You can't argue with the fact that Bobby Petrino can coach the game of football. For seven seasons, as the coach at Louisville and Arkansas, he has a record of 54-21.
Named the new coach for the Razorbacks on Dec. 11, 2007, Arkansas is a team on the move in the Southeastern Conference. The Razorbacks have had one key transfer in quarterback Ryan Mallett (from Michigan), and they have quietly recruited well in the ultra-competitive SEC.
Arkansas and Petrino have put together three recruiting classes and signed 83 players since his arrival in Fayetteville. The state of Arkansas does not have an abundance of high school football talent and it doesn't produce the same quantity as the neighboring states, either, so the Razorbacks have to do a lot of recruiting in other team's backyards, which is no easy task. However, Arkansas has seen success, especially in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia. In those five states alone, Arkansas has signed 42 prospects.
Who the Razorbacks have
Arkansas' 2011 class is off to a pretty good start with 10 commitments, including finding six in-state prospects. This group is led by ESPNU 150 offensive lineman Mitch Smothers (Springdale, Ark./Springdale), who is the No. 5-ranked guard in the country. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Under Armour All-American is a powerful and nasty road grader, especially when run blocking.
Smothers' No. 1 priority will be to protect the quarterback, and Petrino, who has always done a masterful job coaching signal callers, has added a new one to the fold. In-state prospect Brandon Allen (Fayetteville, Ark./Fayetteville) has good size (6-2, 200 pounds) and comes from a football family. His father, Bobby Allen, is the Razorbacks defensive line coach. Last season as a junior, Allen completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,400 yards and 30 touchdowns. While he doesn't have the greatest mechanics, he shows moxie in the pocket. Allen possesses good arm strength, accuracy, deceptive mobility and good pocket presence.
Other key in-state pickups are offensive guard Marcus Danenhauer (Bentonville, Ark./Bentonville), wide receiver Davyon McKinney (Forrest City, Ark./Forrest City), athlete Demetrius Dean (Fayetteville, Ark./Fayetteville) and three-star defensive tackle Grady Ollison (Malvern, Ark./Malvern). Dean looks like a potential gem for the Razorbacks' offense. At 6-3, 240 pounds, he looks like a future tight end, showing quickness and athleticism for a big man. McKinney is the state's top receiver prospect and a good athlete (he's also a basketball standout).
The Razorbacks have landed two out-of-state prospects in Keante Minor (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis Sr.) and Austin Beck (Nowata, Okla./Nowata). Minor is the No. 30-ranked wide receiver in the nation. He's strong, fast, physical, quick and shows good hands. Minor has a chance to turn into a good weapon for the Razorbacks, especially in their vertical passing attack. Beck, a three-star defensive tackle, has great size at 6-7, 285 pounds, runs well and is very athletic. Beck is strong, plays with a good motor and can play from a standup position, almost like a middle linebacker.
Rounding out the Razorback's 10 commits are two junior college prospects in defensive tackle Robert Thomas (Muskogee, Okla./ Coffeyville Community College) and cornerback Isiah Wiley (West Monroe, La./Arizona Western College).
Who the Razorbacks still want
There's still some big-time talent left on the board for Petrino. From Arkansas, Under Armour All-American OT Brey Cook (Springdale, Ark./Har-Ber) highlights the group, but he isn't the only in-state prospect being targeted. ATH Artez Brown (Newport, Ark./Newport), RB Wesleigh Foster (Clarksville, Ark./Clarksville), ATH Cody Robinson (Des Arc, Ark./Des Arc) and WR Kyle Coleman (Pine Bluff, Ark./Watson Chapel) are available. Cook said Arkansas is one of his favorites, while Brown has a Razorbacks offer along with Ole Miss, Memphis and others. Foster may be the fastest player in the state but has yet to receive a scholarship offer from the Razorbacks.
Outside of the state, Arkansas has a great shot at landing three-star TE Chris Barnett (Euless, Texas/Trinity), and the Razorbacks are also one of the leaders for DT Demarcus Hodge (Monroe, La./Neville) and WR Joe Morrow (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs).
Other big time recruits offered by Arkansas and showing interest in the Razorbacks are RB Andrew Buie (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian), RB Kody Walker (Jefferson City, Mo./Jefferson City), RB Jermichael Selders (Houston/Cypress Creek), RB Marcus Caffey (Atlanta/Grady), RB Daniel Lasco (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands), WR Johnny Haynes (Irving, Texas/MacArthur), WR Christian Jones (Spring, Texas/Westfield), WR Rashad Cunningham (Mobile, Ala./Davidson), WR Jafus Gaines (Houston/Cesar E. Chavez), TE Cameron Clear (Memphis, Tenn./Memphis Central), OG Gregory Robinson (Thibodaux, La./Thibodaux), OT Spencer Drango (Cedar Park, Texas/Cedar Park), OG Jacob Brendel (Plano, Texas/Plano East Sr.), OG Matt Kiefer (Alpharetta, Ga./Chattahoochee), DE Jermauria Rasco (Shreveport, La./Evangel Christian Academy), DL Kameron Hood (Birmingham, Ala./Birmingham), DT P.J. Jones (Tupelo, Miss./Tupelo), DT Jonathan Battle (Americus, Ga./Sumter County), DT Quenton Griffin (Rayville, La./Rayville), LB Anthony Wallace (Dallas/Skyline), LB Kellen Jones (Houston/St. Pius X), S Jordan Montgomery (Groveland, Fla./South Lake), LB Troy Gray (Kennesaw, Ga./North Cobb), LB Cedrick Cooper (Lithonia, Ga./Lithonia), CB Charles Jackson (Klein, Texas/Klein Collins), ATH Senquez Golson (Pascagoula, Miss./Pascagoula), CB Bernard Thomas (Blue Springs, Mo./Blue Springs), CB Deshazor Everett (DeRidder, La./DeRidder), S Erique Florence (Valley, Ala./Valley), S Lyndell Johnson (Plano, Texas/Plano East Sr.), S Calvin Pryor (Port St. Joe, Fla./Port St. Joe) and ATH Desmond Roland (Dallas/Lake Highlands).
Arkansas has branched out to a new area this recruiting season -- the Carolinas. It will be interesting to see if their hard work in both North Carolina and South Carolina pay off, as they have offered quite a few prospects in this area.
Overall, expect the 2011 recruiting class to be balanced with a potential 25 signees. The Razorbacks' need areas are offensive line, defensive line and linebacker. This could be a breakthrough season in Fayetteville, especially if Mallett stays healthy and continues his progression under Petrino. The Razorbacks should be potent on that side of the ball and if the wins mount up, look for them to close strong.
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.