Photographs by Ben Goff
Arkansas receiver Deon Stewart is tackled by TCU defensive back Ranthony Texada during a game Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
The big question in the Arkansas world of perspiring arts this week is what's wrong with the Hogs.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is definitely struggling, but what if the answer is there is not really anything new going on?
In the past five recruiting classes, the Arkansas Razorbacks have ranked 27th in the nation on average. That's not bad for a small state, but in the SEC -- where it is common to have five to seven programs ranked in the top 10 -- the Hogs ranked about 11th on average.
For the past 15 years, that's about average on recruiting. The Razorbacks did do a little better before Texas A&M started playing in the SEC in 2012, but that's relative.
In the past 15 years, the Razorbacks are 54-66 in SEC play -- the consistently soft nonconference schedule was not considered -- and they have signed a total of three 5-star players, all from Arkansas. The last one was in 2009.
Alabama signs that many in a bad year.
The best season the Razorbacks have had since 2002 is also the one most fans don't really care to remember, or at least not dwell on.
That was 2006, when 5-star freshman recruit Mitch Mustain led the Razorbacks to eight consecutive victories only to be benched during a season that cracked and almost fractured one of the greatest fan bases in college football. The Hogs did reach the SEC Championship Game, but they finished on a three-game losing streak with a 10-4 overall record and 7-1 in SEC regular-season play.
That team also featured three running backs who were the best trio of backs in Arkansas history: Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. McFadden and Hillis were from Arkansas.
The Razorbacks best seasons are when the state produces its best players, then the team is supplemented by good players out of Texas, Louisiana and other surrounding states.
Landing players in Texas has gotten tougher since A&M joined the SEC, and Arkansas can no longer lure a kid just by offering him the opportunity to play in the best football conference in the country. Athletic Director Jeff Long has done a good job of scheduling to keep a presence in the Lone Star State.
But Oklahoma and Oklahoma State continue to do well in north Texas, and they aren't SEC teams.
The Sooners are fresh off the biggest victory of the early season, going into Ohio State and beating the Buckeyes 31-16. Even though Oklahoma recruits nationally, it has 14 players from Texas on its two-deep, seven of which are starters.
Football is a game of numbers. You put up bigger numbers on the scoreboard and you are always going to win.
Recruiting isn't an exact science, and not all 5-stars are on the bullet train to All-SEC and definitely not the NFL. But in the SEC, every guy making millions to teach football coaches his players up.
If you are coaching 3-star players to perform like 4-stars, that's great. But Nick Saban is coaching his 5-star recruits up, too.
By the recruiting numbers, Arkansas is close to a top 25 program. But in the SEC, the Hogs are playing for third or fourth in the SEC West.
Which should make them good enough to beat TCU, a private school in Fort Worth. Where Arkansas ranked 27th nationally in recruiting the past five years, the Horned Frogs have averaged No. 35 -- including a worst of No. 50 and a best of No. 21.
Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema knows the problem -- it's been there for years -- he's just got to figure out how to change the pattern and sign more good players or hope the fans are patient enough to wait on the next great, homegrown crop. Or both.
Sports on 09/13/2017
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