Hogs watch rich get richer during early signing period

Arkansas coach Chad Morris / ArkansasRazorbacks.com

The rich get richer and the middle class continues to scramble.

No, I’m not talking about the new tax plan, but rather the early football signing period that ends today (Friday).

Georgia, Alabama, and Auburn all wracked up in this early period, with the other SEC programs taking their place in line. Arkansas is toward the back for obvious reasons.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s really too early to tell how the NCAA adding this three-day period in December to the regular February signing period is going to shake out.

NCAA basketball went to a two signing period model more than a decade ago, and the only real change is that it seemed to de-emphasize the April signing period as most of the best players opted to sign in November.

That may or may not be the case with football in the long run. We’ll just have to see.

Alabama singed 15 players Wednesday, and Arkansas signed just seven in a transition period.

We know from comments new Arkansas football coach Chad Morris that the early signing period was not ideal nor easy for him or his new Razorback regime.

For Alabama and other stable programs, it was business as usual. Alabama and other programs that are on strong footing will shore up this class after the first of the year for February’s signing period, but they also will be able to put more effort in recruiting for future classes.

As I said, the rich will get richer.

Morris had been on the job just two weeks prior to the opening of this early signing period. No doubt he is a quick study, and he had all of Arkansas’ considerable resources to lean on for support, but isn’t it kind of crazy to be asked to recruit a young man to a program, university, and town that you’ve hardly got to know yourself?

Morris and his offensive staff — which he brought from SMU and who knew no more about Arkansas than he did — were in a tough spot. Arkansas stalwarts Barry Lunney Jr., a former Hog quarterback who has been the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for the last five years, and Bobby Allen, who has been with the program in some capacity since 1998, provided a wealth of support and knowledge for Morris, but folks it is hard to sell what you don’t know.

Morris and his staff were selling themselves more so than selling Arkansas during the early period. Their ability to recruit to the specifics of the Razorback program and the University of Arkansas should only improve in the short term and the long.

But it had to be a crazy time for Morris and his staff. No Razorback coach has ever faced the obstacles Morris faced during the last two weeks, and it will have consequences for his program. It might be negligible, but we just don’t know right now.

However, there is a ton of crazy stuff about college athletics, and if you’re going to compete in the deep end of the SEC, it truly is sink or swim. Morris might as well get use to it.

For various reasons — a lot having to do with this early signing period — Morris has not had a chance to hire a defensive staff in time to help with recruiting.

The time crunch of recruiting no doubt affected Morris’ ability to search for a defensive coordinator, but more importantly, the candidates likely had commitments to their current employers tied to this signing period and their contracts that they had to fulfill.

It’s an ugly part of the business, but assistant coaches whom recruits trust will move on to other jobs or even be fired before those recruits ever step on campus. And many of those assistants knew they would be or might be moving on, but didn’t tell that to recruits before they signed.

Honestly, having a defensive coordinator in place probably didn’t hurt Arkansas that much. A trustworthy relationship between a coach and player can’t be established in just two weeks.

The players Arkansas signed in the early period either had a great desire to be Razorbacks, or they had prior relationship with Morris and his staff that led them to Fayetteville. In some instances it was a combination of both.

Arkansas lost the commitment of Sean Michael Flanagan of Charleston with the coaching change. He signed with Oklahoma State. It is a loss. He might be the best prospect in the state. Evidently he was on the fence between OSU and Arkansas anyway. He went with what he knew at OSU rather than the unknown at Arkansas.

As a fan, I wish he had singed with the Razorbacks, but as a rational human being, I can’t blame him. The early signing period hurt Arkansas with him during this transition period. There wasn’t enough time for the new coaches to build a relationship. It might not have mattered with Flanagan if there had just been a single signing period in February this recruiting season, but Arkansas probably would have had a better shot at him.

As for quarterback prospect Gary Bohanon of Earl, he was lost before Morris was hired. Arkansas did not make him a priority because he wasn’t a great fit at quarterback in Bielema’s offense. Morris did well to get Bohanon to take a visit last weekend, but Baylor had made ties with him that were simply too tight for Arkansas to overcome in such a short period of time.

Again, it’s early, but it does seem like Morris kept the Razorbacks’ head above water by garnering seven signatures for a class that only has 15 to 18 total spots, depending on how the numbers work out.

Football programs can carry only 85 scholarship players. Former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema oversigned players last year with several freshmen like guard Ty Clary and linebacker Hayden Henry promised to go on scholarship this January after paying their own way in the fall. Those players count against Arkansas’ overall scholarship total and on the number of scholarships the school can offer in this recruiting cycle.

There likely will be some attrition in the football program with players transferring or some fifth-year seniors opting to move on rather than play another year of college ball. Academics could prompt some others to move on before the spring semester.

It’s likely there will be some more movement with the roster after the spring semester. There always is, and there is usually more during a transition period.

I’d suggest looking over the new Razorbacks signees’ profiles at http://www.arkansasrazorbacks.com/razorfast18/.

They look good on paper, as every recruiting class always does.

However, the question remains how will these players and the others who will sign in February compete on the field over the next five years.

No columnist, reporter, or recruiting expert can accurately predict that, but like you, I still like to read such forecasts for fun.

As for ratings, Arkansas’ class isn’t going to rate well this year. First, it’s going to be too small of a class with only 15 to 18 players.

Second, Morris’ roots just aren’t deep enough in this job to have a great signing class.

Third, no matter who the Razorbacks’ head coach is, the program is always going to have to depend on finding diamonds in the rough. Arkansas has to sign players whom the coaches project they can develop into SEC-level performers over time. The five-star sure bets are soaked up by the elite schools.

Recruiting is the bread line of college athletics, as Nolan Richardson was fond of saying, but Hog fans shouldn’t get too caught up in how this specific class is rated, particularly after this early period.

Just remember that change is what what everyone wanted after Bielema’s fifth year, and that change is coming under Morris.

He is going to run a style of offense that is capable of lighting up the Razorback Stadium scoreboard on a weekly basis like it has never has been before.

As for defense, it’s a huge question mark, and it will remain so even when a defensive coordinator and staff is named. It will be until we can see improvement on the field.

The Razorbacks are going to have to try and outscore opponents in the early stages of Morris’ program, but honestly that’s been the case for the Razorbacks for a decade. And it’s not just an issue in Fayetteville. It’s all over the nation. Only the elite programs play dominating defense anymore.

I’d like to see great defense played again at Arkansas, but after last season, I just want to see winning football any way I can get it.

If it comes with four-and-half hour games with marathon scoring, so be it.