It almost seems like there is a wall between the Arkansas football program and a top-20 recruiting class. It’s a wall that Hogs fans have beaten their heads against for years, but now maybe have almost accepted that no matter how many banner recruits the Razorbacks sign, the team won’t crack that illustrious top 20.
Even after a productive recruiting class in Sam Pittman’s third season, Arkansas was ranked No. 22 in the 247Sports Composite and No. 21 by Rivals.
“To be in the top 25 and all that, with the coaches and what’s going on right now, I’m real pleased with where we are,” Pittman told the media in December after the early period signing day. “And I’m really ready to attack this portal. I’m ready to attack it. We know exactly what we need to change our football team.”
On that day in late December, Pittman mentioned both of the top recruiting services by name, so he is cognizant of their importance – probably to recruits – but the nod these services make to some traditional perennial powers, and the snub shown to others such as Arkansas, is one of my main problems with these rankings.
The subjectivity of it all doesn’t help a program like the Hogs, who fight for respect in a league that sees them land in the middle or low end of the SEC pack when it comes to tradition. That helps some programs like Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn, which just got a commitment from Arkansas’ top recruit in the class of 2024 in Walker White, get more cachet amongst recruiting experts and less when it comes to Arkansas.
Exhibit A: Texas Football
And then there’s Texas, who will soon leave the Big 12 for greener (as in money) pastures of the SEC. In the past 10 years, the Longhorns have been ranked in the top 10 by 247Sports six times and the top five three times, yet the most games they have won during that span is 10 (once) and they’ve endured four losing seasons plus one 7-6 campaign.
It is one example in a list of several programs who get the benefit of the doubt from recruiting analysts based on reputation. See also Penn State and Notre Dame, both of whom are in the top 15 in this year’s 247Sports rankings. Many of those top-15 programs know they will stay there even if their record doesn’t always reflect the ranking. That doesn’t help the Hogs’ cause in breaking into the club.
Sam Pittman Being Strategic
I get it that Arkansas has had poor showings over the past 10 seasons, including two ghastly years under Chad Morris, but Sam Pittman is bringing in better talent than his two predecessors, and while recruiting experts may not vault the Hogs into rarified air, they are noticing. After all, they could be outside the top 25.
Pittman, despite his lack of head-coaching experience, has been smart at Arkansas. Hiring Barry Odom and Kendal Briles were brilliant moves. Replacing Briles, who bolted to TCU, with Dan Enos, a former Hogs OC, was also a no-brainer.
And Pittman was strategic when hiring co-defensive coordinator Marcus Woodson and defensive backs coach Deron Wilson. Both are proven recruiters in key areas. Woodson is very familiar with Florida, a recruiting hot bed.
“The Southeast is primarily the footprint of where I’ve experienced recruiting,” Woodson told media members this week. “Florida, obviously coming from Florida State, I had an area there. Mississippi is my home state. So, I feel like any kid that’s an SEC-caliber player that can help us get better, we’ll have a chance to go into that state and compete.”
Wilson, who served as the defensive coordinator at McNeese State in Louisiana and is from New Orleans, also could help the Hogs dip into that fertile area.
“I’ve recruited Dallas and some of the Texas area as well,” Woodson said. “And obviously having Coach Wilson from Louisiana, that’ll be able to help us out in that area as well.”
Wilson thinks touting the Razorbacks as the state’s most popular team is a good sales pitch in recruiting and is confident Pittman’s revamped staff with some young coaches with experience recruiting the South will improve the recruiting.
“For us, it’s about the people,” Woodson said. “I feel like it’s the best staff in the country. With us, you get what you see. When it comes to being developed as a person, when it comes to being developed as a student-athlete, I feel like we’ve got the best staff in the country.”
Auburn Football Strikes Again
Deron Wilson talked about the importance of securing in-state recruits. Pittman said Arkansas got all of the in-state prospects they wanted in the 2023 class, including highly touted tight end Shamar Easter of Ashdown, who signed this week.
However, for the first time since 2020, Arkansas won’t have the No. 1 in-state recruit in 2024 (according to 247Sports). Little Rock Christian’s Walker White committed to to Hugh Freeze’s Auburn football program on Friday afternoon after announcing Thursday he was choosing between Auburn, Baylor and Clemson.
Auburn, even in a “down” year in recruiting because of the struggles on the field and Bryan Harsin firing, still enjoyed ranking five spots higher than the Hogs in the final Class of 2023 rankings on 247Sports.
It’s a bit of blow not to land the talented four-star, athletic White and does drum up some memories of past highly rated in-state talents like Michael Dyer and Kiehl Frazier who chose Auburn over the Razorbacks. Still, it’s impossible to sign every major recruit even if it is a point of emphasis like it obviously is. Looking ahead, the Hogs will do well if they can land Bryant edge TJ Lindsey, Benton’s Braylen Russell (who was previously committed to UA) and others.
The 2024 in-state class is much deeper than this year’s and Arkansas is in the running for several of those players. Signing those prospects will boost the Razorbacks’ ranking, potentially enough to land a top 20 spot.
Pittman is trying to elevate Arkansas’ prestige. The program took a bit of a step back this year, but most agree he is on the right path. Breaking into the top 20 in recruiting consistently won’t necessarily translate into wins, but it will be another victory for Pittman he is capable of achieving with this new staff as he works to push Arkansas to the upper echelon of the SEC.
Plus, in this volatile, modern era of college football, the results of relationships built with recruits doesn’t necessarily bear fruit coming directly out of high school. Increasingly, those good impressions and relationships pay off down the line when said blue-chip recruit decides to enter the transfer portal after some future season.
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