by Evin Demirel
In the wake of the 2018 Razorbacks’ North Texas fiasco, there was concern a losing season could significantly hurt Chad Morris’ recruiting prowess. Insiders like Richard Davenport, the Democrat-Gazette’s recruiting columnist, said losses would allow other opposing coaches to swoop in and poach Arkansas recruits:
As feared, the Hogs have continued to lose — racking up only two wins so far.
Amazingly, though, the losses haven’t hurt the Hogs’ recruiting. In fact, Arkansas is on pace to sign its best class of the SEC era. A recent commitment from Devin Bush, a blue-chip cornerback from New Orleans, has catapulted the Hogs into the No. 10 spot nationally:
Class of 2019 College Football Recruiting Rankings (via Rivals)
Below are some of the four-star recruits who have committed to the Hogs:
New Orleans, LA
In this 2017 video, Devin Bush doesn’t even mention Arkansas as a possible destination. He lists Florida, Tennessee, LSU and Georgia as his favorites. As late as March 2018, Arkansas still wasn’t listed in his Top 5.
Little Rock, AR
Oklahoma City, OK
Here is is talking about his 6’10” father, a minister, Christian rapper and singer:
How did this Razorback recruiting surge happen?
We know Morris and his assistants are dynamos, yes, but there are four other reasons helping him pitch Arkansas — especially to the out-of-state recruits who didn’t grow up Razorback fans:
1. Playing in SEC West
The best want to compete against the best. Arkansas plays in the toughest, deepest division in the history of college football. If you can excel here, you can excel anywhere in the nation — and there’s a good chance of NFL success, too.
Playing in such a deep division is a one plus in Arkansas’ favor when it comes to recruiting Kelly Bryant over the likes of North Carolina, Miami and Missouri. Bryant, the superstar transfer quarterback, would not count in Arkansas’ recruiting rankings if he commits to the Hogs.
2. The Tide is Turning
The Hogs have been competitive in most the SEC games this year since Auburn. Their offense played especially well against Alabama, while Arkansas played Ole Miss, Texas A&M and LSU down to the wire. Even with talent deficiencies and personnel mostly mismatched to Chad Morris’ schemes, its’ easy to imagine the team at .500 if a few plays had gone another way.
Devin Bush knows the program is knocking at the door. After his visit to Fayetteville for the LSU game, he said:
“I saw a team that fought hard in the fourth quarter versus a dominant team. They never showed a lack of effort even when they were down. It was a team that fought hard and I feel like they have a bright future, with more effort at practice, the right personnel in the game, they’ll be a good team. Definitely, I can see myself making a difference in the culture of the team with a winning attitude.”
3. Major Playing Time Right Away
Most elite recruits who choose LSU, Alabama and Auburn have to spend at least a season or two on the bench before getting major game action. Not so at Arkansas. The Hogs desperately need upgrades in talent, speed, athleticism and general playmaking ability at the wide receiver and defensive back positions. Their tight end corps has also underwhelmed (with the exception of C.J. O’Grady).
This class not only addresses those deficiencies, it has a chance to turn a weakness into a strength.
4. Band of Brothers Mentality
Sometimes, a group of guys simply click.
In the past, this has hurt Arkansas. For instance, in basketball, Malik Monk befriended De’Aaron Fox on the recruiting trail and Fox ended up helping persuade Monk to go to Kentucky over Arkansas.
But this time it appears the dynamic is working in Arkansas’ favor. As Dudley Dawson, Razorback recruiting insider, writes: “I have been intrigued about how the recruiting class, which has a group chat in which they encourage each other and point to the future, is seemingly already a band of brothers, something that usually comes about once they arrive on campus.”
What other major talent could the current commits bring to Fayetteville?
For Arkansas to maintain a Top 10 ranking, the committed recruits will need to do heavy lifting alongside the coaches. Some of the very best players in the nation haven’t yet committed. If they commit to the likes of Penn State, Tennessee, Florida State and Auburn (currently below Arkansas in the Rivals rankings), Arkansas would slide.
It’s interesting to note that yet another Bobby Petrino flaming ejection from the cockpit of a football program could play to Arkansas’ advantage. A three-star JUCO offensive lineman from Maryland, Chibueze Nwanna, was likely headed to Louisville. That may change, writes Rivals’ Woody Wommack:
During the spring, Louisville looked like the favorite to land his commitment, but the more uncertain things have gotten, the more the door has opened for other programs. Arkansas is loading up on offensive linemen in this year’s class and is expected to host Nwanna for an official visit [on Dec. 1]. If Arkansas can land a player at a position of need thanks to the Louisville coaching situation, it will be an added bonus for the Razorbacks.