Signing day comes and goes

Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino speaks Wednesday during a press conference to announce the 2012 signees.

RazorVision, UA Athletics

It’s signing day! Wait, I’m sorry about that. As an Arkansas Razorbacks fan I should say, “sigh, it’s signing day.” Yesterday was the first day that high school seniors could sign letters of intent to play college football. For an event that is usually surrounded by a bunch of hype across the nation, for Arkansas fans, it’s a day marked by the signing of “lesser” talent by coach Bobby Petrino and the subsequent poor class rankings by ESPN, Scout and Rivals.

A lot of analysts and fans thought that after the Hogs’ 11-win season and Cotton Bowl win over Kansas State, Arkansas would be sitting pretty as a program and would attract a lot of attention from 4- and 5-star recruits.

That was not the case, as Feb. 1, 2012 was hardly different than the past four years of recruiting for Arkansas.

First, highly touted junior college wide receiver Courtney Gardner de-committed from Arkansas and signed with Oklahoma. Then, the race for the No. 3 player in the county, Dorial Green-Beckham, turned South (figuratively, not literally) when he signed with Missouri. And to top it all off, the Hogs finished the day having signed 24 kids — which landed them in only one top 25 listScout No. 21, Rivals No. 32, and ranked completely outside the Top 25 by ESPN.

To recap, Arkansas had back-to-back 10-win seasons, a BCS appearance in 2010-11, a near BCS appearance in 2011-12 (were it not for a silly rule that only allows two teams per conference to play in a BCS game), a Cotton Bowl victory, and the SEC’s leader in total offense (not to mention finishing in the top 4 of SEC total offense each year since coach Petrino arrived). All those accomplishments led to what? Another poor showing on signing day?

This is not a fluke ranking either. Take a look at previous years’ class ranks:

  • 2008 — ESPN No. 18, Rivals No. 36, Scout No. 24
  • 2009 — ESPN No. 20, Rivals No. 16, Scout No. 20
  • 2010 — ESPN NR, Rivals No. 49, Scout: NR
  • 2011 — ESPN No. 19, Rivals No. 24, Scout No. 17

So what’s going on with Arkansas’ recruiting?

It’s simple. Coach Petrino and his staff have their own way of evaluating talent. They go after the kids that fit their system and then mold them into the players they want them to be. It’s very rare for Petrino to go after the heralded 5-star athletes that regularly sign with Alabama, USC, Texas, LSU and Ohio State (to name a few). Actually, for Arkansas to be in the race for Green-Beckham up until a few days ago is great for the program’s visibility.

But it’s not all doom and gloom that Arkansas doesn’t get the cream of the crop every year.

Of that first recruiting class for Petrino, look at the players that wound up being big difference makers over the past few years — players like Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Chris Gragg, Elton Ford, Dennis Johnson, Jerico Nelson, Tramain Thomas, Tyler Wilson and Tenarius Wright. Of those players listed, guess how many of them were 5-stars? None. How many were 4-stars? Three if you ask Scout, four if you ask Rivals.

If you ask me, I say it ended up not mattering how the class was ranked on signing day. After four years and never having a class ranked higher than 16, coach Petrino and his staff have led Arkansas to better win-loss records every year and now the Hogs are close to winning the SEC. More interesting is the recently released re-ranking of the 2008 class by ESPN where the Hogs jumped from No. 18 all the way to No. 6 (ESPN Insider subscription required).

I’m in. I believe in the system Petrino has set up here. If 4- and 5-star players don’t want to play at Arkansas, that’s fine. I want to cheer for kids that do want to play here. I want to cheer for the kids want to come in and work their tails off and develop into better players.

And for all of those recruits that get labeled a 3-star or lower, there’s not many better places to go than a Bobby Petrino-coached team. If you take a look at this article compiled by the guys over at Hog Database, you’ll see that Petrino has a rich history of producing more NFL talent from lesser recruits than teams like Alabama and Florida.

I’m like everyone else, I want to hear the media say positive things about the Hogs. I want to see the Razorbacks listed in the top 10 of every list out there. I want to see what Petrino could do with a class loaded with 4- and 5-star recruits.

But that may be a more difficult pill to swallow — Arkansas may never be a school where the elite athletes flock to. If Petrino can keep guiding Arkansas to great seasons, then those athletes will come. In the meantime, the Petrino system is in place and it’s getting great results.

The 2012 signing day came and went and once again, the national media didn’t have many things to say about Arkansas. So what? Don’t let it get you down. Take a look at the class Arkansas signed and then get excited about Spring practice.

Six months from now, no one will remember what happened on signing day.