For many teams across the country, the 2013 season is officially over with a bowl game out of the question. The major focus for these programs now shifts for the next two months to recruiting before National Signing Day on February 2.
The Arkansas Razorbacks, to the chagrin of fans, are one of those teams.
Head coach Bret Bielema and his staff have a lot of work ahead of them to get the program to where Bielema and athletic director Jeff Long envisioned when Long hired him last December. A lot of the building starts on the recruiting trail.
Arkansas currently has 17 commitments for the 2014 class. Bielema has reeled in some very talented prospects who should come in and compete in the spring for spots in the starting lineup. However, there are still a number of prospects at the top of the Razorbacks' wish list who would make this a very strong haul for the program.
Here's a breakdown of the top three remaining prospects on the board for the Hogs on both sides of the ball and where they stand heading into the home stretch, as well as a few other guys behind the top three.
|Razorbacks' Top Three Offensive Prospects|
|Rankings courtesy of 247 Sports|
The Razorbacks are set for the immediate future at running back with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams in the backfield. They also perhaps got their quarterback of the future in 4-star Rafe Peavey, who will enroll early on January 10.
The biggest needs are at the wide receiver and offensive line positions, with the wideouts being the most immediate unit that has to improve.
Arkansas' No. 1 receiver for 2014 appears to be Keon Hatcher, who had a very strong finish to the season. However, besides him and tight end Hunter Henry, the Hogs will have pretty much no experience. With three of the team's top five receiving yards leaders gone—including fullback Kiero Small, who was fifth on the team in receiving yards and was a good dump down option out of the backfield—Bielema needs to bring in some wideouts.
The Hogs have three commits for the position in 3-stars Corey McBride, Jared Cornelius and Torrance Mosley, who is projected as a wideout though he's listed as an athlete. Arkansas is looking to add one or two more, and 4-star Adonis Jennings is high on its board.
Jennings decommitted from Rutgers in November and NJ.com reported that he set a visit date for the Hill on Jan. 24. He has a good frame and speed, clocking a 4.48 40-yard dash time. He also took an official visit to Iowa on Nov. 1 and has one at Pittsburgh on Jan. 17, with the Panthers presumed to be the leader for his services as of now.
Bielema is going to have to do a lot of work, but the Hogs are in the race for him. Jennings would be a huge get for Arkansas.
Also keep your eye on 6'3", 180-pound receiver Ryeshene Bronson, who is rated a 3-star prospect with some ranking him as high as a 4-star. He's committed to South Florida, but HawgSports.com reported on their Big Red Board that he recently reached out to linebackers coach Randy Shannon and is now setting up a visit.
Getting Jennings and him would no doubt be big-time for the receiving corps.
The offensive line is also a need, but not in the same way as the wideout unit. Arkansas has solid linemen and a very talented young core led by freshmen Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland, both of whom started the majority of the season. Reeve Koehler, who redshirted this year with an injury, also has big-time potential.
Though the Hogs have talent, the O-line always can use more depth, and, with Arkansas losing two starters, it's high on the board this recruiting cycle.
Jovan Pruitt, a mammoth 3-star tackle from Texas, is the only line commit so far. Bielema and O-line coach Sam Pittman are going to be working hard to snag a few more, which isn't a surprise for two guys who love playing smashmouth football.
Arkansas is making a big push for 3-star tackle Brian Wallace. His official visit to Fayetteville is this weekend on Dec. 6, followed by his official visit to Alabama next weekend. He's a strong, prototypical lineman who you'd expect to see on a Bielema-coached team.
247Sports.com has Alabama and Iowa as the teams to beat, but Wallace's teammate, 3-star defensive tackle Armon Watts, is committed to the Hogs and is accompanying him on his visit.
The Razorbacks could be dark horses for 4-star tackle Jaden Gault. His pledge is to Wisconsin right now, but the Hogs got him on campus for an official Nov. 2, and according to Richard Davenport of the Arkansas Democrat Gazzette he liked what he saw. Pittman should be going at Gault hard leading up to NSD to try and flip him.
|Razorbacks' Top Three Targets Defensive Targets|
|Rankings courtesy of 247 Sports|
The defense is in much worse shape and needs help in every area.
The most glaring weakness is the linebackers. The unit was very inexperienced coming into 2013 and was overmatched against SEC teams. The biggest problem was tackling and pass coverage, with poor tackling plaguing them more than anything.
Brooks Ellis and Otha Peters are solid, but the Razorbacks have made this a point of emphasis in recruiting. Khalia Hackett and Dwayne Eugene, both 3-stars, are on board, and a few more are being targeted, most notably 3-star Sharieff Rhaheed.
Rhaheed made an official visit on Aug. 30 and has made several other unofficials. He's a guy who can cover sideline to sideline and seems to always be where the ball is. Stealing him out of Florida would really help to solidify the recruiting haul for this unit.
The Razorbacks are also making a run at Miami commit Mike Smith, a 4-star linebacker who is planning on taking official visits, with Arkansas being one of them. Smith is another Fla. prospect, and with Shannon, who has deep roots in the state, the Hogs are going to continue to recruit the Sunshine State a lot.
The secondary is also an area of concern after it finished the year tied for 74th nationally in passing yards allowed per game at 235.0.
Bielema has three commits in the secondary, led by 3-star Henre' Tolliver, who also has a 4-star composite rating. He also has pledges from 3-star cornerback Chris Murphy and 3-star safety Santos Ramirez.
Highest on the wish list should be safety Steven Parker. He has great size and is a pure playmaker at the position. He also has great speed for a safety with a 4.50 time in the 40. It's going to be very tough to lure him away from his home state of Oklahoma, but his hometown of Jenks is just a short drive down highway 412 to Fayetteville.
As far as cornerbacks are concerned, the Hogs have just a few more prospects on the board, with the top one being 3-star Cornelius Floyd, yet another Floridian. Arkansas is also on the tail of 3-stars Lamont Simmons and Dominick Sanders, who is projected as a cornerback.
Last is the defensive line, which also had its fair share of struggles this season. Chris Smith and Byran Jones are gone, but the good news is that a large percentage of the rotation were underclassmen. Still, like the offensive line, it never hurts to add more depth.
The biggest pickup was 4-star tackle Bijhon Jackson, who has a never-ending motor. The loss of 4-star in-state tackle Josh Frazier to Alabama hurt, but getting 4-star Craig Evans to flip from Wisconsin would help ease the pain.
Evans originally was turned on to Wisconsin by Bielema and his staff, which built a relationship with him from early on in his high school career, he told Davenport. He visited Arkansas on Sept. 14, and though he has been committed to the Badgers for some time now, the door is far from closed for the Hogs.
You can also follow 4-star defensive end Solomon Thomas. He's a long shot for the Razorbacks, but he has ties to the Natural State as his dad does business around the Fayetteville area.
These next two months are vital for Bielema in his vision for rebuilding the Arkansas program. There are many areas that need upgrades, and a big way to fix that is on the recruiting trail.
Landing even half of the guys listed would be a huge plus for the Razorbacks. That's not going to be easy, but Arkansas has the support and facilities to match up with the best in the country. If Bielema can land a good percentage of these prospects, it's going to help the team with depth, talent and competitiveness with veterans doing everything they can to keep their starting spots.
Many of the prospects on the board could immediately step in and earn significant playing time or even a starting gig. Now it's just up to Bielema and company to go out and close the deals.