In many ways, Bret Bielema's recruiting could be a good fit for the Razorbacks.
That's the number of recruits on any given top 200 list hailing from the state of Arkansas in the 2013 recruiting cycle. It's the lowest number of stud recruits of any state in the SEC. Nearby Kentucky has three, and Tennessee has seven. And it's a number that underscores just how tough of a job Arkansas really is.
And in the last five cycles, Arkansas has had more classes that ranked outside the consensus top 30 than it had in the top 20. Arkansas is either the fourth- or fifth-best job in the division, almost solely because of its lack of ability to recruit elite talent.
And that's why bringing in coach Bret Bielema makes some sense for the Razorbacks.
Bielema has a proven record of success on the field despite a similar lack of in-state talent at Wisconsin. He was an overachiever relative to the talent he recruited, and an opportunist when conference powerhouses like Ohio State and Michigan were down.
That's not to say Bielema is a poor recruiter. He and his staff are pretty good, actually. And they usually did manage to keep the top talent in the state from heading elsewhere in the Big Ten. That will be vitally important at Arkansas, as well.
And it starts right now, with running back Altee Tenpenny. Tenpenny is a traditional pro-style back, a consensus four-star, and rated considerably higher than any back Bielema ever had at Wisconsin. He's also currently committed to Alabama. Bielema's challenge is to sell the 5'11, 212-pound Tenpenny on becoming the centerpiece of the new Arkansas offense. It's difficult to pull kids away from the Crimson Tide, but in this case, Bielema has a real shot to do so, because of his run-heavy offense that routinely places runners with good (but not superstar) talent into the Heisman conversation.
Out-of-state recruiting will also be important, particularly in Texas. For more on that, see the fine piece done by SB Nation's Wescott Eberts on the importance of Arkansas' new coach being able to recruit the Lone-Star State.
Another important state for Bielema will be Florida. The Wisconsin staff is highly regarded in the state by high school coaches, and it will be important to maintain those relationships during the move to Arkansas.
Most of his recruiting, however, will be of underrated kids.
Bielema's formula consists of devotion to a system, possessing a keen understanding of what qualities will make a player succeed in the system, and the ability to identify those qualities in the players his staff scouts.
His staff at Wisconsin was very adept at developing talent, and frequently used redshirts. And it will take time to develop relationships with the high school coaches in the state.
That's something that Arkansas fans don't want to hear, given the win-right-now mentality of the SEC. However, it's clear by looking at his buyout (Arkansas will owe virtually the entire remaining value of his 6-year, $19.2-million contract if he is fired) that the school is fully on board with the time commitment it will take to build something at Arkansas. Luckily for Bielema, Arkansas's administration understands that he is not a quick fix.
Bielema does have considerable success at Wisconsin that he can attempt to sell to recruits, but given that he is now recruiting in SEC country, it's not certain how much that will resonate with kids who don't hold the Big Ten in high esteem.
What will matter, though, is putting players in the league. And he did a very good job of that with the Badgers.
He's developed an entire NFL team's worth of offensive linemen, almost none of whom were star recruits coming out of high school, plus a host of other defensive players. Bielema can point to the six offensive linemen he will have put in the NFL over the last three years by this year's draft.
Ultimately, no coach has a great chance to win big at Arkansas. It simply lacks the natural recruiting base that the four better programs in the division have. If Arkansas fans are patient, Bielema follows his formula of overachieving, and takes advantage of the rare year in which two or three of the better programs in the division are down, however, he should have a good chance to produce the occasional great season.
If Arkansas' fans are satisfied with that, Bielema could be a long-term solution. If Razorback boosters are not, however, Bielema could have a very lucrative buyout in short order.
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