The big question concerning Arkansas’ hire of former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was about recruiting. Can he recruit enough talent for the Razorbacks to compete in what is becoming an increasingly brutal western division in the Southeastern Conference.
Recruiting is going just fine at Arkansas for Bret Bielema.
The answer to date? So far, so good with a chance to get better.
The plan for recruiting to win in the SEC West at Arkansas is similar to the plan for recruiting to win the Big Ten at Wisconsin- land the in-state talent when it is there and then go find difference-makers from large talent bases where there are connections and interest. As the coach of the Badgers, Bielema and company had success in Ohio and in south Florida, even New Jersey to a certain extent. With the Razorbacks, it’s going to be more of a Texas and south Florida type of deal.
Talent-rich south Florida is the key. It’s easier to sell prospects from that region on the SEC and Fayetteville than it is on the Big Ten and Madison. Taking nothing away from what they accomplished at Wisconsin, there should be more players heading from Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties to Arkansas than there were to Wisconsin.
Early Sunday, the Razorbacks received a commitment from safety De’Andre Coley. Coley plays for Miami Northwestern, which annually produces double-digit FBS-level prospects every year. Arkansas also landed a pledge from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Suncoast defensive tackle Ke’Tyrus Marks on Sunday. The 6-foot-2, 285-pounder said that he would immediately start recruiting for the Hogs and mentioned Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington offensive lineman Denver Kirkland, who also visited this weekend, as a potential target.
On top of that, Arkansas made serious in-roads with the nation’s top running back prospect, Alex Collins of South Plantation, and is now a threat to swipe him from Miami, which is the other perceived frontrunner. Bielema built an outstanding relationship with Collins while he was at Wisconsin and the Badgers were in the running before he departed for Fayetteville. The Canes will be a tough out and Collins was committed to Miami for much of the process, so it’s not a given he ends up at Arkansas, but there is no question that the Razorbacks are in the thick of things.
Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who came from Wisconsin with Bielema, is a Fort Lauderdale native and has long been considered one of the top south Florida recruiters. It would not be a surprise to see him win even more recruiting battles in his native area moving forward. Add in the fact that former Miami head coach Randy Shannon is also on staff and that's quite a formidable duo.
From the days of the Southwest Conference, Arkansas has recruited the state of Texas reasonably well and will continue to do so under the new staff. Safety D.J. Dean from Newton High also pledged to the Razorbacks on Sunday, giving them three for the day.
In-state, the big question is can Arkansas flip four-star running back Altee Tenpenny of North Little Rock from a longstanding commitment to Alabama? Tenpenny has been adamant in interviews that his commitment to the Tide is strong, but in his comments after his official visit to Fayetteville last weekend, he said “we’ll see what happens”- interesting to say the least and a departure from his typical hard-line public stance on his Alabama commitment.
It’s also smart to recruit the junior college ranks at Arkansas and the Razorbacks signed four outstanding prospects mid-term, including cornerback Carroll Washington and safety Tiquention Coleman, both of whom can make an instant impact on the secondary. In many ways, this class already is a success.
Chances are better than Tenpenny sticks with Bama and Collins goes to Miami than they are for Arkansas to land both backs, but it’s not out of the question. These are the types of battles that Bielema and staff not only can get in, but win. The first recruiting class for a new head coach is typically a wash anyway and any staff’s ability on the recruiting trail should start to be judged after the first full cycle, which means 2014. How many members of Urban Meyer’s 2005 class at Florida contributed greatly to the Gators’ two national titles during his tenure in Gainesville? The answer is not many. The 2006 class? Percy Harvin, Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes and more.
The bottom line is anything (and they will get more) that the Razorbacks get between now and Feb.7, the day after national signing day, is a bonus. If it’s a swimming-pool building bonus or a membership to the Jelly-of-the-Month Club (Christmas Vacation reference) is the question.
JC Shurburtt is the National Recruiting Director for 247Sports. Follow him on Twitter @jcshurburtt