “fine” or “usual” is boring. We want something to shake it up. In the 16 years I’ve spent as a professional sportswriter, I’ve always told fans the same thing, too. I’m not a Razorbacks fan when I report on them. I’m not a Razorbacks hater, either. My hope every season is that the team goes 12-0. But after that, 0-12. Why? Those seasons generally yield the best stories, the best things to write about (OK, so John L. Smith’s “Smile” comment didn’t technically come during a winless season, but you get the idea). It’s those Houston Nuttian 6-6 seasons of treading water that are truly miserable for folks like me.
Arkansas football recruiting is in that hum-drum land right now. But, depending on your perspective, you may be over the moon or you may be wondering why it’s still lagging behind most of the rest of the league.
It’s brought up right now because, well, it’s early July. SEC Media Days are in a few weeks. The basketball transfer portal is finished up. Baseball’s glorious-albeit-heartbreaking season is through. This is mid-South. It’s football almost all the time here. And, with some moving and shaking at the top of the Class of 2023 recruiting rankings, we figured it was as good a time as any to check on the Razorbacks.
Update on Arkansas Recruiting Class of 2023
In the last eight days alone, coach Sam Pittman and his staff picked up four more commitments to the class, including TJ Metcalf, an Ole Miss legacy who spurned the Rebels to come to Fayetteville. They also lost one. Their total number of committed recruits for 2023 stands at 18, so it’s a class more than three-quarters full as it is. Maybe a touch less, depending on what the future holds.
Overall, a cursory glance makes it look like Arkansas is in dynamite shape. Pittman picked up the No. 1 player in the state of Oklahoma in Luke Hasz and in the early moments, the Hogs were ranked as high as No. 3 in the class. Even now, their class is nearing totality and the Razorbacks are ranked No. 7 in the country for the Class of 2023. With six four-star players in the fold, Arkansas is just a player shy of reaching last year’s class mark of seven. They could easily get there. Pittman has made Arkansas relevant on the field and he’s held his own on the recruiting trail.
A deeper look, however, shows some concerning trends.
First, a note: “concerning” is subjective. The class will almost certainly wind up with an overall ranking inside the Top 35 in the country. That’s a decent recruiting class. Arkansas has only been outside that line of demarcation once, when the Razorbacks were 45th in 2018.
Looking Deeper at Arkansas Football Recruiting
Focusing on the now, however, Arkansas’ class appears to be so highly rated because of sheer quantity. It’s the same reason their season-opening opponent, Cincinnati, currently chimes in at No. 9. The Bearcats already have a gobsmacking 20 recruits. Despite their feel-good run to the College Football Playoffs, they simply aren’t going to finish in the Top 10 when the dust settles.
Only two other SEC teams, Georgia and Tennessee, had as many as 12 commits entering July. (Tennessee actually comes in right ahead of Arkansas in national championship odds according to Odds Shark). Ten of the league’s teams have a total in the single digits. Auburn has just two, both of whom are four-star recruits. If Arkansas can gain more stars, obviously so can the others, and they have more spaces to fill, on top of things.
Arkansas has long been limited in the recruiting game by failing to get the nation’s most elite recruits. The 2023 class has just two players ranked inside the Top 300 in the country. Last year’s class had seven four-star players, two of whom were inside the Top 300. That class was ranked 13th in the 14-team SEC. The year before that, it was three four-stars, though all three were Top 300 (ninth in the SEC). For the Class of 2020, it was four and three (11th in SEC). In 2019, it was 11 and four (10th in the SEC). In fact, the last time Arkansas landed a five-star recruit – we’re going by 247Sports’ composite rankings, by the way – was in 2016 when McTelvin Agim stayed in the Natural State.
Keeping talent in the state is an admirable thing, but just the way high-school football works, it isn’t going to be enough to push the Razorbacks into the top tier. The state of Arkansas, by itself, simply does not produce enough SEC talent to make that priority *the* priority. Texas, Georgia, Florida. Arkansas will continue to have to make inroads recruiting in these states (nothing new there), especially as all three are in the Southeastern Conference geography and their best players are often going to end up at the competition otherwise.
In other words, it’s basically July. Silly season, indeed. Things will pan out however they pan out. Most likely they’ll do so the same way they have for most of the last 20 years, the span in which high-school recruiting became more of a business. Arkansas will be just fine. The Razorbacks will end up ahead of Vanderbilt and likely a few more teams, per usual, possibly even Auburn as the Tigers are expected to continue their struggle.
No, the question is, will ‘just fine’ be enough to continue scaling the mountain? Winning begets winning, so we shall see.
More on the latest Arkansas recruiting commitments here: