LITTLE ROCK — Bret Bielema’s straightforward message for high school athletes includes a subtle communication for Razorback fans.
The Arkansas coach recently quoted some in-house promotional material as saying, "Are you going to be the next freshman to have a role in the season?" and then added that a half-dozen or more Arkansas players are in line to make the All-SEC Freshman team.
For Arkansas’ recruiting targets, the clear signal is that there will be an opportunity to start for Arkansas in 2014 and be among the few who are eligible for the All-SEC Freshman team. For fans, there is the warning, probably unintentional, that Arkansas is hurting at several positions — linebacker, wide receiver, and defensive back come to mind — and that rebuilding Razorback football will take time.
The thing is, Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and the established powers in the Western Division of the SEC are not sitting still, waiting on the Razorbacks. In my opinion, Bielema will need three recruiting classes to stockpile enough athletes that Arkansas fans can reasonably expect to be .500 in the SEC. Eight pure freshmen participated in the last game against Alabama and Bielema alluded to the need for immediate help when he said Arkansas might sign four or five junior college players.
By the way, part of the equation for making the All-SEC Freshman team is being in the right place at the right time. Guards Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper are both likely to be on the team, but I don’t know how many other SEC teams are starting freshmen at guard. For instance, last year, A.J. Turner and Otha Peters tied for one of the linebacker spots on the All-Team in 2012. Turner started a half-dozen games, three more than Peters.
This year, redshirt freshmen Darius Philon and Deatrich Wise could make the team and neither started a game until Philon replaced the injured Robert Thomas. Even though Jonathan Williams is the starter at running back, Alex Collins and tight end Hunter Henry are legitimate choices for the postseason honor, underscoring the point that it is easier for a freshman to shine at a skill position than it is for a first-year player to excel elsewhere.
Last year, the All-SEC Freshman team included quarterback Johnny Manziel, running backs T.J. Yeldon and Todd Gurley, and wide receivers Mike Evans and Amari Cooper.
Any Arkansas fan who applauded when junior college offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor turned his back on UCLA and embraced Arkansas cannot condemn the young man for changing his mind again and opting for Texas A&M.
Moving on without complaint falls under the what’s good for the goose is good for the gander category.
With a month remaining in the college football season, eight teams, including six from major BCS conferences, are undefeated. At this time last year, there were 10 unbeatens and only Notre Dame finished without a blemish.
One goes down this week when Miami is at Florida State. Ohio State has the easiest route to perfect, but the Buckeyes can’t get to the BCS title game unless two of the three teams in front of them lose. Chances are 50-50 that will happen and it’s not impossible that all three will stumble.
Miami has come from behind the last couple of weeks, an accomplishment that says something about character. And, even if Florida State wins this week, the Seminoles might have to beat Miami again in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
My pick for most likely loser is Oregon, which goes against Stanford on Nov. 7 — a Thursday night on which the Pac 12’s best will have an opportunity to impress, along unbeaten Baylor, which is up against Oklahoma. Two days later, LSU can beat Alabama — arguably a more complete unit than the national championship team of 2012 — if the good Zach Mettenberger is at quarterback.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.