Andy Hodges

How Bielema may have really hit a homer

During Bobby Bowden’s record string of successful seasons at Florida State, he delivered a rather straightforward statement at the start of every signing period:

“Getting a highly-rated recruiting class doesn’t guarantee you a championship … but I’ll guarantee you that you won’t win one without it.”

Over the last 30 years that has proven very, very true. Not one national championship team in the last 35 years has done it without at least one or two Top 5 recruiting classes.

No, rankings aren’t a guarantee of success. That’s why Les Miles has some folks down in Baton Rouge wanting him to leave town.

Every coach is positive on National Signing Day.

Well, Alabama’s Nick Saban might be the exception. He gets the No. 1-rated recruiting class and still is cautiously optimistic.

Few coaches show that, though, after getting the latest batch of signatures. They all are that way in reality.

Bret Bielema is nearly always positive. Even on signing day with a recruiting class ranked anywhere from ninth to 11th in the SEC (No. 24-32 nationally). The national ranking actually probably means less than the conference ranking.

Face it, Florida State’s lofty national ranking really is impressive only when showing the amount of separation between the Seminoles and Clemson, who was barely in most Top 10 rankings, despite coming close to a national title.

Bielema didn’t dwell on the misses with some of the bigger names. With the normal attrition, he was hoping to get 19-22 on signing day (he got 20).

But the guess here he’s not done, based on a line he had in his press conference that may end up being the key line.

We landed on 20 right now and not done yet, but we are in the process to have some as we move forward because we will not have a class size of 25 either,” he said.

That was shortly before mentioning some inquiries from some graduate transfers and don’t be surprised to see the overall number of new Razorbacks more like 23.

Beaumont Central’s Devwah Whaley, the third-rated tailback in the country, may be the biggest name in the class along with McTelvin Agim from Hope. There are some good players in the group, including a quarterback, which will make a total of five in spring practice … never a good sign (those who griped about Brandon Allenfor three years should remember that over the next couple of years).

Don’t be surprised to see some quality graduate transfers coming in. They will be to fill a specific need and there are plenty of those to deal with.

But perhaps the secret keys to this recruiting class are the five players who won’t be on scholarship.

With some talk show callers complaining loudly Wednesday about the lack of Arkansas players signed (only four from state high schools), they should check out the preferred walk-on’s announced and kinda lost in all the talk about those that signed scholarships.

These guys are treated exactly as scholarship players, but aren’t getting the financial assistance.

Bielema’s best recruiting job this time may be the five guys he got to pay their own way to be Razorbacks:

• Ben Brasuell, a linebacker from Benton High School.
• Tyler Hall, a gigantic offensive lineman from Maumelle.
• Dylan Hays, anther big offensive lineman from Little Rock Christian.
• Conner Limpert, a kicker from Allen, Texas.
• Grant Morgan, linebacker from Greenwood.

Remember those guys.

All of them performed better than their ratings. All were recruited by other Division I schools and could have had full scholarships at other places.

These guys wanted to be Razorbacks. Most have wanted nothing else nearly their entire lives.

In the days before severe scholarship limitations, Bear Bryant signed every half-decent player in the state of Alabama and other states that often wrote to Bryant unsolicited saying he wanted to play for the Crimson Tide.

When Bryant was asked about this before playing Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl after the 1979 season, his explanation was — and still is — interesting and revealing.

“In the fourth quarter, playing for Alabama means just a little more to them,” he said. “They may only be in for a few plays when those big ol’ studs on both sides are flat worn out. Say those little ol’ boys are about 85 percent of those starters. Because they’re fresh and it means so much to them, they’ll play at least 10 percent above their ability. Those big ol’ studs are going to be tired and dragging by the fourth quarter and playing 90 percent of their ability.

“Now, all of a sudden I’ve got a little ol’ boy playing at 95 percent and I’m going to beat you every time because those few plays he’s in are going to mean more to him than you can possibly imagine.”

Coaches can’t do that today.

The closest thing is the preferred walk-on designation.

The five walk-on’s Bielema got may prove to be the true diamonds in this class when we’re all looking back at what some are writing off as an average group.

They’ve got the potential.

Even if they didn’t have the ranking.

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