FAYETTEVILLE — Steadfastly opposed to a snap judgment about a college football team, I’ve seen enough to declare that Arkansas is average at best.
Even worse, it is difficult to imagine a dramatic turnaround in the weeks ahead.
From day one, projections of a boffo season were predicated on quarterback Tyler Wilson, running back Knile Davis, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, and tight end Chris Gragg making enough big plays to carry the offense and new defensive coaches working wonders on the other side of the ball. Immersed in the hype, Arkansas fans wouldn’t hear of deficiencies in the offensive line and huge question marks throughout the defense.
National media made it worse by buying in. I, too, am guilty of thinking a Wilson-led offense would score enough to win nine during the regular season.
After Rutgers 35, Arkansas 26 on Saturday night, winning six and becoming bowl eligible is a touch-and-go proposition. Already, the Razorbacks are 1-2 against non-conference opponents.
The easy explanation is that interim head coach John L. Smith messed up what was perceived to be a ready-made winning team. If not that, then athletic director Jeff Long should have done something other than fire Bobby Petrino.
Hired to oversee, Smith deferred the leadership role to quarterback Wilson. Petrino left Long no choice.
That brings us to recruiting classes, including players who are no longer around for one reason or another. Ranking recruits is not an end-all, but year after year of signing players who are mostly three-star athletes has caught up with Arkansas.
Under Petrino, Arkansas’ first four classes were ranked sixth, ninth, ninth, and seventh in the Southeastern Conference by one service and ninth, seventh, 10th, and ninth by another. Not one of those classes was ranked inside the top 15 nationally; many were outside the top 20.
Meanwhile, Alabama, LSU, and other SEC teams sign top 10 classes on a regular basis.
Coach ‘em up all you want; sooner or later, talent wins out. I am well aware that the coaches defend their signees, citing circumstances to justify particular players. That’s understandable, but remember that capable assistants at other schools in the SEC are not sitting on their hands.
Players can only do their best and the next few paragraphs are not meant to embarrass any individuals, only to illustrate the Razorbacks’ predicament.
• Arkansas rattled off 13 straight points and, with the crowd involved, closed to 28-26 in the fourth quarter when Rutgers faced second-and-5 at its 40. Mark Harrison got behind Kaelon Kelleybrew for the TD. A starter at cornerback, Kelleybrew is a fifth-year senior walk-on from Mississippi Valley State.
• Early in the second quarter, Rutgers was going to settle for a field goal, but Arkansas jumped offside. Senior linebacker Terrell Williams had coverage on Jaiwan Jamison, but didn’t turn around until Jamison made the catch in the end zone. A safety in high school, Williams started one game in his first three years.
• On their second TD drive, Gary Nova was 4-of-4 and the Scarlet Knights had a first down at the Arkansas 19. From there, Brandon Coleman lost cornerback Will Hines for the easiest of scores. A freshman, Hines was ranked as the 43rd-best safety in the country by one recruiting service and the No. 32 cornerback. He will be a good player, but the question is who signed the many ranked ahead of him.
• Hamilton put up some spectacular numbers, but Arkansas could not run the ball consistently against a smallish defensive front. Arkansas’ starting offensive line included junior David Hurd and senior Tyler Deacon, both walk-ons.
Beginning in the second quarter and continuing into the third quarter, each of Arkansas’ four possessions consisted of three plays, including an incomplete pass on third down, and a punt.
Arkansas had one final chance when a punt was killed at the 1 and Jaiwan Jamison looked like he would be dropped for a safety. Before anybody could touch him, Jamison bounced outside for 24 yards — a punctuation mark to an evening of futility.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.