The Razorback football team is staring down the barrel of a 2-10 season, BUT somehow this coaching staff is pulling in the best recruiting class in school history. The coaching staff knows the deficiencies this roster has. There are no playmakers at receiver, a quarterback who is not as accurate or strong willed enough to hold up in the RPO game, a lack of depth and speed at defensive line, linebacker and in the secondary. There are problems all over the field and one big time recruiting class is hoping to be the ones that are able to save the Razorback football program.
The Razorback football program did not get this bad overnight. It started between the 2014 recruiting class offseason through the 2016 season and could not recover. Let’s take a look at the last four recruiting classes and examine why Arkansas is where they are at as a program.
The 2014 class saw 4 star JUCO offensive linemen, Jermaine Eluemunor, of Lackawanna College decommitted and also signed with Texas A&M in the 2014 class. Solomon Thomas was also a big time 5 star prospect Arkansas had a chance on but did not land. Thomas, 6’3 258 lbs, committed to Stanford in the 2014 Under Armour All-America game. Offensive lineman, Jovan Pruitt, was a high 3 star out of Dallas Bishop Dunne. Pruitt never made it to Fayetteville. Pruitt never found his place in college football as he never made it past the JUCO ranks. Four star wide receiver, Jojo Robinson, was heavily recruited but never enjoyed the success as he expected. He would later be kicked off the Razorback squad and transfer to Texas Tech.
In 2015, Bret Bielema and his coaching staff seemed to be on a handful of top talent like North Little Rock 4 star wide receiver, K.J. Hill, who is tearing it up in his redshirt junior season at Ohio State. Four star offensive lineman, Jalen Merrick was a highly sought after recruit during this class but never panned out. He decided to retire from football this season due to recurring injuries. Four star tight end, Gragg, was destined to be a star like his brother Chris at Arkansas. The younger Gragg unfortunately never saw the field as much and decided to transfer during the 2017 offseason and is now at Pittsburgh. Perhaps, Arkansas could have quite the center but Zach Rogers decided to retire from football as well during the offseason due to back problems. Rogers is now a police officer in Northwest Arkansas.
The 2016 class, 4 star wide receiver, Tyrie Cleveland, who seemed to favor Arkansas until National Signing Day when he bolted to Florida. Four star Offensive lineman, Kellen Diesch, decommitted from Arkansas early on during the 2016 class but signed with Texas A&M. Katy, TX running back, Kyle Porter, looked at Arkansas very heavily but Bielema whiffed on this mega back who eventually chose his home state Longhorns. During an unstable 2015 campaign, LSU’s class seemed to be unraveling. With five star corner back, Kristian Fulton, looking hard at Arkansas, no one in the state of Louisiana thought they would land the coveted Fulton. Again in the 2016 recruiting cycle, Bielema could not close the deal. On the Louisiana-Arkansas border is the home to Devin White, a 4 star linebacker/running back for the North Webster Knights. LSU wanted White as a linebacker but White wanted to be a running back, so with Bielema offering him to be just that, he still chose LSU in the end. On National Signing Day, 4 star all purpose back, D’Vaughn Pennamon, was rumored to be flipping his commitment to Arkansas from Ole Miss early that morning but the rumor was just that as he never flipped to Arkansas as reported. The misses in the 2016 season was the beginning of the end for Bielema at Arkansas as fans started to realize he never could finish what he started. One of the bigger problems as stated in the previous paragraph is the loss of offensive lineman. With Jake Heinrich coming in the 2016 class, Jake was another high school all-American and seemed to be destined as the next great offensive lineman. Unfortunately, Heinrich was never able to see the field due to injury, too and retired this past offseason as well.
The 2017 class was the weak one though, with only four 4 star players in the whole class. That was the lowest number in the Bielema tenure. In this class, Hayden Henry, Ty Clary and Gabe Richardson were considered blue-shirt, which are considered glorified walk-ons but were put on scholarship later. The Razorback roster is full of guys who were lightly recruited by other SEC schools.
In recruiting, throughout games, during practice and throughout coaching there was one theme that stayed the same: Arkansas could not finish in any department during the Bielema tenure. Losing leads was a trend that seemed to be put away in 2014 with victories over LSU and Ole Miss. Late lost leads continued the next week in a loss to Missouri on the road. In 2015, Toledo, Alabama, Texas A&M and Mississippi State were all games in which leads were lost in the second half. 2016 had The huge blowout loss to Auburn 56-3 while ranked 15th and sitting pretty at 5-2. Whatever happened that night at Auburn was the beginning of the end in all facets of the football program. The most disheartening part of Bielema’s time at Arkansas is that he was considered as arguably the best offensive line coach in America. With the shape the offensive line has been in since 2016, it is still easy to see that Arkansas is feeling the repercussions under new head coach, Chad Morris who is working on the culture of giving up when the times get hard, that a staff can get the players to Arkansas and will preach discipline, hard work, and the will to get better every week to win.
Will Arkansas land Kelly Bryant, gain his leadership, experience and will to win for the 2019 season? Can the 2019 recruiting class be the one that begins to quickly change the culture at Arkansas? It seems that way, even at 2-7, the Arkansas commits seem to still be 100 percent on being at Arkansas next season. That in itself is remarkable, showing how well Morris and his staff can recruit despite the immediate success of the 2017 season. Arkansas is in dire shape and needs playmakers. The Hogs also need these coveted recruits and program changers to stay healthy and not give up football. Help is on the way fans. Do not give up. Keep the faith and continue the support.