Razorbacks, Bielema Limp Through Bizarre National Signing Day
National signing day is a circus. A full-blown, Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey festival, filled with equal parts folly and foreshadowing.
A sea of grown adults watch as approximately 400 teenagers taunt them with hats and gloves, collectively controlling the landscape of college football.
It's insanity, but it is completely necessary insanity; that much has become evident. Once cast aside like the World Series of Poker, the recruiting scene is no longer a Star Trek convention full of outliers.
National Signing Day is the NFL Draft of college football—only the players pick the teams in what amounts to an altogether fascinating reversal of roles. A player's mother cannot object to his being drafted by the Buffalo Bills.
Shahid Khan cannot bag man his way to the next Cam Newton. There is an order and a predictability to the professional draft. For the amateur version? Mass chaos and fax machines. Nothing is impossible.
The science is hardly exact, but the days of grainy VHS tapes of an unknown quarterback from Neosho, Mo., are long, long gone. With each passing year, the amount of available information increases, the likelihood of an omission decreases, and the stars mean more and more.
Bret Bielema once voiced his displeasure with the "illegal" Southeastern Conference recruiting practices of Urban Meyer. An ironic complaint considering Bielema, hired as the Arkansas head coach just eight weeks prior to signing day, was forced to adapt quickly to the dog-eat-dog environment that engulfs the southern region of the country.
All things considered, however, he did so in admirable fashion, piecing together a semi-respectable class despite inheriting absolutely nothing from the John L. Smith regime. Had Alex Collins's mother not gone MIA with his letter of intent, the day could have easily been painted as downright successful. Without Collins in the fold, the bright side becomes a touch dim, but not impossible to identify.
Perhaps, the bleary glimmer of promise simply lies within the fact that Landon Collins's aunt was the only thing that stood in the way of an impressive last minute south Florida coup, thanks, in large part, to Randy Shannon and Charlie Partridge; an achievement that would seem to bode well for the Class of 2014.
In any event, here's a look at the good, bad and bizarre from a day filled with plenty of each.
Considering the mess that he inherited, Bielema managed to turn a bushel full of lemons into some fair lemonade what with the acquisition of several potential difference makers from within the state and a hefty share of reinforcements up front.
With or without Collins, the highest rated player in the class according to Rivals is Pulaski Academy (Little Rock, Ark.) product Hunter Henry (6-6, 235, No. 2 TE).
Henry caught 107 balls during his senior season and fills a need for the Razorbacks on the heels of Chris Gragg's departure. Hog fans have been spoiled at the tight end position by the likes of D.J. Williams and Gragg of late, and Henry figures to continue that trend.
Reeve Koehler (6-3, 321, No. 8 OG) and Denver Kirkland (6-5, 330, No. 13 OT) were enormous wins for the Razorbacks—pun intended. It's no secret that Bielema prefers powerful, imposing offensive linemen, and he landed what appears to be a pair of gems with these two.
Greenwood, Ark. wide receiver Drew Morgan (6-0, 180, NR) figures to eventually be the best of the ball retrieving bunch in this class. I've heard from more than one individual that Morgan was the best the Natural State had to offer last fall—and, yes, these folks were each aware of some guy named Tenpenny at the time.
Morgan's only other FBS offers came from Gus Malzahn, who liked him enough to offer at both Arkansas State and Auburn.
I don't know if you heard, but there was a motorcycle accident in Madison County, Ark., that had a bit of an impact on the Arkansas football program.
Bobby Petrino was still in a neck brace when two of the Razorbacks' top prospects decommited, triggering the eventual decimation of a once promising class. Manvel, Texas wide receiver Austin Bennett (6-0, 170, No. 71 WR) was the first defector, followed by running back Jamel James (5-11, 215, NR).
Of course, losing James and, to a degree, Bennett, was compensated for by Bielema & Co. over the course of the past month. The loss of Tahlequah-Sequoyah, Okla. quarterback Brayden Scott, on the other hand, may sting—the extent of which will depend on the development of Austin Allen (6-2, 217, No. 24 QB-PP) and/or Mitchell.
Scott, long considered Bobby Petrino's preferred quarterback prospect in the Class of 2013, watched as his offer seemingly disintegrated right along with the embattled coach's reputation. When the Razorbacks returned to the table, it was with a puzzling inquiry as to whether the top-rated passer in Oklahoma would be willing to play in the secondary.
Full disclosure: I covered Scott for two years in high school. I consider he and his father close acquaintances of mine. I'm biased. But I also have a satisfactorily functioning set of eye balls. He parlays 11.4 100-meter/4.5 40-yard speed with excellent feet and a live arm. You know what, here – see for yourself.
Scott's omission from the Hogs most recent collection of prospects won't register with the average fan, and is no fault of Bielema's staff, but the most highly anticipated Memphis recruit in recent history may well haunt Razorback Nation repeatedly over the course of the next few seasons.
Alex Collins's mother showed up at his high school on the morning that he was about to sign a letter of intent, thus accepting an athletic scholarship to play football for the University of Arkansas with the express intent of preventing that very action.
So the story goes, she swiped the fax and bolted, an action induced by the thought of her son playing anywhere other than the University of Miami.
As of 7:41 p.m. EST Wednesday evening, Collins told NBC 6 South Florida that his commitment to the Razorbacks remains firm.
"I'm staying with Arkansas, I'm just waiting," he said.
Waiting on what, exactly? Waiting on his mother to hand over the LOI? Does she have any intention of doing so? Can't Bielema just send another? What happens if/when Collins signs with the Hogs? Is he grounded?
Is this real life?
Provided the 4-star running back eventually inks with Arkansas—and makes it out of Broward County without being kidnapped—he will be the fourth player acquired from the Sunshine State; a clearly concerted focus for Bielema since the addition of Shannon.
Few out of state schools attempt to compete with the 'Canes for prospects in south Florida. A willingness to do so is admirable; relative success within the endeavor, encouraging.
Junior college guys are largely cast aside on National Signing Day—relegated to the middle of the board with haphazard evaluations and conservative ratings. Arkansas' 2013 class ranking has suffered as a result.
The reality is, with linebackers Martrell Spaight and Myke Tavarres, as well as cornerback Carroll Washington, the Razorbacks gained three of their most talented additions. Each will have an opportunity to play immediately.
Arkansas' assimilation currently checks in at No. 31 per Rivals and ESPN without Collins, whom 247Sports.com considers the top running back in the country.
With Collins in the fold, alongside an underrated JUCO coup, Henry, Koehler and so forth, the class moves from punchline to presentable.
That Bielema and his staff were able to compile this group in such a brief amount of time is a promising sign for a fan base in desperate need of a little invigoration.